After only seven months of a Labour government headed by Mr. Harold Wilson -- a?
After only seven months of a Labour government headed by Mr. Harold Wilson -- a government which held a minority position in the House of Commons -- Britain is on the brink of another general election.
When he came to power in February this year, Mr. Wilson inherited the leadership of a nation in severe economic trouble. Britain's miners were on strike and the country's industry was on a three-day working week.
With a Labour government willing to accede to most of their demands, the miners returned to work. But part of an overall union bargain was mutual adherence on the part of the government and the British Trade Unions, to what was called the "social contract" which meant agreement from the unions to with-held excessive wage demands, in return for the abolition of statutary prices and incomes policies. This social contract has been successful -- so far.
The Wilson government abolished the Pay Board and repealed the Industrial Relations Act brought in by the former Conservative Heath government -- both of which tended to restrict the power of the unions.
On the other hand, the unions have been held to their side of the bargain only difficulty and one of the major questions hanging over the forthcoming election is their attitude once the votes have been counted.
On the parallel issue of prices, the Wilson government introduced subsidies on basic food items such as bread, increased consumer protection by the establishment of consumer advice centres and extended its power of control over manufacturers' prices. It also put a freeze on rant levels, stepped up pensions for the elderly and increased profits taxes.
In foreign affairs, the Labour government came to power pledged to re-negotiate Sritain's membership of the European Common Market. Foreign Secretary James Callaghan went to Luxemburg within weeks of the elections and outlined his terms. They were opposed, particularly by the French government, but at this time they remain no more than talking points.
Of a far more immediate importance was the perennial problem of Ireland. The fragile administration in Northern Ireland, composed of all fractional interests in the province, collapsed in the face of a general strike. And at the same time the IRA stepped up its campaign in England and managed to held a parade through the streets of London as well as planting a firebomb in the House of Parliament.
Although it had no time to introduce legislation on the matter of state control of industrial enterprises, the Wilson government did announce its intentions with regard to some of them. The biggest argument concerned plans for Britain's North Sea ail -- perhaps the one potential solution to Britain's economic plight.
Labour plans to invest GBP 2,000 million sterling to acquire control of the oilfields, as well as taking over the shipbuilding, port and some parts of the transport industries.
All these will, of course, be at issue when the General Election gets under way. But none of them will be more important than the one which genuinely affects the ordinary voter -- namely inflation and the spiralling cost of living. No British government in this decade has been able effectively to stem the upward trend of prices.
If Mr. Wilson is to remain in power, he must convince the British public that he can curb inflation, that he can fairly maintain the social contract with the unions, and that industry -- particularly North Sea oil -- will benefit from government control.