The Review Column: Presidential Election
In the United States, this is Presidential election year. The business of winning the Presidency is long and complicated and costly. Kennedy’s campaign, first for the Democratic nomination and then for election, in 1960 and Goldwater’s for the Republican nomination in 1964, were classics of their kind in political strategy and technique.
For some time now, the men who are in the running have been organising the same sort of campaign, although most of the jockeying has been confined to the Republicans.
It would need a political earthquake to lose Johnson the Democratic ticket and Senator Eugene McCarthy, who will contest the nomination with Johnson on the issue of Vietnam, is probably little more than a slight tremor on the surface.
As their convention draws closer, the Republicans’ internal fight will become more bitter. Romney, Reagan and Nixon are now in the running and Rockefeller is always a possibility.
The point about all these men, on both sides, is that they hold out promise to the American electors. McCarthy wants to go easy on Vietnam; he promises peace. Rockefeller is strong for Civil Rights, Romney for what is called good, honest government. Reagan wants to go it harder in Vietnam, is cool on Civil Rights. Nixon seems, as ever, ready to do a deal on anything.
Johnson will promise that, if only he is given another chance, all will be well, all problems solved, all pledges redeemed.
The American workers will take their pick of the promises offered them. Listening to their candidates, how many of them will recall the many disappointments in the past? Johnson himself is an historic example of promises gone sour, of a smooth-tongued President who has had to use his talents to explain away the unpleasant realities of capitalism.
Like workers everywhere, the American voters have had plenty of this. Sadly, there can be little expectancy that in 1968 they will show that they have had enough.
Airline pilots are supposed to have one of the best jobs in the world. Glamour, excitement, travel, good pay—these are what most people enviously imagine the pilots’ job to consist of.
In truth, as any pilot will tell you, there is a lot more lo it. The strain of the job—of being responsible for an expensive aircraft and the lives of its passengers, of adjusting their life to the varying times of the world, can be enormous.
At peak travel periods, piloting an aircraft along a busy route can be little short of drudgery. The pay, to be sure, is above average. A pilot just out of training school gets £1500 a year and usually soon reaches about £2200. The top men. flying the big jets, can get as much as £5800 a year.
This is what made the go-slow and strike—things more usually connected with railwaymen and dockers—such a cause of amusement. Why should the man with rings on his sleeve, wings on his breast and a few thousand a year going into his pocket, want to strike?
Part of the answer to this question was given by Roy Merrifield, chairman of the British Airline Pilots’ Association. when he said ” . . . we felt we had every reason in the circumstances to take strong industrial action against BOAC.”
The “circumstances” consisted of a dispute between the pilots and the airline over accommodation, pay and conditions of work—in other words, the same issues that bring dockers and railwaymen into conflict with their employers.
The pilots’ campaign was amusing and incomprehensible only to anyone who thought that only lower paid workers ever strike. It showed that all those who have to work for a living, whatever the scale of their pay or the attractions of their job. are members of one class with one common interest.
Higher paid workers like airline pilots have to learn this. As a matter of fact, so do the lower paid.
When James Callaghan resigned from the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, he changed something besides his job. Almost overnight he became transformed in popular conception—from Crafty Callaghan to Honest Jim, the man who could not bear to tell a lie.
The reason for this sudden metamorphosis was that Callaghan had lied about his intention to devalue the pound and then, although there was the precedent of Cripps to persuade him to do otherwise, he had chosen to give up the post of Chancellor.
The newspapers were so overcome by this example of what they decided was political honesty that they completely failed to raise two important points.
Firstly, none of them asked whether Callaghan might be resigning not so much in remorse over his lie as because his financial policies, on which he had more or less pledged his career, had collapsed.
Secondly, Callaghan said he was resigning as an act of apology for misleading the financial world. Now if it is to become the fashion for Ministers to surrender their offices over broken pledges there is no reason for it to stop at Callaghan.
The entire Labour government have misled, mostly deliberately, the people who voted for them. Yet so far they show no sign of resignation, nor remorse, nor even regret.
There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this. The Labour government are more concerned over the impression they make on the international financiers than the one they make on the British working class.
This is a reflection on the government, on its capitalist nature. But it also says a lot about the people who voted for them, and who are so obviously despised by them.
Roy Jenkins, Callaghan’s successor, too has said some unfortunate things in the past. Only he was calling for an attack on the living standards of the rich—an even more embarrassing thing for a Labour leader these days. Many years ago, in 1951, Jenkins wrote a Tribune pamphlet called Fair Shares for the Rich. That was in the days when the Labour Party still talked about redistributing wealth and creating a more equal society (an empty dream under capitalism anyway). Jenkins suggested a capital levy so high as to be “a swingeing property tax” and a “fiscal onslaught on the large property-owner”. So successful did he expect this onslaught to be that he wrote that after it there would not be enough rich people around to own private industry which would therefore have to be nationalised. Under his plan all wealth owned by individuals above a certain level was to be confiscated and used to pay off the national debt. He wrote:
Confiscation means simply the seizure, by authority, of private property, and would thus be a perfectly fair description of what was taking place.
No doubt Roy Jenkins and his colleagues are praying that this old pamphlet does not reach the hands of “the gnomes of Zurich”. For such talk could easily set off another run on the pound. But perhaps the foreign bankers are, like us, a little sceptical. After all seventeen years is a long time. Anyway, we look forward to next April’s budget and its fiscal onslaught on the rich. We don’t think.