Why Did ‘In Place of Strife’ Fail so Catastrophically?

 

 

Written in 1969, the white paper ‘In Place of Strife’ was issued in a fruitless effort to reduce the power of the Trade Unions. Harold Wilson encouraged the writing of ‘In Place of Strife’ in an attempt boost the efficiency and productivity of the economy, and regain credibility with Britain’s electorate. Named after Bevan’s ‘In Place of Fear’ in order to highlight the white paper’s socialist motives, the white paper only succeeded in souring trade union relations with the Labour Party, dividing the party, weakening Wilson’s leadership, and eventually rendering the Labour Party unelectable. I believe there are three main reasons for the dramatic failure of Castle’s ‘In Place of Strife’. Firstly, I believe that Castle herself, who’s strategy, misjudgement of her own agency, and relationship with Harold Wilson was mostly responsible for its failure. However, it can be seen that her work was hindered by the huge structural and ideological forces working against her at the time. Harold Wilson himself must also be considered, undermining the ability of Castle to push through such an inflammatory bill.

I argue that Castle’s approach to the introduction of the white paper undermined its potential success. For example, as Ponting highlights (Ponting, 1969: 368) cabinet were manipulated into agreeing to the proposals without correct consideration of alternatives, ignoring potentially sound advice from its supporters, and alienating what little support it did have within the cabinet. Furthermore, the white paper was published in January, while legislation was deferred until August, meaning that opposition to the proposals could mount. (Ponting, 1969: 368) Indeed, as Ponting goes on to emphasise, the band of original dissenters against the proposals grew steadily, as what was left to be gained from supporting the white paper lessened, leading many doubters, or those left indifferent to firmly tie their allegiance to the likes of Callaghan, Crosland, Marsh and Mason, leaving Castle and Wilson isolated and exposed. (Ponting, 1969: 369) Nevertheless, I also argue that Castle’s character was a key reason for failure. Indeed, Bale (2002, 182) argues that “for reasons as much to do with personal style and contingency as structural or ideological factors” Castle failed. Her poor estimation of her own agency led her to ignore the PLP, who had “grown soft on a diet of soft options”. Her phlegmatic charge in the face of staunch opposition I believe highlighted an almost delusional side to her character. She was sure she was doing the right thing for the country and the party, “even if the latter were too stupid to realise it”. (Bale 2002: 184) I believe her patronising character alienated colleagues. She, reportedly “knew what was in your interest” and was “fixed in views that would inevitably lead to serious conflict.” (Martineau, 2000: 218) Her, what seems like constant attempts to justify her actions in relation to ‘In Place of Strife’ also highlight her realisation that, in fact, she was at fault. For example, her recollection of “a number of evenings” with Vic Feather and Wilson, without a single mention of the hostilities that Feather clearly felt towards Castle, along with her anecdotes of people telling her how ‘magnificent’ she was, (Castle, 1993: 422) how she should ‘stick to her guns’, and how she so wished that these things had been said publicly. (Castle, 1993: 420)

Despite Castle’s sabotage of her own campaign, one must highlight the huge structural and ideological forces she faced with ‘In Place of Strife’. For example, the “strong…incestuous” nature of the trade unions (Bale, 2002: 183). “The chances of the government getting legislation through in the face of TUC opposition were negligible.” (Anne, 200: 203) Many trade union men who disliked the fact she was a woman, such as Vic Feather, a “natural antagonist” who “used language that was frankly ‘unprintable’” about Castle (Martineau, 2000: 215). “Will the queer one be present?” Another example of the misogynistic campaign waged against Castle by TUC leadership. (Jack Jones, 1986: 204). Her gender lead to many TUC men instantly assuming a stance of antipathy towards her policy proposals (Martineau, 2000: 215) and therefore there was “no way the TUC would accept ‘In Place of Strife’.” (Bale, 2002: 228). Similarly, the PLP who was subject to TUC influence would also largely reject her proposals, with 35% being sponsored by the TUC, creating a massive barrier to any potential success the proposal could have ever experienced. As Ponting points out (1989:369) Castle and Wilson were defeated by “their own back bench MPs and Cabinet colleagues”, though open TUC hostility to change was certainly no help. Resistance within the cabinet was also fierce, with Callaghan openly leading a rebellion against Castle’s proposals, supported by Judith Hart, Dick Crossman and Richard Marsh. Indeed, any support that she had experienced within the cabinet was quickly lost when it became clear that backing Castle provided little potential gain. Thus, the “intensity of resistance to Strife, and the breadth of the opposition to it, had caught her off balance.” (Martineau, 2000: 233). For these reason, it would be unwise to underestimate the power of resistance against ‘In Place of Strife’, and thus wrong to place all the blame upon Castle herself. However, it may be fair to suggest such structural issues were exacerbated by her abrasive disposition.

One could argue, another reason for the failure of ‘In Place of Strife’ was Harold Wilson’s failure to sufficiently support Castle and her proposals. Martineau (2000: 232) for example highlights Wilson’s inability to “stomp down on” the particularly strong Callaghan, who was “capable of anything”. “He neither prevented Callaghan from breaching collective responsibility nor punished him for doing so” (Bale, 2002: 184) and thus “Jim continued his rearguard action to undermine the decision of cabinet” (Castle, 1993: 420). Harold’s replacement of whip John Silkin with Bob Mellish, along with his “all boys” private negotiations with “the very same unionists who were conducting a no holds barred” misogynistic campaign against Castle reinforce this point, highlighting Wilson’s failure to support Castle’s proposals, and instead almost actively undermining her. (Bale, 2002: 184).

To conclude, I believe that the primary reason for the failure of ‘In Place of Strife’ was Castle’s character and strategy not only undermining her chances at success, but also effectively igniting resistance to her efforts, and thereby exacerbating already strong structural barriers that I argue were also extremely important. Perhaps less important, but notable is Wilson’s attitude to Castle and the proposals, failing to support Castle, while some may say actively undermining her efforts.

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Bale, Tim (2002), “Extract from Chapter 10, Barbara Castle” Labour forces: from Ernest Bevin to Gordon Brown / edited by Kevin Jefferys.  London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. pp. 180-185

 

Castle, Barbara (1993), “Extract from Chapter 16, In the place of popularity” pp. 413-425

Castle, Barbara, 1910-  Fighting all the way / Barbara Castle.  London:  Macmillan, 1993.

 

Jones, Jack (1986), ‘Union man: the autobiography of Jack Jones. Chapter 20, pp. 202-206 London: Collins, 1986.

 

Martineau, Lisa (2000), Chapter 9, The Game’s Afoot pp. 210-248 ‘Politics and power: Barbara Castle, a biography’ London: André Deutsch, 2000

 

 

Ponting, Clive (1989), Chapter 22, In place of strife pp. 350-371, Breach of promise: Labour in power, 1964-1970. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989

 

 

Perkins, Anne (2000), “Chapter 13 and Chapter 14, pp. 275-303 and pp. 304-324

Red queen: the authorised biography of Barbara Castle / Anne Perkins.  London: Macmillan, 2003.

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