1950s >> 1951 >> no-566-october-1951

Editorial: This Dishonest Election

 This General Election will be remembered as one of the most dishonest of modern times. Elections are fought round two main issues, the past performance of the government that has given up office and the promises each party makes for future action if elected. Sometimes, though rarely, a newly elected government genuinely believes that its programme will bring great benefits to the workers who have elected it. That was true of the Labour Party in 1945, but it is not true to-day.

 The Labour Party and the Tory Party are fighting for power and in order to get votes both are making reckless promises of better times to come, though the leaders on both sides know full well that whichever government is elected the future holds in store nothing but a continuation, if not a worsening, of present hardships. The real reason why the election is being fought now is that British Capitalism needs a strong government to deal with the problems and discontents of the coming months and years. A government dependent on a parliamentary majority of a mere handful of M.P.s is in too weak a state to handle the crises that face British Capitalism at home and abroad.

 That this is the situation has been admitted by two capitalist journals that are sufficiently outside the election scramble to be able to afford candour. Both of them admit that the election promises of “better times” are fraudulent, and both take the line that it does not matter whether the new government is Labour or Tory provided that one or the other is elected with a substantial majority so that it can firmly carry through the anticipated unpopular measures. One of these is the Economist, and the other the Manchester Guardian.
The Economist (22 September, 1951) writes:—

       “Whether the Conservative or the Labour Party can provide the better political leadership for these times is by comparison a minor issue. It may be that in very quiet times the country could be well governed with as small a Parliamentary majority as Mr. Attlee has commanded for the past nineteen months. As things have in fact been, no party could have governed well. The difficulties facing the British people are now growing harsher. The firm and effective government required to meet them can come only from a party firmly established in power and able to look beyond immediate popularity when the need is for measures that will show their good results in two years’ time rather than next month    “The economic situation . . . now makes it more unrealistic even than it was in 1950 for either side to promise better things soon.”

 The Manchester Guardian in an editorial (21 September, 1951) covers much the same ground, but with some additional remarks on the election promises:—

        “When the election results came out in 1950 everybody prophesied that a government with so narrow a majority must be impotent. Things have not been quite so bad as that; the Government has not been wholly ineffective. Now, however, it is entering a much more difficult period when some bold decisions and some unpopular economic measures are called for, decisions and measures which a weak Government could not carry through except with Opposition support, and that under the circumstances would not be forthcoming. . . .  But whether the next Government is a Labour or a Conservative one it is earnestly to be hoped that it will be one with a coherent working majority. That, even more than the complexion of the Government, is what is important.”

 On the election programmes the Guardian has this to say:—

      “The Labour Party has exhausted its inspiration and has not even the semblance of a body of Socialist doctrine to guide it. Its programme in 1950 was a collection of odds and ends, its pre-election statement of a few weeks ago a collection of vague platitudes. Even the Bevanites have nothing much—besides class bias—to throw into the pool. The Conservatives are not much better placed.”
      “This barrenness of the political field is not surprising or really regrettable. . . . The next government will be concerned not with ideology but with grappling with economic difficulties. . . . The counter-measures against inflation and the organising of the country for defence call for decisions and teenniques which are not to be found in party programmes designed to attract and please the voter. But all the same it is to be feared that the stale programmes, such as they are, will be trotted out and the election will be fought on promises that are irredeemable and on diagnoses of our needs that are irrelevant. That, however, is the nature of elections.”

 The two journals from which we have quoted are undoubtedly correct in their estimate of the present position of British Capitalism, but when they talk of the needs of the situation they are completely wrong. What the working class of Britain and of the whole world need is the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. They need it but do not yet understand their need. We are therefore faced with the tragedy that millions of workers in Britain will, during the coming weeks, listen to and accept the wilful lies of their political leaders. The best indication of growing understanding that we can hope for at this juncture is that large numbers of voters, seeing through the election lies, may, in disgust, abstain from voting.

 For those workers who in the past have voted for the Labour Party in the mistaken belief that it was in some way moving towards a new form of society, this election is tragic indeed, for the leaders of the Labour Party have now ceased to have faith in anything except the cynical belief that they do the day-to-day job of running Capitalism no worse than the Conservatives.

 In the past the Labour leaders believed in State Capitalism or nationalisation, but now this has proved to be so unpopular with the workers that the leaders are soliciting votes by letting it be known that there are to be no new nationalisation schemes in the near future. Among bread-and-butter questions they laid great emphasis on being able to raise wages and reduce the cost of living, but the steady rise of prices and the lagging behind of wages during the past few years has reduced them to the petty manoeuvre of juggling with the facts to deceive the electors. At one time the Labour Party would have been the first to insist on comparing the movement of the cost of living with the movement of wage rates for a normal week’s work, but in recent Labour Party publications “wage-rates” have been quietly dropped and in their place use is made of earnings figures which include additional payments for overtime, night work, and piece-work, etc.

 One of several publications in which this trick has been worked is “Fifty Facts on Prices” (Labour Party), which says: “Compared with the rise of about 85 per cent, in the cost of living since 1938, the earnings of workers in industry went up by 133 per cent, between October, 1938, and April, 1950.” (“Fifty Facts,” page 17.)

 The Government’s own official indices of the cost of living and of wage-rates show that since June, 1947. the cost of living has increased by 27 per cent., while wage-rates have gone up by only 20 per cent., leaving the workers much worse off.

 This election, which follows six years of Labour government, should mark the end of the myth that Labourism has something to offer to the working class that is different from having Capitalism administered by a Tory Government.

 Socialists can agree with those capitalist spokesmen who say that there is little to choose between Labour Government and Tory Government, but unlike them we have a message of hope and action to give to the working class. In their own interests the working class should choose neither Labour nor Tory. Labourism has failed as Toryism failed. The urgent need of the working class is to establish Socialism.
 

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