Editorial: The Show Opens

The Westminster Palace of Varieties is now open and the performance is about to commence. Already the inaugural ceremonies have been held and have passed off without hitch of any sort, the quick-change artistes, sleight-of-handists, lampoonists, thimble-riggers, contortionists, low-comedians, heavy “leads,” infant prodigies, double-summersaultists, clowns, pantaloons and the rest having been at infinite pains to get their parts off letter perfect. The troupe manager has announced the programme which, however, may not strictly follow the advertised order, and we are now in a position to know the turns that may come on although, of course, we are not able to anticipate all the “business” the artistes may introduce. With some of the programme we, like our fathers before us, are very familiar. “Safe” turns these, which have already come through the heat of controversy and the burden of examination, mellowed but little impared in the eyes of the average audience who still applaud the “gags” and “wheezes” as though they were all new and novel. For those, however, who, being afflicted with good memories, have not unnaturally wearied of the horrible sameness of the performance, new turns have been introduced, from these great things are expected. It is confidently anticipated that they will prove good draws and secure for the management the continued and extended patronage of the great public, All of them, however, will be found, we think, of the stage stagey, bearing no relation to the real life of the people, and although the audience may respond in a manner gratifying to the Showmen, they will find that there is as little in the new business as there was in the old—that directly it is endeavoured to translate into every-day existence the schemes that look and work out so effectively in the parliamentary story they will be found out as the mere sleight-of-hand tricks they really are. On the stage they seem real enough. Off the stage the are tawdry and ludicrous.

The great feature of the show we understand from the theatrical Press is to be “Social Reform”— “Revolutionary Reform” as one paper described it. The management simply palpitates with “Social Reform.” The whole Company will concentrate upon “Social Reform.” Indeed, so pronounced is their “conspicuous zeal for the social question” that when Mr. G. N. Barnes (of the great L.R.C. combination) had finished his quiet and lucid argument for old age pensions, there was a strong expression of Liberal approval and—O! marvel of marvels!—”more than one ministerialist shook Mr. Barnes by the hand !” Surely zeal could no further go—especially when we know the revolutionary extent of Mr. Barnes’ reform. He would pay to the deserving worker upon attaining 65 years of age, 5/—five whole shillings without deduction—per week. And the average age of death of the working class is less than one half 65 ! And 5/- per week as Mr. Barnes may not know (being only a “Labour” troupist) would barely confine the bones of a man within his skin, let alone keep his heart pulsating within him. “It is a disgrace to the head and heart of the nation that agricultural labourers should receive only 14/- or 15/- per week” says Mr. Barnes. “He cannot live upon it.” So at a time when he will want a little less hardship and a more expensive form of nourishment, and when he will be unable to augment his income through failing strength, instead of sending him to the workhouse (where his maintenance will cost at least twice as much) we will recognise his services to the State, his many years of arduous endeavour in the building up of the prosperity of the country, by pensioning him with 5/- per week—every week regularly—and let him spend his last days in honourable retirement and comfort—or die like the ungrateful dog he would be and may heaven have mercy on his soul as we have had on his body. O ! a zeal for “Social Reform”; a great-heart hunger for the well-being of the common people. And many a ministerialist shook Mr. Barnes by the hand for very sympathy and appreciation ! It must have been an affecting moment.

The opening chorus of a Parliamentary Sessions immediately following a general election if it seldom improves, is always interesting. The members arrive with their blushing honours more thickly upon them than the electoral eggs (rhetorical and other) of their political opponents ever were, and full to the brim with good intentions that generally serve, subsequently, to pave the road to Hell. So that if by any chance they are enabled to vent their oratorial ability upon the King’s alleged speech, their sayings are likely to be as near as they ever will be to the most advanced views they may treasure in the inmost recesses of their heads. This will apply more particularly to the Labour members who, accustomed, as it is pointed out, to taking the floor in all sorts of gatherings, would not be afflicted with that temptation born we understand of the dignity and grandeur of the “mother of Parliaments” which maketh the heart of the ordinary fledgling to run to water within him. Being, therefore, without the handicap of “nerves,” and having an almost unlimited field over which to roam, these Labour candidates (who, by the way, seem to have suddenly been born again as “Socialist” candidates) may be expected to strike out vigorously or as vigorously as they ever will strike. In these circumstances it is interesting—as marking the manner of parliamentarians they are likely to be—to note how these advanced “Labour Party” representatives have deported themselves in speech in the most advanced (revolutionary reform) parliament in English History.

The case of Mr. Barnes has already been mentioned. He is not likely to set the Thames afire. Mr. Keir Hardie seems to have been strong on Temperance Reform and against Conscription—but so are quite a number of sober and respectable capitalist members on both sides of the House. Mr. O’Grady will be loyal to his leader—a promise he may find it more difficult to refrain from breaking than he apparently thinks at present. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald (whose bosom, we learn, flamed like unto his chief’s with the red tie of intransigeancy would have the manufacture of volunteer clothing taken away from sweating contractors and given over to the Army Clothing Department—a sweater’s paradise ? Mr. Crooks has confined himself so far to interjecting his customary inanities, and the others—are waiting for chances. To-the “Labour Party” collectively the “King’s Speech,” which contained of course nothing definite likely to be of value to the working class,, was so satisfactory that they decided to move no amendment, while the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress rushed in eagerly with a resolution of gratification and thanks to the Premier. Altogether not a very auspicious commencement. However, as we expected no more we are not so depressed as those who thought the new members would start the fight at the very first opportunity—on the subject of the unemployed who cannot wait without starving, for example. Persons who, professing Socialism with the lip, will reduce it to “Labourism” to secure election, may well be expected to sink their “Labourism” after election to secure a standing. We shall not be astounded, therefore,. at anything they may do or not do—unless, indeed, they suddenly awake to the necessity of striking a blow for their class against all the forms and opinions of a capitalist House of Commons. We shall none the less watch their proceedings carefully and report to that portion of the working class we are able to reach.

Meanwhile it is of interest to note that the conditions of the chinaman in South Africa which before the election were depicted on every Liberal poster as slavery in its most degrading form, have now become “well fed and well cared for,” conditions which the Liberal Government do not at present propose to affect, while to describe such conditions as slavery is “terminological inexactitude.” In ordinary everyday language the Liberal election propaganda upon the Chinese Labour Question was entirely fraudulent, conducted as we pointed out with the deliberate intention of deceiving the electorate.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, March 1906)

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