The Morecambe Labour Party Conference
Morecambe was for the Labour Party less a ground for common political activity than a battleground of warring factions and rival political ambitions. There were a number of casualties.
Among the “casualties” were Mr. Morrison and Mr. Dalton. Both failed to get re-elected to the Labour Party executive. In the executive voting, that doughty working class warrior Mr. Bevan headed the “lists” to a fanfare of cheers and clapping. Others elected to executive posts were those horny handed sons of toil, Messrs. Driberg, Wilson, Mikardo and Crossman, who rode on the Bevan band-wagon.
The two great rival standard bearers were Bevan and Morrison. Bevan’s contribution was never more than a piece of conference tub thumping; Morrison’s never less than the slick performance of the accomplished party hack.
Of Mr. Attlee it could hardly be said that the conference was his finest hour. He preferred the somewhat enigmatic role of a political Nero, content to doodle while Morecambe was alight In contrast to Bevan’s frothy utterances his contribution was as flat as last night’s beer.
A spectacle, now a commonplace at Labour Party conferences, was that of ex-ministers reverently touching their political rosaries and dedicating themselves to “socialist ideals.” Then followed the usual attempt to squeeze the quart of socialist ideals into the pint bottle of capitalism.
There was a demand from delegates for more nationalisation and “socialist” measures. Doubtless Mr. Morrison and other Labour leaders are ruefully realising that it is easier for people to learn political nostrums than to unlearn them. These leaders having misinformed workers in the past that nationalisation was the panacea for their problems, now blandly inform them that these problems cannot be automatically solved by the mere transference of industries from private to public ownership. What, according to Mr. Morrison is most important, is not so much that industries should be nationalised but that “they should be efficient.”
For generations Labourites have been reared on the mother’s milk of old time Fabian planning. Now the milk has turned sour. “Planning for planning’s sake” it seems is merely a pipe dream for political opium smokers.
Mr. Morrison and others have now discovered more “prior and urgent” problems than nationalisation. Problems such as trade balances, exports and the need for increased output in order to meet foreign competition successfully especially the German and Japanese variety. These “urgent and prior problems” were just as urgent and prior for Capitalism when Mr. Morrison and other Labour leaders were merely up and coming politicians.
Nevertheless the fact that Labour politicians have discovered some simple economic facts about Capitalism, has, according to sections of the press, elevated them to the status of statesmen.
From the tone of the speeches of ex-ministers in explaining to delegates these simple facts, one might imagine they were addressing children. Listening to the criticism levelled at them on occasions by delegates, they may have thought that there are times when children should be seen and not heard.
Although conference instructed the executive to compile a further list of industries to be nationalised, Mr. Robertson for the United Textile Factory Workers’ Association opposed an amendment asking for the nationalisation of the cotton industry. He urged conference “not to embarrass a Labour Government in that way.”
Although Mr. Bevan himself was in favour of more nationalisation, etc., Bevanite Mr. Mikardo in submitting a resolution asking for the building trade to be nationalised, said, “They might find the industry better suited to competitive public enterprise than nationalisation outright.” Mrs. Braddock, M.P., reminded conference that “the person who opposed most strongly the nationalisation of the building industry with his usual bad faith was Mr. Bevan, when he was Minister of Health.”
Mr. Morrison touched a new political low when he attempted to make working class political ignorance the whipping boy of the Labour Government’s failure to fulfil its promises. He said “We have got to change the minds and hearts and souls of men and women so that they think in terms of socialist ethics and the old capitalist outlook that millions have, has passed away.”
This is certainly the devil citing scripture for his own purposes with a vengeance. Mr. Morrison’s own contribution to working class understanding is gravely on the debit side of his political balance sheet. Mr. Morrison’s role in the ranks of the working class has been that of a fifth columnist. By plausibly presenting to workers a planned capitalist—as good as socialism —model, he and others like him have obscured and distorted basic working class issues. The work of teaching Socialism has thus been made infinitely harder.
The shadow-play of political rivalry thrown on the Morecambe screen is not a reflection of any basic differences within the Labour Party. Dr. Bevan with his finger on the pulse of working class discontent prescribes bigger doses of nationalisation, Mr. Morrison not to be outdone retorted that “the Labour Party would never rest until it had nationalised all the means of production, distribution and exchange.”
Mr. Bevan wants a smaller armament programme than that laid down by the last Labour Government, yet it was Mr. Bevan himself who piloted Labour’s defence programme through the House of Commons. Then he begged people not to “jeer about the armament programme we are putting under way.” He added, “we shall carry it out; we shall fulfil our obligations to our friends and allies.”
Ironically enough, owing to the difficulties which have arisen over balance of payments since the Tories came in, they have been compelled to cut considerably the yearly expenditure on armaments. The “socialist” Bevan is not opposed to war preparation. He only wants to reduce the cost entailed. Incidentally his proposed peace-time expenditure on armaments involves greater sums of money than those spent in peace time by Tory or Liberal Governments.
Mr. Bevan’s militancy is not, as imagined by his supporters, a realistic step forward for the Labour Party but a retreat to its romantic pioneering past. Then, the Labour Party could indulge in pseudo socialist phraseology, with its promise of “changing things nearer to the heart’s desire.” It is this vague working class sentiment that Mr. Bevan seeks to tap.
In the good old days of the Labour Party the “Labour Commonwealth” was a distant goal wrapped in mist and obscurity. Nevertheless Labour was on the march! There may have been differences, even dissidents, within the ranks, but the road was accommodatingly broad. Swings to the “left” or “right” made little difference. They were all bound for the same place.
Now they have arrived and the New Jerusalem is but old Babylon writ large. The Welfare State turns out to be the merest Utility Utopia.
“The New Social Era” has all the old working class problems—poverty, insecurity, low wages, high prices and the threat of war. The outward pressure of capitalism produces within the Labour Party its fissions and rifts.
In order to ease off working class political pressure the Labour Party would like to go further. But they have nowhere to go. Because one basic reason for their existence is their claim that they can go one better than the Tories, they have to simulate the semblance if not the reality of being in the vanguard of social progress. The Tories in turn pose as the great stabilising force of British political life. Their appeal to the working class is consequently pitched in a slightly lower key. Their political strategy merely consists of waiting for the inevitable disappointments that result from a term of Labour Government and then adroitly manipulating them for the purpose of winning the next election.
Bevan is merely a symptom of the failure of Labour Party reformism to make a world fit for ordinary men and women to live in. He is the price Labour leaders pay for their political sins. His role in the Labour Party is the old familiar one of today’s rebel being tomorrow’s leader.
The resentment and frustration felt by the Labour rank and file has placed high cards in his hand. Yet even if he succeeds in winning the game against the old leadership he in turn will become vulnerable.
Little wonder that many Labour Party members are acquiring a nostalgia for the past. Truly, for those who pin their hopes on reformism it is always the case —“That it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”