Labour and Tories at home

The annual conferences of the two major parties were studies in political contrast. For the Tories it was a splendid spectacle—a jamboree of quietly exulting hearts.

For Labour it was a half-hearted acceptance that “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark,” a reluctant realisation that Nationalisation is no well-seasoned Socialist plank but a worm-eaten structure full of bureaucratic dry-rot over which the paint of 80 years’ propaganda has worn very thin.

Now a three year policy committee is to be set up to try to substitute new planks for old. There will, of course, be much hammering and sawing by the party chippies and at the end a bag of political sawdust and shavings.

The Conference chairman, Dr. Edith Summerskill, began the proceedings with a diagnosis of the ills of the body politic. She discovered the Tory Chancellor as the malignant cause. One felt, however, that her forceps were not so anti-septic as they might have been. The Labour Party do not like Mr. Butler, not because of his blue blooded origin, but because of the pink Fabianism he adroitly puts to the Tory cause. Now the Conservative front bench has taken to importing back room boys, Mr. Butler, with their aid, has devised vote-catching policies and captivating slogans. He appears a shrewder and more imaginative politician than his Labour counterpart Mr. Gaitskell, one of Labour’s bright boys, who has taken a degree in something.

Dr. Summerskill also lamented the fact that the Labour Party has lost its emotional appeal for youth. She said they now take full employment for granted and even want something more. In short, the Labour Party are unable at present to exploit the fear of mass-unemployment. She added that Labour used to think work was synonymous with happiness. While it may be true to say that to be out of work is to be unhappy it does not necessarily mean the converse is true. Dr. Summerskill, it seems, is mildly astonished to discover that because a youth may earn his own living it does not follow that “ his cup runneth over.”

Indeed, the very work which Dr. Summerskill once thought was synonymous with happiness can itself be a source of industrial frustration and as pernicious in its effects in one way as unemployment is in another. One has only to think of the large number of youth working on semi-automatic processes. The routine and drudgery often involved in junior clerkships. The thousands of boys and girls in blind-alley occupations or the soul destroying tasks of many unskilled occupations; or even the gap between what career examinations so often promise and what they actually yield. All of which is perfectly consistent with a system based on costs and profits.

To work is one thing. To earn a living is Capitalism’s distorted version of it. “ To work for money,” said Marx, “ is not really to work at all.” It still remains a major indictment of Capitalism that it cannot effectively gear the creative capacities of men to the productive processes. Perhaps because many of the industrial young lack a productive outlet they seem deficient in social outlook, and seek relief from the treadmill of aimless work in the treadmill of aimless leisure.

The Tories claim, however, to attract more to their youth organisation than does the Labour Party. This may merely signify that young suburbia places a greater prestige value on a half-pint drink in the local Conservative Club than in the local boozer or Working Men’s Institute. The Labour’ Party is, however, setting up a new youth organisation to compete with the Tories in catching ’em young.

Strangely enough, it was Gaitskell whom his rival Bevan once contemptuously called a dessicated calculating machine, who made the biggest emotional impact on the Labour Conference by himself emotionally announcing that “he was a true Socialist.” This public avowal of faith, the first it seems he has made, earned him the biggest ovation of the Conference. It might earn him the party leadership from the discredited Bevan and the ageing Morrison.

And of what did this public avowal of true Socialist faith consist, which wrung the heart of Mr. Gaitskell and the withers of the Conference? It was that vague innocuous tenet that has done service for every political creed—“ Equality of opportunity.” Mr. Gaitskell, however, further qualified it by adding, ‘“reward should go to work and merit and not to wealth and position.” Here was the authentic voice of the Intelligentsia who believe that the division between intellectual and manual labour is an eternal dispensation. Such “equality of opportunity” would exclude any opportunity for equality.

Bevan, as usual, was “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” While the Bevan demands for bigger and better doses of Nationalisation earn support from the constituent Labour Party, it is against the political trends of the time. Moreover, words like Public Ownership, Workers’ Control and even Nationalisation, are becoming political swear words, offensive to the delicate ears of sober Labour leaders and eminently respectable T.U. chiefs.

The last-named regard Bevanism as a disease, whereas it is merely a symptom. No doubt the Labour Party strives to have differences with the Tories but its net effect is to produce differences within itself which militate against it being an effective political whole. Thus the price of some permanent difference with the Tories would be the price of a permanent split; clearly an impossible situation. Yet for the Labour Party to be free of splits would be tantamount to declaring itself politically redundant. That is its perpetual dilemma. Because the Labour Party is part of an established two party system in a monolithic political structure its internal weaknesses are a matter of concern for Labour and Tory alike. The Labour Conference gave no sign that they would be remedied.

Tory Conferences are never complicated by attempts at policy making. Every delegate is deeply aware of his political station in life to which it has pleased the Conservative Central Office to call him. Only the Leader makes policy. To question it would be sacrilege. The Leader in his wisdom does of course delegate power to eminent colleagues and consult High Finance and Big Business.

Following the Churchillian precedent, Mr. Eden was not present at Conference proceedings. On the last day, however, he turned up and made a moving speech. Leaders on such occasions always make moving speeches. The Conference usually opens with a prayer, then the annual platform pep talk from the Conservative Elders, followed by well prepared speeches from the Conservative young and closes with a moist-eyed, deep-throated rendering of “Land of Hope and Glory.”

Nevertheless, the modern Tory Party, unlike their rivals, present a suave facade of party unity. There may be dissensions but they are conducted in well-bred, modulated voices. Deep down there may be fierce jealousies and rivalries but they scarcely ruffle the silken surface. Even when Churchill, old, arrogant and overbearing, became an embarrassment to the Tories there was no strident “Churchill must go” campaign. People who pricked their ears caught faint murmurings but no one heard distinctly, for the Tory door was shut and the windows closed. Just as when Butler, who blotted his copy book at Munich, lost out to Churchill’s white headed boy, Eden, for the premiership, no one yelled—“we wuz robbed.” While the Tories divide they never split.

After the crushing defeat of the Tories in 1945 many said “ they were sunk.” The same view was held in their 1906 debacle. But the Tories have a strong survival instinct. Quietly, efficiently, they salvaged the craft, gave it a coat of new paint and refloated it. Also they were able to cash in on their opponents’ mistakes and the disappointment Labour’s terms of office brought. The tide turned. People, who in 1945, voted against old Toryism began to vote for “New Look” Conservatism. In 1945 the Tories’ greatest liability was their pre-war domestic policy. In 1955 the Labour Party’s greatest liability is their post-war record.

The Tories are supposed to be traditionally stupid, a myth probably self-perpetrated to their own advantage. Actually they are shrewd and flexible politicians. “Dishing the Whigs” is as adroitly practised by them as it was by Disraeli. Because they are the traditional representatives of wealth and property, they regard themselves as the rightful rulers of the realm. The difference between them and the Labour Party is that Labour believes it can govern. The Tories know they can.

As for the Welfare State it is much more Tory “Socialism” than Labour “Socialism”. Long ago Industrial Feudalism was a Tory ideal, where workers would have “rights ” as well as duties. Indeed the New Welfare State is only old Tory reformism writ larger. While it may have features not wholly satisfactory to the Tories it is the current expression of their age-long political paternalism. While circumstances may make them modify it here and there they will keep its main structure unimpaired.

At present they seem to have a decided political edge on their rivals. Only the possibility of a slump, it appears, can boom Labour’s falling stock.

E. W.

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