“The Future Labour Offers You”


Before the First World War political issues were by and large a matter of—on my right—Tory, Protection—on my left—Liberal, Free Trade, and the voters backed their fancy. Then the Labour Party only took part in minor, left contests with the Liberals sometimes in their corner.

But even while Laissez Faire was still the official policy, the system’s bureaucratic and administrative superstructure grew up like Jack and the Beanstalk and political parties found themselves caught up in the fine web of a more complex economy, from which they could never hope to free themselves. All had to do the same things. The job was to persuade the electorate that it was one rather than the other of them who could do these same things, better—or differently.

Today the political maps, whether read from left to right or vice versa, present a vast labyrinth of bureaucratic and administrative detail. Small wonder that when the electorate are taken on conducted tours by rival politicians they are apt to get lost in the maze: as a result the electorate often do not know where the politicians are and the politicians are often at a loss to know the whereabouts of the electorate. This loss of effective contact between the political parties and the electorate has become for the former a major problem. The task has been to establish a more simplified routing system.

The Tories first started this by putting up sign posts all over the place by way of captions and slogans. As a result more people began to find their way to the Tory polling booths than to the Labour ones in two successive elections.

The Politicians take to Advertising
Again, after the first impetus of enthusiasm for Labour had worn off, Tories resorted to the old and more simple device of making elections largely an issue of Conservative blue powders versus Labour pink pills. As in all forms of monopolistic competition they relied upon superior advertising techniques to increase their public sales as against their rivals.

This has caused the Labour Party to let its hair down and pull up its publicity socks. They have just issued a pepped up version of their policy document called. “The Future Labour Offers You.” It is slick and shiny, and all captions, pictures and fluorescent printing. If against their Tory rivals they can no longer be holier-than-thou, they can at least strive to be glossier than thou.

It looks like a Christmas mail order brochure, complete with thumb index, so one can conveniently flick to what immediately interests you. Inside it will tell you all about your job, your home, your health, and your children’s education. In fact, its legislative proposals cover everything from conception to cemetery.

In the main it seeks to win over various categories of “middle class” voters, ranging from “Spam and Wonder Loaf” to “ House and Garden.” It is all cheerful and cosy and has a picture of a rosy dawn, but not a red one. It is the nearest yet to Shaw’s ideal of making Labour as acceptable to all shades of opinion, including capitalists, as Tories or Liberals. It looks appetising election fare, only the taste in the mouth is nasty.

Nationalisation almost forgotten
There is only a brief reference to nationalisation in the document and even then it contrives to say as little as possible about it. While as a policy nationalisation has not yet been relegated to the museum of antiquities it has certainly gone in the Labour lumber room and the dust sheets are drawn over it.

For fifty years Labour chanted the virtues of nationalised industry, as against wicked private enterprise —the mines were their favourite theme. Now economic reality has converted it from a day dream to a nightmare. The coal industry is in the red, uneconomic pits are being closed down and miners are in process of being sacked by the thousands. Then there is the plight of the Railways and the plight of Railwaymen facing the biggest of large scale dismissals in Railway history. While the position of other nationalised transport is shaky, nor are Gas and Electricity illuminating examples of prosperous, booming nationalisation.

So nationalisation, which for fifty years was Labour’s main policy plank, is found to be full of woodworm and the rot has set in .

Two conferences ago the Labour Party said: “Its housing policy would be the biggest public ownership project ever undertaken in this country.” Now in the document all we meet is the vague phrase: “We shall tackle the problem of tenants’ houses by empowering local councils to buy rent restricted property and modernising it as fast as possible.”

Two years ago their emphatic policy was municipalisation of houses. But municipalisation is a word derived from the root of nationalisation which is now among the best Labour circles a swear word, so perhaps the former word ought not to be used in nice “middle class” homes.

Like the Tories, they propose to give mortgage grants via local councils and like the Tories they are prepared to give grants to prop up houses that are falling down. Both the Labour and Tory Housing Plan come within the category of identical twins.

Labourites used to talk of relieving the insecurity and tensions generated by the system. Yet after the successive Labour governments they blandly tell us that nearly half the hospital beds are occupied by people who are mentally ill. Perhaps there is a melancholy satisfaction in the fact that in a social system which more and more comes to resemble a vast lunatic asylum, the percentage of mental illness is not much greater.

One wonders whether Labour leaders along with other political leaders ought to be classified among the mentally sick. If so, it is disquieting to think that instead of being put to bed they may be put in office.

Disarmament hypocrisy
With tongue-bulging cheeks the party that began the biggest peace-time armament drive in English History talks with a nauseating non-conformist morality about the need for disarmament and uses the old smear device of suggesting that it is the Tories who are the real militarist party.

Having approved the atom bomb and initiated at home the making of the hydrogen bomb, they seek to make political capital by their proposal to suspend nuclear tests. It is the sort of morality which would give a man under a suspended death sentence an anti-virus injection to keep him in good health and spirits.

No mention is made of Labour’s ambitious schemes, bruited two conferences ago, of buying shares and participating in private enterprise if returned to office and so becoming direct eaters of surplus value. No doubt the marginal voter must be carefully weaned from Tory skim milk to Labour’s predigested propaganda pap.

Perhaps the worst section is the one which deals with the Labour proposal to increase the old age pension from 50s. to 60s. per week. Mr. Crossman once said it was inhuman to expect old people to live on 50s. per week. Does he and his party think it human to live on 60s. per week? What an inhuman concept of human needs.

Only a cursory treatment can be made of this document now, and a detailed examination must be the subject of further articles, but enough has been said to show the yawning chasm of their once proclaimed ideals and the political practices they now accept.

Labourism not Socialism
To the old Labour appeal to us, that after all, we were both on the same road, the answer is, yes, but how far we have travelled in an opposite direction since then.

It has been said that when the final draft of this revamped version of Labour policy was run over, leading Labourites were so pleased and excited by it that they forgot to notice the word Socialism had been omitted from it. Perhaps after calling themselves a Socialist Party for fifty years they had guilt feelings and decided to put it in. Perhaps Mr. Bevan demanded it to go in as a concession to his “revolutionary” tradition. So they sprinkled it like pepper, a half-dozen times on the last page and half.

Because Labour’s view of Socialism is more than ever a version of Capitalism with knobs on, the word may now take pride of place in Labour’s vocabulary as against nationalisation, which has become a taboo word. Henceforth the Labour Party might become the party of “Socialism” and not nationalisation. No doubt many shades of opinion, including Shaw’s “Capitalists,” would welcome the change.

Even in the full draft policy Keir Hardie is given no mention. One wonders what the founder of the Labour Party would have thought of “his party” being sold on the political market like a soap powder.

More than ever does the struggle between the major parties take on the semblance of rival detergent monopolies on the claims that both “wash whitest” and to which the Labour policy document seeks to add, that Labour adds “brightness to whiteness,” surely to continue the metaphor this is the lowest ebb “Tide” politics has reached.

To paraphrase another detergent caption, for the working class only the cleansing Socialist policy can wash the dirt out of politics which the others can’t.

E. W.

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