Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 22. September 17, 1968
Books — Chuff exposed
Books of confessional-eum-justification political activity usually make the non-sympathetic reader feel little more than piety. The serious intentions of the author are invariably transformed into a picture of a sad but funny hero whose tragedy can in no way be understood. Excommunists have hitherto provided the major canon of this disillusioned-comic literature. New Zealand has Sid Scott and John A. Lee: although it must be emphasised that Lee's particular disillusion was nothing to do with Marx. A new book by Desmond Donnelly has brought forward the first right-wing Labour account of Harold Wilsons performance 1964-8. Unfortunately it tells us little that is new about Wilson, a little more about Mr Donnelly, and a great deal about political frustration.
Desmond Donnelly is best known as one of Labour's two most right-wing MPs in the British parliament (the other is Woodrow Wyatt), and who resigned his post as a Labour Whip earlier this year in protest against Wilson. He is not the only dissident. The whole history of the unfortunate Wilson government has been noted for its major defections from both Right and Left. Mr Donnelly, however, neither held anv position of great influence (as did George Brown and Christopher Mayhew) in the government, nor could rely on the large body of militant support that Frank Cousins could. All Donnelly had was his personal convictions and the support of his Pembrokeshire constituency.
The discomforting thing about Donnelly's amazing and honest criticisms of Wilson and his mishandling of Britain's affairs throughout the last four years, is their naivety and simplicity. Rather like that of Sir Edmund Hillary if he ever had the misfortune of being elected to parliament. Often one might be tempted to classify him has a lowbrow Encounter type, but luckily Encounter is far too incestuous for any potent action. He is, however, a politician who has a fair idea of what is proper and decent in the average Englishman who respects Britin's royalty, empire and dignity. His statement of personal ideals are added, almost as an afterthought, in the final chapter of the book. The bulk of his criticisms are not an integral part of his political attitudes. Unlike most socialist critics of Wilson, he would place personal detail, mannerisms, and anecdotes on a higher plane than economic facts. His vituperation, while immensely readable and entertaining, has nothing of positive value other than a plaintive cry for totally new leadership and government.
This is, of course, not only impossible—it's ridiculous. One doesn't overthrow Wilson by recounting petty squabbles. Only concerted united political action on the basis of a new concept of society can change the destiny of Britain. Mr Donnelly, while never swaying from his ideal of a decent human society (and who doesn't pay lip-service to that), seems to have hardly grasped anything beyond the fact that Wilson did a Brutus on Gaitskell. All good healthy in-fighting with plenty of rude and non-apologetic insults which cast a slightly jaundiced smear over an already too bloodied betrayal. But where does it take us. Wilson is extremely unpopular and would be out on his chuff smartly if an election was held. But Mr Donnelly is a proponent of equally unpopular government of the tighten-the-belt ilk. Is he merely stating that his PROs will not be as incompetent, or does he really believe that some miracle can save Britain?
I don't believe in miracles, and neither will Mr Donnelly convince many that he has the secret recipe. For all his diligence and sincerity few will consider Gadarene '68 Wilson's day of reckoning. I fear that like Mr Donnelly's appalling books on communism. The March Wind and Struggle for the World, this one will find its dusty place among those which are best forgotten for our sake.s and theirs. The Crimes, Follies and Misfortunes of the Wilson Government will be avenged in more auspicious and catharthic circumstances than this particular episode. But at least Mr Donnelly has firmly driven home one stake
Desmond Donnelly: Gadarene '68. William Kimber, London 1968. Distributed in NZ by Whitcombe and Tombs. $2.35. 192 pp. Reviewed by Nevil Gibson.