Political notebook: Cynically Confounded Confusion

Politics is a baffling business these days. It certainly baffles the politicians. Reggie-the-sleeping-Maudling (a politician not known for his perspicacity) when asked to clarify the position says: “I am sorry but I am afraid I cannot; nor I think can anyone else . . .  At the moment, I fear, politics in this country are (sic) trying to advance by progressively obfuscating the questions”. (The Times 29.11.78)

The plot for confusion goes something like this: The Labour Party (in government) stands for a maximum 5 per cent wage rise. The TUC supports the Labour Party. Most of the TUC is opposed to the 5 per cent. The TUC does not support the Conservative Party which however, is also opposed to the 5 per cent. But some sections of the Labour government and much of the party are also opposed to the 5 per cent. Furthermore, (if you are still with me) sections of the Conservative Party are in favour of the 5 per cent. So, for the mathematicians the equation might look like this:
PRO—5 per cent =
Most of the government, some of the Labour Party some of the Conservative Party and some of the TUC.
ANTI—5 per cent =
The rest of the government, most of the Labour Party, most of the Conservative Party and most of the TUC.

No wonder the Daily Mirror commented. “If you dig beneath the rhetoric and dissect the cliches there appears little to choose between the policy of Mrs Thatcher and the TUC”. (17.11.78) If you add to that the Labour Party for good measure you are just about home. I suppose it would be cynical to suggest that this shows that there is no real difference between the lot of them . . .

Any doubts on that score would have been ended by a couple of articles in recent editions of the Observer (26 November and 3 December), in which Kenneth Harris fed Jim Callaghan with a succession of sycophantic questions and received some answers blindingly illuminating of how close the Labour Party is to the Tories. For example on the unions:

Question: I have heard it said by many who should know that no PM in living memory has got on so well with the unions . . .

Answer: Well, I’m not sure that it would be true . . . Harold Macmillan got on very well with them, although he wasn’t a trade unionist.

For example on racist immigration controls:

Question: If the Conservatives came to power, say next week, would there be much difference in their immigration policy and yours?

Answer: Not in the numbers allowed to enter . . .  I guess that they would make very little change in the numbers arriving in this country . . .

For example on the supposed ideological divide, on Labour’s commitment to a fundamentally different society:

Question: Some Labour Party members . . . say ‘The Labour Party is no longer Socialist.’ What do you think they mean by that?

Answer: . . . ‘Socialism’ has always been a matter of controversy in the Labour Party, and there are millions of Labour Party supporters who aren’t Socialists and never have been . . .  The Labour Party has become—I think Harold Wilson used the word—a Broad Church.

Callaghan has in his time had many an adjective tacked on before his first name—Sunny Jim, Humble Jim, even Honest Jim—but so far nobody has called him Silly Jim. We must assume he knows what he is doing, when he insists that there is so little to choose between his party and its principal opponents. He intends himself no harm; he is, after all very fond of being Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, back at Number Eleven, the Chancellor, Denis Healey was left waiting at the Church . . . There was he, trumpeting his agreement on wages with the TUC. On Monday The Times writes that: “Agreement has been reached between the Cabinet and the TUC Leaders on a new form of words after a month of talks . . . The six—man TUC team . . . has finally given its blessing to a document that will go first to the TUC Economic Committee tomorrow morning before being endorsed by the General Council later in the day.” (13.11.78) On Tuesday morning Denis says he will announce the agreement at 5 pm. However, the TUC did not endorse the agreement after all. Come 5.10 pm on the Tuesday and a rather sheepish Denis is heard saying “I was rather surprised at the turn of events . . .  I only hope it is fairly calm weather while the dust is falling.” (The Times 15.11.78)

Hope for calm weather is about as useful, as hoping for calm seas in the Bay of Biscay in March. Still Denis’s efforts are not totally wasted. He still hopes for some agreement to sell the workers lower wages.

While on waste, here is a little puzzle. What have the following in common: 30,000 tons of cauliflowers, 23,000 tons of tomatoes, 60,000 tons of peaches, 41,000 tons of apples, 16,000 tons of oranges and 28,000 tons of mandarins?

Give up? Answer: They were all surplus produce of the EEC last year (See The Times 14.11.78) Some of it was sold off, but the majority was simply destroyed.

Funny system really; plenty of people are hungry, there is a huge world food shortage we are told, and one corner of the world spends some £1860 million in disposing (euphemism for destroying) of surplus food. Still it gave the Prime Minister an added opportunity to sound off about how unfair the EEC was operating for Britain (euphemism for the British capitalists). Speaking at the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet in November last year (a place not noted for its food shortage) Jim thundered about Britain paying too much to the EEC and getting too little in return. Good for votes, that one Jim! Jim did not explain that one of the reasons for Britain entering (and staying) in the EEC was the hope that it would in the long term keep prices down; that would mean lower wages can be paid; which is part of the object of the whole thing; which is where we left our Denis . . .

From the other side of the world, a South African Commission of Enquiry has reported that Ministers in the South African Government have been responsible for a huge amount of bribery and corruption. The scandal has already been christened “Muldergate” after the name of the leading politician involved. The report actually suggested that Dr. Mulder, the former Minister of Information (George Orwell should be living at this hour) had been guilty of concealing the truth. If all politicians who were guilty of that one were prevented from continuing to act as politicians there would be none of the breed left.

Ronnie Warrington