Editorial: The Tory Pension Plan

People live longer than they did a generation or two ago. So there are more voters who are old and the big political parties are more concerned than formerly about having in their electoral shop window something to offer to the pensioners.

Last year, with unlucky timing, the Labour Party put out their pension scheme and thought they had found a good vote-catcher. Mr. Crossman, M.P., said at the Labour Party Conference: “I believe you will find the electorate will want it. At least, I have noticed that the Tories seem a little alarmed at the idea.” (Report, p. 124.) Of course, the Tories, being the government and therefore in a position to know when they proposed to have the next general election, had time to study the reception given to the Labour plan and then to produce one of their own. They have done so and have put the Labour Party in a dilemma. The Labour Party and Mr. Crossman call it a “shoddy copy” of their own plan, but now they do not know whether they dare oppose it or not. The Tories have pinched Mr. Crossman’s plan and, as the Manchester Guardian puts it, have trimmed down the original to make it more acceptable to the voters. The Labour Party are naturally annoyed about this, because it reduces a little more their prospects of winning the next election—prospects generally rated to be rather dim at the present time.

We have no sympathy to offer them in their distress. Rather we would rub it in by saying we told you so. We have been telling the Labour Party reformists for years that the avowed defenders of Capitalism are at least as astute as the Labour Party reformers of Capitalism. Every time the Labour Party has conceived and worked up a good vote-catching reform, the Tories (or the Liberals) have come along and made it their own.

Is there any way of stopping this? Indeed there is. If the Labour Party did not put forward schemes that are good for Capitalism the avowed defenders of Capitalism would not steal them; anything not good for Capitalism they would not want to steal.

If the Labour Party stood for Socialism and fought elections on that issue there would never be the slightest danger of Tories and Liberals taking it over.

Which brings us to a remark made by the Editor of the Manchester Guardian (October 15th, 1958) that perhaps neither the Labour Pensions Scheme nor the Tory Pensions Scheme is the last word. “It may be, indeed, that a fresh approach—different from those of Government and Labour alike—will have to be tried.”

How right the Guardian is for once—but how accidentally! When the workers ultimately get tired of trying alternately the Tory and Labour plans for tinkering with Capitalism, they will try a fresh approach—Socialism, with whose inauguration there will be no need for any pension scheme because all people, young and old, well and sick, will possess free access to the means of living.

One other observation needs to be made. The Labour Party, from force of long habit, will maintain that the basic idea of the plan is sound, the idea of having unequal rates of pension; a small pension for the worst paid workers and a larger pension for those who earn more and who pay larger contributions. At last year’s Labour Party Conference the Executive had to defend this against a minority who held that such inequality is a betrayal of earlier views of their party. These critics were right, for at one time their policy was that there should be adequate flat rate pension for all. They also held that it should be non-contributory. That also has been abandoned; the financial purists are appalled at the notion that workers should be “improvident” and spend all their wages without making provision for old age. Another “principle” they have jettisoned is that of aiming at a “shorter working life,” an earlier retirement age. Now 55 has been forgotten, 60 has already given place to 65 and it is by no means impossible that before long they will be wanting to make it 70.

Those who still have faith in the policy of reforms might also note that this new plan (and Labour’s plan) by having unequal pensions finally buries the principle of the Beveridge Report embodied in the present National Insurance scheme. Only ten years ago they were telling us how the Beveridge plan had abolished poverty and ushered in a new era. We risk the confident prophecy that it will be less than ten years ahead that the Labour Party or the Tory Party will be introducing another new era to win the votes of the workers for the continuance of the Capitalist system that exploits them.