To say that large numbers of workers who endured six years of Labour government from 1964 to 1970 and five years of Tory government since 1970 are not enamoured of the ugly face of capitalism is an understatement; it has the two larger parties worried. To see voters falling away from both parties at the same time calls for some dramatic re-vamping of policies, and both parties have given thought to it.
Simpletons in the Labour Party who take at its face value what the Party says about the Tories and about itself will expect the outcome to be, on the Tory side, a publicity campaign to prove that capitalism is really quite all right as it is, and, on the Labour side, a promise to end capitalism. Barbara Castle tried to comply a few months ago by asserting that Labour was the only party “committed to remove capitalism” (Times
, 3rd July 1973). But the reality is quite different, as will be seen from two speeches by party leaders published in The Times
and the Financial Times
on 2nd February. One speech (Times
) was by the Tory, Mr. Peter Walker
, Secretary for Trade and Industry. The other (Financial Times
) was by Mr. Edward Short
, deputy leader of the Labour Party.
The interesting thing about the speeches is that most of Walker’s speech could have been put over by Short, and vice versa. The speeches have a common theme — a promise to keep capitalism but to give it a facelift. First the Tory:
A transformation of the capitalist system in the next 25 years was forecast yesterday by Mr. Peter Walker. Secretary for Trade and Industry . . . He said that in Western Europe a big part of the system consisted of free enterprise and private capital. A dramatic period of change was beginning. In Britain, the government had done much already to transform the basis of capitalism, yet it had passed almost unnoticed.
Now the Labourite:
He warned that the next Labour administration must arm itself ‘to act decisively’ when any company or industry fell short of what the national interest demanded and this would involve ‘a major change in the capitalist system’.
The two had no disagreement about the method. “Much greater public control over industry would be necessary’’ (Short). “We are doing this . . . by the power of the State — a new kind of interventionism’’ (Walker).
Both indicated that there was no intention to end capitalism, but with subtle differences of emphasis. Walker intends to make capitalism “more responsible, more responsive, and therefore stronger”, while Short said that “the assertion of control would be partly by an extension of public ownership where it was absolutely necessary . . . and by planning agreements between the Government and some of the major companies”. Lest this should sound rather too drastic, Mr Short reassured his listeners by explaining that the latter means “a system which has been very successful in France”, and that “most industrialists [are] public-spirited people who would co-operate”.
Both talked about controlling inflation and maintaining “full employment”. Both talked about the so-called “mixed economy” (i.e. private and state capitalism), but Walker claimed that the Tories are better at it:
Fortunately for Western Europe . . . the moderate Conservative had been able to appreciate the rationale for a modem mixed economy far more rapidly than the socialist. [For “socialist” read “Labour Party”.]
And it all adds up to nothing at all. In the past century Liberal, Tory and Labour governments have passed hundreds of Acts of Parliament “reforming” capitalism, and the sum total is the shambles we see around us.