Tragic Comedians

 Reading the Labour Party’s Margate delegate conference, prompts the question—”Are such conferences really necessary?” For all the effect it had in shaping governmental policy the delegates might as well have stayed at home; or spent their time making sandpies on Margate’s beach.

 The burning of mid-night oil in local Labour Party branches had produced much paper in the way of resolutions. A lot of it was waste paper. Right from the start of the conference there was “a wholesale slaughter of the innocents.” Numbers of resolutions were merged together into a composite form. Out of 300 resolutions and 80 amendments only 30 proposals were left on the agenda after the axe of the conference arrangement committee had been wielded ruthlessly. Many of these resolutions were, it is true, but vague and somewhat innocuous expressions of discontent with the Labour Government. Their partial and emasculated reappearance in the condensed form of composite resolutions made them even more vague and innocuous. Little wonder that the platform could accept them not only without embarrassment but even with composure.

 The conference itself was writ large in startling inconsistencies and rich in unconscious comedy. Mr. Sam Watson, in his chairman’s address, strove to substitute in place of the dull, utility existence of the vast majority a techni-coloured picture of life under a Labour Government. He said: “Poverty has been abolished. Hunger is unknown. The sick arc tended, the old folk cherished. Our children are growing up in a land of opportunity.” This record is one that has been played ad nauseam by the gramophones of all political parties. In fact it was a badly scratched one long before the Labour Party came to power.

 Speaking on conscription and the Labour Party’s rearmament programme, he declared, “We have no animosity towards the Russian people. All we ask is to be left in peace to finish our task.” These words are, how ever, the very ones that Stalin is never weary of repeating on behalf of Russian Capitalism. Mr, Watson could not promise peace. He offered instead security through the time-honoured, or dishonoured, methods of building up ever greater means of death and destruction.

 He also said, “The common people have more to defend here than any other part of the globe.” He might with greater accuracy have said that the “common people” here have more parts of the globe to defend for their masters than the common people in any other part of the globe. Significantly he added: “The last five years of the Labour Party, the trade unions and co-operatives have given us even more to defend.” The role of recruiting sergeants is no new role for Labour politicians. Nor for that matter drummer boys for British imperialism.

 Mr. Silverman, M.P., then threw a hefty spanner into Mr. Watson’s techni-coloured works by declaring: “It was an overstatement to say that poverty had been abolished. There were hundreds of thousands of workers whose wages made an utter mockery of the Government’s claims to be applying fair shares.” He added the warning that “the workers could not be expected to go on practising restraint out of sheer loyalty to the Government.” He also said “that if the hopes of those who suffered most was being continually frustrated they would look for leadership elsewhere.”

 There was irony in the fact that this Party of planning through the Civil Service should hear a delegate, himself a civil servant, declare that “Civil Service clerical workers have had a wage increase of less than one-third since 1938.” He then made a nasty splotch on Mr. Watson’s pretty picture by saying, “Many people to-day are not even able to buy their rations.”

 How remotely the Labour Party’s “Socialism” has to do with the elimination of the profit system can be gathered from a statement by another delegate, a Mr. Denning (A.E.U.), who asserted “that the average profit on each worker in the engineering industry was £3 per week.”

 Mr. Griffiths, for the executive, spoke of his “appreciation of the depth of feeling and concern over the question of profits.” He offered the lame defence “that 90 per cent. of the industrial companies had between March and November last year disclosed a dividend no higher than the previous year.” He also said that “far too much of the nation’s wealth is owned by far too few people.” Mr. Griffiths, however, urged that “wage restraint should be continued as far as possible.” Vague mutinous mutterings from the rank and file led to the platform agreeing they would take the most energetic action to stem the upward trend in prices and to bring about a reduction and to control and reduce profits. What chance of success the Labour Government has of controlling price levels was made evident by Mr. C. A. R. Crosland, M.P., who said, “As a result of rearmament, prices were rising all over the world in a way impossible to control. It was known that the cost of living was likely to rise in the next few weeks.” Thus the inflationary tendencies, in spite of the efforts of the Labour Government have increased. The rearmament programme will further accentuate it. As a result of rising prices workers, in spite of Labour and T.U. leaders’ pleas of wage restraint, will demand higher wages. This may well lead to an increase of incidents such as that of the gas workers. The employers, of course, will seek to maintain their profits. As a result of this scramble the Labour Government may be forced to take measures in an attempt to control prices, wages and profits. That is it may have to reimpose many of the controls and restrictions associated with war-time. All of which shows that although the Labour Party is running Capitalism, in actual fact it is Capitalism which is running the Labour Party.

 The discussion on Nationalisation revealed disappointment and even a certain disillusionment over its results. Mr. E. Roberts said: “Men employed by the British Railways are becoming disgusted with Nationalisation. Unless we can get better representation hundreds of thousands of those at present voting Labour will not do so at the next election.” Because the delegates did not realise that Nationalisation is not in the interest of the working class they dealt with effects not causes; such as the large salaries of those at the top, bureaucratic maladministration and the necessity of workers’ representatives on the various boards.

 Mr. Morrison once again proved himself an arch opportunist. In the discussion on that vague platitudinous document, “Labour and the New Society,” he was even more platitudinous and vague. On any concrete issues on which the Labour Party will fight the next election he said little or nothing. He contended that the time for making decisions is when the election manifesto is drawn up. On the question of further Nationalisation he side-stepped the issue with the formula that sugar, cement, and insurance were still eligible for consideration.

 Mr. Bevan made some wild oratorical cavalry charges and scattered imaginary foes. On the question of Nationalisation he said, “Of course everything is not all right.” He asserted that “a miasma of private enterprise was surrounding the public sector everywhere.” “World Capitalism had broken down,” he assured the delegates, although he admitted that “this is not a Socialist country.” He also forgot to add that a part of this broken-down, world Capitalism was supplying Britain with Marshall Aid. He even told them that he was opposed to the Schuman Plan because British steelworkers would be at the mercy of Ruhr magnates. Apparently a broken-down Capitalism can still support Ruhr steel magnates. Mr. Attlee also indulged in a number of vague idealistic utterances after the manner of a punch-drunk parson. On one thing the executive was emphatic. That is that the workers must work harder and harder.

 One thing the conference clearly revealed was that the Labour Party has lost its initial advantage over the Tories. In the past. Nationalisation could be presented as something different from private enterprise. It could even be pointed to as a social goal. The Labour Party, having now given the workers the substance of Nationalisation, many workers are beginning to realise they have been chasing a shadow. It is going to become harder and harder for Labour politicians to convince workers that the Labour way of doing things is in essentials different from that of the Tories or Liberals. Just as it is going to become harder for the Labour Party to pose as being different from the traditional parties. A spell of power has been sufficient to exhaust the claims of the Labour Party that it can run Capitalism in a different way. In the arid soil of Capitalist administration the delicate plant of Fabian ideals has withered and died. They themselves have become the gradual and inevitable victims of their own “inevitability of gradualness.”

 Perhaps Fabian ingenuity and resourcefulness will be applied to making the Labour Party a more highly efficient vote-catching machine. Having lost the advantage of political novelty it will be compelled to enter into the fiercest rivalry with the Tories, by all sorts of expedients, red herrings and vote capturing slogans. More and more will it have to play up to the hopes and prejudices of sections of the working class in order to keep political power.

 We shall have the spectacle of Labour and Tories competing like two second-hand clothes shops on the same side of the street. The political salesmen of both concerns will try to persuade the electors that their shoddy misfits are an adequate covering for the body politic.

One day a politically conscious working class will close them both down and declare their stock to be bankrupt and worthless.

Ted Wilmott

Leave a Reply