The Liberal Party in England these days is pretty much a family affair. Mark Bonham-Carter, who lost his seat in Parliament by 2,000 votes in the last General Election, is a member of that dwindling family.
The grandson of Lord Asquith (Liberal Prime Minister from 1908-1916), Bonham-Carter was born in 1922, educated at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford; he spent 1947-48 as a Commonwealth Fellow at the University of Chicago. His mother, the redoubtable Lady Violet, has played a more than active role in British politics for years and was at one time chairman of the Party before the post was assumed by Mark Bonham-Carter's brother-in-law, Jo Grimmond.
A slightly-built, highly personable and precisely articulate man, Bonham-Carter has two absorbing interests--the Liberal Party and the Royal Opera, of which he is a director. In striking contrast to his present interests, he had an astonishing war record--he was taken prisoner with the Grenadier Guards of the Eighth Army in North Africa and managed to escape in Italy.
Since the war, Bonham-Carter has become strongly connected with the so-called living arts in Great Britain. In addition to his position on the board of directors of Covent Garden, he is a former member of the British Arts Council, and is at present a governor of the Royal Ballet School, and a Director of the Royal Ballet, with which group he toured through Russia last year.
Somewhere between the arts and the Liberal Party, he has managed to fit in a career as a publisher with William Collins Co.--"they publish everything from the Bible to Agatha Christie," he says.
In his political capacity, Bonham-Carter speaks confidently of the future of the Liberal Party, reduced to six seats in each of the last two Parliaments, but recepient of more than 2,000,000 votes in the last election.
He predicts the Labor Party will lose for the fourth consecutive time in the next General Election--"a feat unique in British electoral history." "If the Labor Party fails to extract itself from internal problems," he suggests, "a party realignment after the General Election" will force them to the extreme left, and leave a vacuum for the Liberal Party. Great Britain, he slaims, no longer wants "a party connected with Socialism and labor unions."
If the Liberals have dwindled to relative insignificance in Britain's two-party post-WWI world, Bonham-Carter maintains, nevertheless, that many of their policies, particularly those concerning the Common Market and Disarmament, have been absorbed by the dominant Conservative and Labour Parties.
For years the Liberal Party has been trying to push Great Britain into the European Economic Community. The fact that the MacMillan government is now leading Great Britain into the Common Market will, according to Bonham-Carter, ensure another Conservative Election as soon as England is accepted by the EEC.
"In the last Parliamentary election," the former M.P. says, "I urged British acceptance of the Common Market and lost my seat in a rural district [Torrington] to a Conservative claiming that the Market would be the ruin of the farmer." (He hopes that Britain's acceptance into the EEC would be a great advantage in his campaign to regain his seat in Parliament.)
Indeed, the prospect of Britain's entrance into the Common Market excites Bonham-Carter considerably. "A nation-state such as we have in modern Europe is not useful in dealing with almost any contemporary problem," he declares. "The destruction of national sovereignty, should the Common Market eventually bring that to pass, would in itself be a good thing."
Bonham-Carter sees the strength of the EEC--and the reason it can be acceptable to many varied types of government--in the fact that the Market has no set program for development; it is equally amenable, he says, to visionaries who see in it a future "United States of Europe" and to General De Gaulle who shudders at this thought.
The next development Bonham-Carter hopes to see in the Common Market is a revision of its Assembly. At present, delegates are appointed proportionally by the governments of the member nations. In the future Bonham-Carter would like to see "a strong move for the direct election of the Assembly."
Other developments Bonham-Carter hopes for include a movement for a common European currency backed by EEC reserves and a revival of an organization along the lines of the projected European Defense Community of a decade ago, with a more precise common defense policy than NATO has been able to offer. "Who knows," Bonham-Carter speculates, "maybe English students will even begin to learn a foreign language now that it will be easier to go abroad for the holidays."