1960s >> 1963 >> no-712-december-1963

Editorial: Claims and counter claims

It is traditional that all sides put a brave face on it at election time. Only rarely does a defeated candidate admit that he has taken a beating; it is more usual that, after a bit of smart juggling with the voting returns, he claims some sort of victory, or at least a portent of a future victory.


This is what happened at the first of the by-elections to be fought since Sir Alec Douglas-Home came to power. Luton was a sore blow for the Conservatives; after all, the voters there have, by their restricted standards, done not too badly under Tory rule. The only comfort the new Prime Minister could offer over the Luton result was that his party had suffered similar defeats at by-elections in 1958 yet had won all the seats back at the next general election.


The Labour Party had the same sort of job to do over Kinross, where Douglas-Home got a vote rather better than he probably expected. The Tories said that the result marked a new chapter in their fortunes. Mr. Wilson preferred to remind us that Kinross was a safe Tory seat anyway and to claim that Luton was the more significant result. He may well turn out to be right.


All round satisfaction, then, and all round confidence that both sides are sure to win the next general election.


But one of them, of course, has to lose. The mock confidence which politicians assume when they discuss their chances of forming the next government is nothing but a smoke screen; they all believe that to concede defeat before the count has been taken will discourage their supporters and so cost them a lot of votes. So they whistle, albeit sometimes in the dark.


Thus the merry game of claim and counter-claim goes on. And for what? During the Kinross by-election, Douglas-Home gave out what the press was pleased to call his manifesto. He intended, he said, to “ . . . regulate imports of cereals and meat to produce a steadier and more stable market.” (Kinross, of course, has a lot of farmers). He will “. . . bring our industries up to date and make our railways and roads the best in the world . . .  see that higher education is open to every boy and girl in Britain who is qualified to take advantage of it . . . speed up the rate of house building, slum clearance and modernisation . . .  continue to look after pensioners and all those in need.”


All very familiar. All very much as expected. No politician dare enter the arena without a brief case full of such promises. Political battles are largely a matter of which side can offer the most attractive sounding programme without leaving themselves open to the counter-punch line that they are irresponsibly cadging for votes.


But whichever side wins the battle, the end result is to all intents and purposes the same. The needs of capitalism itself often wipe out many of the promises and those that survive and come onto the Statute Book have little, if any, effect upon the lives of the people who have been persuaded to vote for them. Capitalism grinds on, leaving the mass of its people to be exploited by a privileged few, who do very well out of the arrangement.


The key to social progress is the level of knowledge and understanding which the masses attain. When they begin to see through the promises and the posturing of their leaders, the first gleam of hope for the better life will be on the horizon. In the meantime, there is unaltering comfort for capitalism. As long as there are results like those at Luton, Kinross, Dundee and the rest capitalism will continue; whether under a Labour or Conservative government is unimportant.