1970s >> 1979 >> no-898-june-1979

Running Commentary: This Is Your Choice

The politicians’ zeal to win power can persuade them into making some curious promises but none were more so than the Tories’ pledge that when they were in office we would be able to spend our money as we wished.

This must have misled millions of people who are struggling to pay their mortgage, or who live in slum tenements or on council estates, into believing that they would be free to spend their money on buying a stately home in the country.

Or perhaps millions of comprehensive school children were distracted from their lessons, wondering whether Tory freedom meant that their parents would choose to pay for them to go to Eton or Roedean. How many battered Escorts and Marinas would disappear from the kerbside, as workers chose to spend their money on a few Rolls Royces and Bentleys?

The mind boggles.

What Thatcher and her gang were really talking about was not more than a minor juggling with the details of the tax system—a cut in income tax, perhaps with an increase in Value Added Tax. To the Conservative Party, this sort of fiddling represented a new age of freedom and prosperity. To the Labour Party it represented a crushing intensifying of working class poverty.

At the most, the Tory proposals amounted to a slight rearrangement of poverty. And that is partly what both Labour and Tory parties are in business for. Running the affairs of British capitalism means administering the exploitation of the workers in such a way as to convince them that poverty is abundance, degradation is freedom.

At successive elections, millions of working people choose to ignore the real power in their hands—the power to change society basically—and instead make a meaningless selection between Labour Party poverty and Conservative Party poverty. The support for the alternative society is pitifully weak.

The election was a triumph for Thatcher, for one group of political con-men over the other. But for anyone who cares about human interests it was yet another disaster.

Danger — Law and Order
Boosted by regular injections of hysteria from Judges too senile and policemen too virile, the Law and Order lobby has been gathering strength for some time now.

Criminal statistics have been greeted in such a way as to suggest that we are about to be drowned under a massive crime wave. A few historically grisly cases have been seized upon and magnified to the point at which Britain seems to be a land populated exclusively by muggers and murderers.

Both major parties felt the pressure of this, to the extent of responding in their manifestoes. The Tories were harder and more specific in their policies and Thatcher’s victory seemed to get a cautious welcome from the Police Federation.

Whenever they have discussed the problem of crime, the Tories have managed to sound as if their policies had some element of originality. In fact there is nothing original about promising policemen more pay—and it does not follow that this would automatically lead to a more successful hunt after criminals.

Another Tory proposal—for harsher Detention Centres where young offenders would get a short, sharp shock—is also well worn and discredited. Such Centres were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 1948 one of the achievements of the post-war Labour government. In practice the Centres were not used as the law had intended; courts sentenced youngsters to go there who had already had the sort of life experience such as to inure them against all possible further shocks. With time, the regime at the Centres has mellowed so that there is now little difference between them and a tougher-than-average children’s home.

The fact that the people they say are their enemies have already introduced them, and that they have been shown to fail, does not of course stop the Tories proposing Detention Centres as a method of combatting crime. Such is the futility of capitalism’s reformists.

The debate (if it can be so dignified) on Law and Order is susceptible to bigotry and impulsiveness and has a disturbing underlying note of violence and repression. Because it can result in the police having more power it can have serious implications for political freedom and for the chances of an innocent person proving their case.

A political party which trawls for votes in that sort of dirty water can be taking some heavy risks—with their own freedom as well as with that of others.

Business as usual
One thing the Labour Party has always been very sensitive about is its standing with the Business Community. Whenever a Labour government has been elected there has never been any lack of ministers anxious to reassure the Stock Exchange, the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and anyone else in earshot that they offered absolutely no threat to the profitability of industry.

Indeed there have been Labour ministers—and industrialists—who actually claimed that their government was better for industry than the Tories. Harold Wilson’s infamous resignation honours list proved that Labour was in harness with at least some sections of the business world.

Then again, what was Denis Healey doing all those years, when he was fighting low paid workers over pay claims? Was he undermining the basis of capitalist society? Posing a threat from which the City would never recover? Did stockbrokers tremble, at the very mention of the Five Per Cent Pay Norm for dustmen and hospital ancillaries?

In fact, any capitalist who knows what they’re about should be eternally grateful to the Labour Party, not just for administering capitalism on their behalf but for telling the workers that they were running socialism.

No Labour minister has ever stopped to explain how we could have socialism with a Stock Exchange, a royal family, riches and poverty, slums and palaces . . . Any review of the last five miserable years under Labour shows up that they were no more than an alternative way of running capitalism.

Of course they had their differences with the Conservatives. At times, when they are out of power, one or other of the big parties may be sufficiently susceptible to the approaches of some pressure group to formulate a policy which favours that group—and then present that policy to the voters as being in their interests.

But that is about as far as their differences go. When they are in power they prove that they have no basic divergences. And the reason for that is simple. It is what the working class want.

Whether Labour or Tory wins, is something for the capitalist class to celebrate. As long as the working class continue to vote as their masters wish, each election result will be given the champagne reception in Threadneedle Street.