1960s >> 1964 >> no-714-february-1964

A Guide for ambitious candidates

As the next General Election draws nearer, there must be many Members of Parliament, and many who aspire to become M.P.s, anxiously casting about for material for their election addresses and for the public meetings at which they will have to present themselves to the voters. These addresses and meetings are full of pitfalls for the unwary, the unsophisticated — and the honest. This guide is offered to assist such candidates through their campaigns.

Progress: All candidates must stand for progress. It is a good plan to say, at all appropriate moments, that we cannot put back the clock, or that we must be always forward looking or some such other meaningless phrase. If you are challenged to state what you mean by progress, mention automation, television, synthetic fibres, and so on. You may also be able to get away with earth satellites and nuclear energy, provided nobody in your audience is bright enough to connect these with inter continental ballistic missiles and hydrogen bombs. But if there are such people present you will probably have a difficult evening anyway, because they are bound to have some awkward ideas on progress and might even question whether what you call progress means better lives for the mass of the world’s people. If they do, get the chairman to say that you must cut your reply short because you have another meeting to attend.

Housing: You are bound to be asked about housing. If your questioner is someone who is homeless, or about to be evicted, or is living with several children in a couple of rooms in a basement, you can exploit his plight in your reply. Lean forward, adopt a very earnest expression and assure him that you, and only you, can guarantee him a decent home. Labour and Liberal candidates can use the question to flay the government; Tories can turn the point by quoting suitably doctored statistics on the rate of house building, slum clearance, and so on.

All candidates should in any case have a supply of such figures readily available—they always sound very impressive. In particular, make play of your party’s intention to do something about housing in the future. It is not advisable to dwell upon the past—somebody might point out that slums are developing faster than houses are being built and that no government has ever been able to solve the problem, although all of them have promised to do so.

Prosperity: This can be treated in the same way as housing. Compare pre- and post-war levels of wages, hours of work, and so on. Make sure that the figures you give for the average wage do not take into account any of the lower paid industries and that it includes payment for overtime, bonuses and such like. On the other hand, your figure for the length of the working week should be a basic one; it should not include overtime because this would show that the working week is longer now than before the war.

Promise to stop prices rising. Conservatives can excuse the rises which have happened since they came to power by blaming wasteful administration by the Attlee government. Labourites can attack confidently on this issue, provided nobody remembers their own record. Liberals also have a pretty free hand here, because of the length of time since they held power and the remoteness of the chance that they will ever get back.

Ignore any questioner who wants to know about the ownership of the means of production and the proportionate division of incomes; these issues are too fundamental, imply airily that prosperity for everyone is just around the corner, provided we all pull our belts in, work harder and keep our wages in check. If anyone is unkind enough to point out that your party has always made this promise, avoid the point by chiding him for being obsessed with the past and not looking forward to the glorious, progressive future.

Health and Education: You have a lot of scope here. Refer to the National Health Scheme as a great and merciful step forward in human welfare. (Tories will have to go easy here and forget that they originally opposed the Scheme.) Become indignant about the bad old days, when poor people could not afford to pay the doctor, the dentist and the optician. On no account go into the reasons for the Health Service, lest you reveal the fact that it is just another method of keeping the workers as fit as possible for better exploitation.

State that the best medical treatment is now available to everyone, but do not go too deeply into this, as there may be in the audience, say, a mother who contrasts the attention she got when she had her last child with that which the ladies of the Royal Family get when they produce. Somebody may also mention that Aneurin Bevan, although he fathered the Health Scheme, did not die in a ward full of other people, just like any unprivileged member of the working class. You can evade this one by attacking the questioner for besmirching the name of a dead man.

On education, mention the fact that more people than ever go to university and imply that this is because they are better off. Do not get involved in arguments about which income bracket tends to get to which university and whether a working class student goes there for the same reasons as does a rich man’s son. Do not be afraid to mention public schools; in fact, you may be able to stir up some applause by pointing out that Churchill and Attlee were the products of those schools and asking what we would do without them. (On no account mention Profumo, who went to Harrow; he will not help you make your point.)

Young and Old: This is an opportunity for you to appear at your most humane. State, with the air of a fearless discoverer, that young children are the adults of the future and hint at the great burden of public service which you now bear and which you will one day pass on to them. Follow this by saying that is why you are happy that children today are taller, heavier, stronger, etc., etc., etc. You may be sure that only a very determined heckler will want to know why industry is so interested in healthy children.

At the same time you must make it clear that old people do not escape your concern. Speak at some length on the labours they have performed and upon the nobility of a long life of hard work. You may even cultivate the ability to produce a tear, or at any rate a catch in the throat, at such moments. But make sure that these can be interpreted as only the results of manly sympathy and not of weakness.

Make it plain that you are all too well aware of the sufferings of countless old age pensioners and do not refer to the fact that this is the lot only of retired workers. Promise that a vote for you is a vote for higher pensions. All candidates, provided that they are careful in their selection of historical evidence, can attack their opponents on this score. But all of them should avoid mentioning the inconvenient fact that, in spite of the decades of promises, the conditions of old people are still a social disgrace.

Peace and Disarmament: Every candidate must stand for peace. Even if you actually advocate a war—for example, over Suez in 1956 or the Polish Corridor in. 1939—you must make it sound as if you are only in favour of wars to preserve peace. (Most audiences will fall for this one.) Say, of course, that you stand for just and honourable peace and do not be drawn into the trap of defining these terms. If you find yourself in a discussion of the fact that previous peace treaties have only drawn out the frontiers over which the next war has been fought, blame this onto the lack of acumen of bygone statesmen, or upon the perfidy of foreigners. Let your listeners believe that you are above such mistakes.

Speak with pride of pacts like the recent Test Ban Treaty — imply that you, or your party, had a hand in it, whether this is true or not. Do not discuss the real reasons for the Treaty, nor the fact that it has been signed only by those nations who have bombs, but do not at present want to test them and by those who have no bombs and are not likely to have them. If a member of your audience points out that France and China, who are the countries most likely to want to test bombs in the near future, have not signed the Treaty, reply by suggesting that this is exactly the sort of behaviour to be expected from dirty foreigners like de Gaulle and Mao tse-Tung. You will find that, for most audiences, this is an acceptable line.

Foreign Affairs: Although you must be careful to say that you deplore racial discrimination, it is usually pretty safe to play up to your audience’s patriotism by implying that all foreigners are vaguely odd and that the only really trustworthy person is a Britisher. Make sure that in at least one spot in your address—more, if the applause warrants it—you refer to This Grand Old Country Of Ours. Speak of the conquests of other nations with asperity—few people will remind you of the unpleasantly bloody history of the British Empire.

Refer to our Exports as often as you can and give out the usual propaganda about how important they are—but do not say to whom they are important. Give details about the successful export efforts of some foreign industries—Japanese shipyards, Continental dambuilders, and so forth—and suggest that this is a scandalous situation. Somebody in your audience may remind you that this country is one of the world’s great exporters and that in any case the success or failure of a country’s exports have little or no real effect upon the conditions of the majority of its people: in which case you are having a very unfortunate evening indeed.

Yourself: You must present an image of a sober, responsible family man who, although he has great talents, is still one of the ordinary people. Make it clear that your opponents are not supplying what you think is the right type of leadership and that things would be much better if the leaders were changed. You should not have much difficulty here; most of your listeners will have accepted that they need political leaders. Get the chairman to introduce you as The Next Member For This Constituency, but do not wait too long for the applause after this, lest the audience remain embarrassingly silent.

Do not shrink from shaking the dirtiest of hands, kissing the wettest of babies, lingering on the most heavily cabbage-scented doorsteps. Above all, do anything, go anywhere, promise anything, if it will win you votes.

And Finally . . . Don’t Worry! The promises you make may be wild, but perhaps you won’t be elected anyway. And if you do get in you can always think up excuses for breaking promises (blame the Russians, the French, the Chinese, or your political opponents) and in any case the trick worked, didn’t it?

But above all, remember that ever since capitalism came onto the scene political parties have lied and swindled their way into and out of power. The people who have been tricked have always forgotten the lies and the broken promises and have continued to vote for capitalism. So if you don’t get in, some other fraud will.