For about an hour, Sir, before the subject was interrupted by these other items on the Order Paper we were discussing, not the desirability or the undesirability of Article 38 of the new Constitution but the past history of the President of the Executive Council in relation to Article 2A of the old Constitution. While I have sometimes heard the President credited with being an astute political tactician, I must say that I thought I never saw a worse display of political astuteness than he gave in allowing that subject to occupy the amount of time that it did occupy. I think that if the President had sat tight and said that the House in general is convinced of the necessity for an Article of this type in the Constitution, refusing to be drawn into a discussion of his past in the matter of Article 2A of the old Constitution, he would have saved a lot of very valuable time. It would at the same time have prevented him from giving a rather agonising display. I have sometimes watched an acrobat doing a dangerous act; I have watched him with a sort of agonising emotion arising from the fear that he might do something that would kill him at any moment. Similarly, as I listened to the President, I kept asking myself: "What on earth is he going to say next?" I think even his bitterest enemy must have wept a little for him in listening to his hopeless attempt to prove his consistency.
The truth of the matter is that the public of this country and of every other country is very ready to forgive inconsistency in a public man when it comes to the conclusion that he has learned from experience. I think that it is very much to the credit of the Government that on this matter and on a number of other matters they have learned by experience, and it is a perfectly idle and undesirable exercise to embark on explanations which are designed to show that the apparent change has not been a real change. The politician accused of inconsistency can always retort with“tu quoque.” In any country you will get such changes; you will get people, when they are out of power, advocating a course that they had resisted when they were in power, and criticising policies when they are out of power that they themselves would unhesitatingly have adopted when they were in power. There have been plenty of instances of that sort on the part of the Opposition Front Bench during the present Parliament, and no doubt there will be instances under every other Parliament so long as Party Government lasts. I cannot but think that this passion of the President for proving his own consistency is one that is damaging and danger-out to the country, and that, if he would only leave it aside, his actions in some other very important matters might be different from what they are. For example, something might be done about setting the so-called economic war.
For the moment I am concerned only with this Article of the Constitution. I think we all support it, with the exception of Deputy Norton, and how far his opposition to it is sincere is not for me to judge. But I would appeal to the President to desist from the invitations that he was actually offering to the House at the moment we adjourned for tea—invitations to bring forward a supply of quotations from past speeches of his on the subject of Article 2A of the old Constitution. I have a collection of such quotations here if he wishes to see them. For the sake of the time of this House, and in order that we may settle down to discuss the things which we really have to decide about this Constitution, I would urge on him that if he does care to see them he should let me show them to him in private rather than recite them in public.