Editorial: The Liberal Revival

The managers of the Tory and Labour Parties, during the past year, have had to endure a nagging worry of a kind they both thought had gone for ever, the revival of the Liberal vote. To make it worse they see that it has happened not because voters particularly like the Liberals, but because the voters in increasing numbers have had a lively urge to register their dislike of Labour and Tory.


The suffering Labour and Tory leaders, as if by agreement, jeered at the Liberals for having no policy, until Lord Rea, Liberal Leader in the House of Lords, undertook to tell the readers of the Daily Telegraph (18th March, 1958) what that policy is.


He did not make a very good job of it for, like the spokesmen of the two big rival parties, he had the delicate task of steering between the fault of saying too little to please anyone and the risk of saying too much and scaring off some potential voters. In this country, with wage and salary earners making up nine-tenths of the electorate, competition for their votes is a tricky business and the three parties have given much thought to working out the best tactics. What has evolved is the situation in which the Tory, Liberal and Labour parties each has a list of vague general principles, and the three lists are almost identical, except for small differences of emphasis. Thus they all say they are working for Peace, Disarmament, low prices, high wages, and making everybody happy, and all declare themselves to be not a class party, but a party of the nation. In practice, this means that the Labour Party thinks it can depend on the confuted support of the bulk of organised industrial workers and therefore concentrates its attention on getting additional votes from outside that area. So in its 1950 Election Manifesto it declared:—


  “We appeal to manual workers—skilled, semi-skilled and so-called unskilled; farmers and agricultural workers; active and able managers and administrators in industry and the public services; professional workers, technicians and scientists; and housewives and women workers of all kinds.”


The Tories, on the other hand, being strongly represented among clerical and professional workers, as well as among farmers and property owners, hopes to make headway among the better paid skilled workers. Mr. T. E Utley, writing on “ What is a Tory? ” in the Daily Telegraph (24th October, 1957) laid down the tactic and its application:


Holding that “any political party tends at any moment to draw its most assured support from a particular social class,” he went on to define the new recruits wooed by the Tory Party propagandists as the “skilled worker on the up and up,” meaning the man with a TV set, a motor cycle, some money in the Savings Bank. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph (8th May, 1958), Mr. Colm Brogan put it more fully: “The Conservative party ought to stand openly as the guardian of the middle class, and affirm that the whole nation needs a contorted and expanding middle class. . . .  The Conservative party should set its free like flint against inflation, which bears such special harshness on the large army of thrifty workers who have their savings in cash or fixed interest stocks.”


How can the Liberals break in?


This is the situation facing the Liberals. They see the Labour and Tory parties well dug in on their respective fields and trying to entice over the floating voters in no-man’s land. The only way for the Liberals to hope to break in is to attack both the other parties and try to detach lukewarm supporters. So Lord Rea in his article had to make as much as he could of the case that Liberalism is different from Toryism and Labourism, not just in respect of practical measures, but in principle. He did this by claiming that Liberalism is “much more of a philosophy and a faith than a set of rules made to benefit one section of society at the expense of another section. . . . That is why its supporters are a cross section of every social class and of every income bracket . . .  people who do not join a party for what they personally can get out of it”


Then Lord Rea came down to practical questions and told his readers that what the Liberals aim to do is to cut taxation drastically, mainly by cutting armament expenditure; give the workers an incentive to work harder by having a share of profits or by owning shares in companies; curbing the monopolistic trade associations of manufacturers and the trade unions; giving the individual protection against having his property and his freedom infringed by the State; resist Labour Party nationalisation schemes; and generally to safeguard us all against the hidebound extremists in the Tory and Labour parties.


The Question of Capitalism


When we look for Liberal and Tory and Labour views on the basic question of the class-divided capitalist social system in which we live we find, under wordy phrases that indicate differences between the parties, what is in fact an almost identical outlook. The Liberals want to keep capitalism but modify it by letting the worker share in profits. The Tories frankly accept the class division: –


   “He [the Tory] seeks peace and justice by harmonising contending interests with each other rather than by nursing the dream of a society altogether free from conflict and friction.”—(Daily Telegraph, 24th October, 1957.)


At the time of writing the failure of the Tory government to harmonise contending class interests has been glaringly exhibited in the strike of bus workers and the threatened strikes of railwaymen and others; events which also demonstrate the idle dream of the Labour Party that nationalisation would bring peace to industry.


We had 50 years of Liberalism


In March the Liberal Leader, Jo Grimond told a young Liberal mass meeting that what Britain needs is 50 years of Liberalism. In spite of their youth there is nothing to prevent them from learning from their history books that between 1834 and 1916 we did in fact have fifty years of Liberal government, and that it left this country in the same sorry mess that it had been left by Tory governments and was later on to be left by Labour governments.


When we, as Socialists, examine the records of government by the three parties, separately and in coalitions, we are reinforced in our conviction that the only solution is the one sneered at by the Tory writer, and rejected alike by Liberal and Labour, the “dream of a society altogether free from conflict and friction”—a Socialist world.