The Passing Show: Change of Mood

The glad news was heard in a million households on the Friday night after the General Election: the class war is obsolete! Mr. Macmillan announced it on TV. “This seems to me,” he added, “ a great gain for the future.” This sentiment will be echoed by workers everywhere. For now clerks, dockers, factory-operatives, will be able to put in immediate demands for wage increases and improved conditions, and the employers will agree forthwith. If they resisted, and defended their profits, they would be taking part in a struggle between, classes—between those who own the means of production and those who have to work them. But they won’t resist—we have Mr. Macmillan’s own word for it: the class war is obsolete.


Perhaps if the employees in Mr. Macmillan’s own family firm, the publishing business, took him at his word, we should soon enough see the difference between. Mr. Macmillan, the soft-soap politician, and Mr. Macmillan, the member of the ruling class.


Change of Mood
There was another significant phrase in the course of the Prime Minister’s speech. Before the election we all heard Conservative candidates promising that “it will be even better if you vote for us”; but in his TV speech Mr. Macmillan could only venture as far as “I hope that in the course of the next Parliament it may be possible to maintain the national prosperity,” and so forth. Before we voted, it was the indicative mood—“it will be better”; now the ballot boxes are closed again, the mood is subjunctive —“I hope it may be possible.” How soon the victorious party begins to tone down its pre-election promises!


As against all the other parties, the Conservatives start with a great advantage: that very powerful instrument of propaganda, the Press, is largely on their side. In the field of the mass-circulation daily newspapers, the Conservative “Telegraph,” “Mail,” “Express,” and “Sketch,” together have over eight million customers; while the Labour-supporting “Herald” and “Mirror” have a circulation of just under six million (The Guardian, 9/10/59). On Sundays the Conservative papers sell over fifteen million copies, while again the Labour papers sell fewer than six millions. As for the provincial press, both daily and evening, the overwhelming majority of papers support the Conservatives. Apart from this, the British electoral system itself has a bias towards the Conservatives—admittedly small, but occasionally decisive, as in 1951, when the Labour Party had 220,000 more votes than the Conservatives, but twenty-six fewer seats (The Observer, 11/10/59).


Of the two Houses of Parliament, the House of Lords (although its powers are now greatly cut down) has a permanent Conservative majority. As to the elected House of Commons, the results of the Conservative advantages detailed above are soon seen. The Commons just returned should last, with a Government majority of 100, for the full five years, until 1964. If it does, it will mean that in the forty-six years between the “khaki” election of 1918 and 1964. the Labour Party will have had a majority in the House of Commons for only six years. For three years (1923-4 and 1929-31) no single party had a majority: while for thirty-seven out of these forty-six years, the Conservatives will have had a clear majority over all other parties. The only General Election since Asquith was Premier to have produced a workable non-Conservative majority was that of 1945 (the narrow Labour majority of 1950 was not, of course, a workable one and lasted only eighteen months!- And the 1945 result was the product of the holocaust of the Second World War. It seems, in fact, that it takes a cataclysm to unroot the Conservative majority in Parliament.


The only sure way to alter these conditions is to bring about Socialism: and the way to do that is by the steady spread of Socialist ideas. Even if the Labour Party did form Governments more often it would make no difference to the economic system. The Labour Party used to claim it was a Socialist Party, but apparently it is now abandoning this pretence, judging by Mr. Gaitskell’s remark that “Labour wants to make Capitalism work better and more fairly than it does under a Conservative Government” (The Observer, 11/10/59). As to that, one can only say that there is only one way to run Capitalism, and that, is for the benefit of the Capitalists.


From The Times, 12/10/59:


Pretoria, October 11th.—Five British Socialist publications have been banned as objectionable literature under an official “Gazette” list published here. They are the fourth revised edition of “Questions of the Day,” “Socialism S.P.G.B.,” “Socialist Comment,” “The Socialist Party and War,” and “Socialist Party of Great Britain—its Principles and Policy.” The “Gazette” notice gave no reason why these publications are regarded as objectionable.—Reuter.


For those who have forgotten, South Africa is one of the Western allies, united in defence of democracy and freedom of speech, or so they tell us. It is interesting to observe that the South African Government, by banning these Socialist Party pamphlets, has paid an unwilling tribute to their effectiveness.


Alwyn Edgar