1950s >> 1959 >> no-657-may-1959

When Will It Be?

Reflections on the Election
Mr. Macmillan’s government cannot live much longer. Its term of office expires in May next year, so the Prime Minister must already be thinking about dissolving Parliament. Doubtless, he will try to choose the date most advantageous to his party; he has recently been offered a lot of journalistic advice on this.

 

Last year, when stating that he would not call a general election for some time, Mr. Macmillan said that he was putting the Labour Party out of their agony. Certainly, they were then very eager for an election, for the Gallup Poll gave them a significant lead and the bye-elections were running their way. Since then, if these things are a reliable guide, the Labour Party has lost some ground. Now, with a general election in the offing, the agony must have returned.

 

The Budget
The 1959 Budget is the last before the General Election; it was, therefore, widely expected to be a popular one, intended to upset as few voters as possible and to please as many as possible. Mr. Amory came up to expectations. The cuts in income tax, although no worker will benefit by more than a few shillings a week, were soothing balm on a sore spot. Income tax is a constant grievance amongst the working class, who weekly sigh, over their decapitated wage packets, for the days when they were not qualified to pay the tax. The fact which is forgotten is that they were really no better off in those days than they arc now; the source of their poverty is not in any tax but in their social situation. The reduction in the price of beer was an earthy touch, guaranteed to make the headlines and proving that Old Etonian Cabinet Ministers are aware of what the “lower classes” drink.

 

Another Tory ace is made up of Mr. Macmillian’s journey to Moscow and his promotion of what are called talks at the summit. Nothing new about this—but what better face can a politician show than that of a man of peace? It seems to escape notice that they have often been so described when actually preparing for war. Never mind—it is claimed that Mr. Macmillan’s diplomatic efforts are restoring Britain’s international prestige. This must strongly appeal to those workers who are ignorant of the international poverty and interests of their class and who yearn to see Great Britain again a leading world power, almost as people who live in Highbury long to see the Arsenal at the top of the League.

 

The Labour Party
The Labour Party has had to work hard to break down these images of Conservative success. Their spokesmen have displayed all the usual ingenuity in attacking the Budget, playing down the parts which they think may win votes and asking awkward questions about the others. In the House of Commons on April 8th Mr. Harold Wilson said that, although the Tories have reduced the price of beer (“condescending” he called this), three years ago they increased the price of school milk. He also made the usual sympathetic noises about old age pensioners and the chronically sick. This must have gone down well in some places but, at a guess, was not generally as effective as Mr. Amory’s Budget.

 

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has been busily designing its policies to appeal to the voters. At last year’s Annual Conference, opposing a resolution in favour of land nationalisation, Mr. Tom Williams, M.P., said:—

  To win power is our first duty . . . Don’t commit political suicide by importing additions into this policy statement that may destroy our chances at the next general election.

Mr. Richard Crossman, the party executive’s spokesman in this debate, wound up by asking the mover of the resolution, in the words of the Manchester Guardian,” . . . whether she thought her assertion would help to win a constituency.”

 

This cynical attitude is matched by the Conservatives. The fact that the Prime Minister will deliberately time an election to give his own party the greater chance of winning, and that a Chancellor of the Exchequer will always try to produce a popular Budget before a general election, is an indication of their desire to win votes.

 

Optimistic
Whilst the two great parties are sparring with each other and courting the electors with their peacock programmes, it is as well to face a few facts. Capitalism is capitalism, whether administered to Tory or Labour governments. It has an unpleasant habit of upsetting the best laid schemes of the smoothest politicians and of persisting in throwing up the same problems. Insecurity? A few months back unemployment in this country was higher—600,000. War? Towards the end of this month the dispute over Berlin, which has been going on for more than ten years, may erupt into something more serious. These are not problems which politicians can solve, even politicians like Mr. Macmillan, who is said to be the most optimistic prime minister we have. The late Earl Baldwin also had his optimistic moments; he once said:—

 

  If we have not conquered unemployment, we are in process of conquering it, and if there is no great disturbance shall complete its conquest.

 

Those words were reported in the Morning Post of 5th April, 1929, a few months before the great crash.

 

Despite their failures—and even though their successes are futile—the appeal of the politicians persists. Workers vote for them in their millions with, apparently, hardly a thought for an alternative They are content to be exploited to keep the capitalist system running, whilst the political parties squabble over the spoils of power. The Manchester Guardian of 4th March, 1957, reported Dr. Charles Hill, M.P., a member of the Tory Government, as saying, “. . . that the most riotous fun he had ever had was in opposition.” The Doctor went on to say:—

 

  Then we could make speeches without responsibility and make proposals that hadn’t got to be carried out.

 

Well. Labour have had their fun: if they win the next election the Tories will be waiting to give them the full treatment again .A merry game. Who cares if it’s the spectators who always get injured?

 

Ivan