Passing Comments

General Election

A review of “The British General Election of 1950,” by H. G. Nicholas, was published at the beginning of this year by Macmillan and Co. for 21s. Mr. Nicholas calculates that the Socialist Party spent more per vote on the election than did any other; and he also describes some of the propaganda put forward by the Party during the election. “‘One thing we must warn you about,’ they told their followers. ‘Do not trust in leaders, trust in yourselves alone. Unless you understand the cause and the solution of your miserable condition no leader can help you, no matter how honest and sincere he may be; if you do understand, then you do not require leaders; you will know what you want and how to instruct your delegates to get what you want.’ ”

* * *


Recently this column quoted a survey about the Conservative candidates at the last election made by the magazine “Comment.” Now the more authoritative survey of Mr. Nicholas has appeared, covering the candidates of all parties. In the Conservative ranks, as might have been expected, the businessmen had preponderance. Of the 621 candidates, 168 were employers or company directors; 30 were concerned in business finance as stockbrokers or bankers; of those who had private means, 39 had done nothing to justify their inclusion in any other category; and there were 12 farmers and 21 landowners. The total is thus 270. It is tempting to include in this group those 39 candidates for whom a company directorship was a subsidiary occupation, as well as the 16 whose subsidiary occupation was farming; but they might also have been included in some of the other categories already counted within the group. Nevertheless, the real total is somewhere between 270 and 325—the latter figure being over half the total number of candidates. For the rest, the Law accounts for 114, the Services for 62, and there are 30 salaried managers. Other professional and well-to-do people number 137, and four white-collar and seven manual workers bring up the rear.

* * *


The Labour Party put forward 617 candidates; and it is worthy of note in a party which claims to be a socialist one that no less than 92 of these candidates were engaged in business or agriculture at the profit-making level, including 40 company directors. There were also 78 engaged in the Law, 8 from the Services and 21 salaried managers. In the other middle-income groups there were 180 candidates; 43 were white-collar workers; 92 were manual workers; and 91 candidates had been manual workers, but had now moved up into the white-collar group (the great majority of these being trade union officials).

* * *


Of the Liberal Party’s 475 candidates, some 143 belonged to the employing profit-making group, including 85 company directors. It is significant that, as Mr. Nicholas puts it, “of persons owning their own small businesses, small retailers, etc. (a category hardly worthy of separate mention amongst Conservatives or Labour), there can be listed 23.” There were also 71 Liberal barristers and solicitors, 39 salaried managers, and 16 from the Services. 188 others were in the middle income groups, and there were 16 white-collar and 13 manual workers.

Apart from the large petty bourgeois representation among the Liberal Party’s candidates, the companies with which the party’s business-men were connected “were in most instances of modest size, what in the U.S.A. would be called ‘small business.’ Moreover, the emphasis throughout the business group fell on the export, transport or retail trades, often in the form of family concerns or private companies run by their owners.”

This analysis of the Liberal candidates would appear to confirm those conclusions as to the class-backing of the party which one would draw from the fact that it receives most support in the small-farmer areas of North Wales and North Scotland.

* * *

The Stick and the Carrot

It is a common assumption that the chief domestic issue in this country at the present time is that of Capitalism versus Socialism. But so far from a Socialist government having been in power, Socialism has never even been put before the electorate by any party with the resources to ensure that it would get a fair hearing. To adapt a famous saying, Socialism has not been tried and found wanting; it has never been tried.

The real quarrel is between two schools of thought, both of which accept explicitly or implicitly the foundations of the capitalist system. The first school is represented by those who think, privately or publicly, that a certain amount off unemployment is a good thing because it drives the workers, by fear of the dole, to increase production; that business should be left to the individual owner or joint-stock company; and that expenditure on social services should be restricted. The second school has insisted, ever since the days of Robert Owen and his new-style cotton mills at New Lanark, that the worker would produce more if he were given reasonable security and good conditions; and that laissez-faire was generally to be frowned upon because open competition deprived the worker of security. Since, as Robert Owen found, few individual factory- or mine-owners were willing to accept and put into operation these new theories, those adhering to the second school have called for state-intervention in industry and a measure of state-ownership. But the fundamental problem over which the two schools differ is that of how to get the worker to produce more; is the stick or the carrot more effective?

* * *

“Socialists” on Nationalised Boards

But though the Fabian society and the other theorists of the second school made only a few conversions among the upper class, they found allies in the trade unions, which naturally approved of a theory which aimed at giving security and reasonable conditions to the worker. Just as the donkey, if questioned, would doubtless favour the carrot method, so did the workers accept the Fabian nostrums. And as the Labour Party built itself up into one of the largest parties in the country, domestic debate began to centre round the “welfare state” and state-ownership. But the issue of Socialism versus Capitalism was never raised on a national scale; the Labour Party was first called a socialist party by the conservative press, intent on rallying the propertied class round the Conservative Party.

The difference between the Labour Party on the one hand and the Socialist Party on the other has been emphasised once more by Mr. Harold Roberts, President of the National Union of Railwaymen (Carriage and Wagon Grades). He is reported to have said (Sunday Times, 20-5-51) that each nationalised board should have at its head “a Socialist of unquestionable integrity with a deep-rooted conviction of the correctness Socialist policy.” It is symbolic of the widespread misuse of the word “Socialist” that a trade union leader can talk in apparent seriousness of an industry run on wage-labour and profit-making lines having a “ Socialist ” at its head.

* * *

Due Reward

Another quotation from the same paper illustrates again the gap between the private- and state-capitalist parties and the Socialist Party. The Rt. Hon. Richard Law, M.P., reviewing a book by Mr. George Goyder which advocates a change in company law “to make management explicitly responsible to the worker, the community and the state, as well as to the shareholder” (whatever that may mean) can go on to say that under such a system “the absent shareholder will get his due reward, but no more.” Those who want state intervention, those who want laissez-faire, all join in agreeing that there is such a thing as a “due reward” for a shareholder, and yet the Labour Party is still regularly called the Socialist Party.

* * *

Six of One

Recently there was a military parade in Prague past President Gottwald and Marshal Konev. Reviewing his armed forces, the President said that “the creation of a strong and efficient army and people’s militia was in no way contrary to the purposes of peace. He said the stronger Czechoslovakia defence forces became the stronger would be the world peace front.” (News Chronicle, 7-5-51).

* * *

And Half-a-dozen of the other

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, in Yorkshire, we find Mr. Strachey saying that “we must push on with our defence programme. He was convinced that every new division of the Army, squadron of the R.A.F. and ship of the Navy which we could make available increased the chance of keeping the peace. And to keep the peace, to prevent a third world war, was the supreme object of all our endeavours.” (Observer, 20-5-51.)

* * *

Preserve Them From War

Another adherent of the curious theory that the best way to keep the peace is to produce more weapons of war is President Truman.

The News Chronicle (25-5-51) tells us that “in a memorable message sent to the Capitol, and at a press conference just before the message was read to Congress, the President set forth in simple and moving words a majestic aim that lies behind the policy the U.S. government is pursuing. It is to bring about peaceful conditions in which ‘the century in which we live could become the brightest man has yet known on earth.’ ”

How are we going to bring about peaceful conditions? Why, by getting Congress “to vote another £3,000 millions to give free countries throughout most of the world weapons, raw materials, machinery and other aid to preserve them from war and conquest.”

* * *

Consoling Ourselves

Continuing the campaign to persuade the public that atom-bombs are not so bad after all, the Times leader-column recalls that a hundred years ago it used the phrase “perhaps the most terrible implement of destruction ever delivered into the human hand,” to describe the latest repeating pistol brought to this country by Samuel Colt. It goes on comfortingly to say that “to-day, surrounded by more formidable weapons, we may perhaps be forgiven for consoling ourselves with the realisation that in other ages, too, men have stood in awe of their own inventions” and remarks that “the man who had visions of blazing his way to glory with a smoking gun in each hand soon found how elusive a stationary target at fifteen paces could be.” (29-5-51)

The implied comparison between the atom-bomb and the Colt revolver, and the hint that the former may fall short of expectations as the latter did, is unworthy of the Times. Exactly how elusive would a modern city be when faced with a raid by a fleet of jet-bombers, or bv guided missiles? How elusive were Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the already out-of-date bombers used in the now old-fashioned year of 1945?

Not very.

* * *

Lord High Admiral

Spare a thought for Mr. Bernard Le Strange. Hereditary Lord High Admiral of the Wash. Finding himself in debt, he agreed last May to live on only £10 a week until his debts were paid off; and he moved “to an inexpensive harbour-front hotel” in St. Helier, Jersey. Now his creditors have been paid off, and Mr. Le Strange will doubtless be able to resume a manner of life more fitting to his station. But it is an interesting commentary on Mr. Le Strange’s normal standard of life that a year living on the sea-front in Jersey with an income of £10 a week represents the crash which follows a financial crisis.

* * *

Drinks on the House

Another figure who claims our sympathy this month is the Lord Mayor of London. The Sunday Express (20-5-51) remarks on his princely hospitality. Apparently he has an allowance of £12,500 a year— £250 a week; but the Express envisages him having to pay an extra £20,000—£400 a week—for the entertaining he is doing during the current year.

Who said the rich had been almost destroyed by the tax-collector?


Leave a Reply