Britain hangs on to tradition with a stiff upper lip
With the end of winter in sight, Londoners are avidly talking about the new Social Democratic Party, soon to appear to an accompanying daily chorus of newspaper headlines and television and radio programs.Skip to next paragraph
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Labour Party insiders tell this newspaper the likely date for the official launching of the new center-left party is March 21. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself has begun to attack former Labour Minister Shirley Williams, the popular figure who has already resigned from Labour's National Executive Committee in protest over the policies of the far left.
Mrs. Thatcher charges that Mrs. Williams and her "gang of four" Labour breakaway moderates represent "slowmotion socialism." She told 1,600 young members of the Conservative Party in Eastbourne that the Social Democratic program "was not so immediate a poison as the far left [Anthony Wedgwood] Benn formula, but deadly nonetheless."
Mrs. Williams, in spirited reply, retorted that the Social Democrats are a real threat to Mrs. Thatcher's hold on the political center.
Meanwhile, the far left, led by former Energy Minister Benn, is bitter at what it sees as the British media's refusal to give it adequate coverage. Says one leftist militant: "People are worried about unemployment and moral issues, rather than the sight of four politicians searching their consciences." Mrs. Williams and her moderates now claim more than 100 prominent supporters and a high standing in public opinion polls.
Is nothing safe any more?
Forty years ago, George Orwell wrote in his essay "The Lion and the Unicorn" that the distinctive and recognizable aspects of English civilization were "bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar [mail] boxes."
The other day the post office here (now called British Telecom) let slip that it was thinking of painting yet another bastion of Britishness, royal-red telephone boxes, yellow.
The howl of rage that followed could have been heard across the Channel.
The Daily Mail newspaper made the most noise, begging readers to "Join our campaign against the yellow peril" and printing (in red) drawings of the famous boxes with the slogan, "Keep our phone boxes red!"
"One gets the feeling," solemnly wrote columnist Christopher Booker, "that after years of mindless tinkering about with one aspect of British life after another, from our counties [names changed] to our coinage [now decimal] the plan to remove yet another little piece of our national furniture is somehow the straw that has broken the camel's back."
Well, hardly. But the campaign did trigger a response. Telecom's managing director, Peter Benton, was moved to declare to the Daily Telegraph: "Our present policy is that our 77,000 traditional kiosks should remain red."
It turned out, Telecom insisted, that only 90 boxes were to be painted different colors as an experiment and that no final decision had been taken.
All is not lost.