1980s >> 1980 >> no-908-april-1980

Political Notes: Spare coppers for the police

But if money is tight for education, social services, housing, OAPs, the unemployed, mothers, the sick, there is one organisation for which the benevolent Tories have always got a spare copper—the police. The Chairman of the West Midland Police Committee, Councillor Ronald Wooten, is reported as calling “for the trimming of ‘candy floss’ items, such as education and social services so that more money would be available for the police” (The Guardian 6.3.80). The Chief Constable of the West Midlands, Sir Philip Knights, explained that the increased police forces were necessary to deal with “political and industrial demonstrations”.


At least this Councillor and Chief Cop have got their priorities clear; the police must be sufficiently staffed to allow thousands of them suddenly to appear when workers go on strike because of their low pay or rotten working conditions. These spokesmen for the most hard line and vicious elements of the capitalist class clearly want to ensure both that workers’ living standards are cut and that there is no effective protest that can be made. “A regular commitment to public order situations” (as Chief Constable Knights put it) is more important than a bit of extra cash for those in desperate need.


As a final irony, the West Midlands Police Committee have asked for an additional Assistant Chief Constable. They are going to get one; no question of jobs being frozen or no new recruitment here. And what will his (it will be a he) job be? Knights said that “the increased number of complaints against the force meant that the Deputy Chief Constable was overburdened”. So the new Assistant Chief Constable will deal with the complaints. No doubt the Conservative Manifesto in 1979 meant what it said: “The most disturbing threat to freedom and security is the growing disrespect for the rule of law”; it might have added, that the police themselves disregard the law when it suits them. One piece of London graffiti sums it up: “Help the Police—beat yourself up”.


It is no use being surprised at the Tory hash or the Tory harshness, or shocked that money is apparently available for overt repression, but not for “social” services. Capitalism is going through a crisis, and the workers get squeezed even harder. Thousands may march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to protest as they did on Sunday 9 March. But mere protests leave capitalism untouched. The annals of history are littered with the dead of those who only protested.


It is no wonder the Tory government is in such a mess. The Tories are making a speciality of Milton Friedmanite policies with the guru himself explaining them at peak viewing hours. He claims his monetarist dogmas will prevent everything from unemployment to World War III, as he trips through the sweat shops of Hong Kong, waving his arms and talking of freedom. Even Keith Joseph must see the incongruity. But even worse is the activity of another guru, the London Business School. This prestigious training centre for capitalist managerial hacks, has for the last few years regularly trotted out gloomy reports and urged the sort of monetarist clap-trap that the Thatcherite evangelists have preached ever since Sailor Heath was made to walk the plank. So much did Maggie love the LBS’s reports that she drafted in one of its Professors (Terry Burns) to be her government’s economic adviser. (The 1964 Wilson government tried a similar dodge. They got their economic illusionists from Cambridge the farce of the Kaldor-Balogh reign.)


The declared policy of Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe is to try to reduce the public sector borrowing requirements by further cuts in government expenditure. But the LBS is up in arms about this. The Guardian (3.3.80) comments: “By persisting with its plans to control the borrowing requirements next year the Chancellor is going out on a limb and ignoring advice from an organisation from which it derived much of its previous monetarist inspiration”. Others are getting in on the act of criticising government economic strategy. “A strong call for a Government Incomes Policy comes today from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. Its February Review argues that without an Incomes Policy fiscal and monetary measures alone would not be enough to achieve conventional economic policy goals” (Daily Mail 3.3.80). Is it coincidental that the Treasury has reduced the National Institute’s budget by half for the next year?


But no wonder Thatcher is confused. After all, she is only doing what the LBS, the National Institute and Milton Friedman have been demanding for years. Even the Archbishop of Reactionism, F. Hayek, is getting in on the act, writing angry letters to the press complaining that the government is causing inflation (The Times 5.3.80). Poor Thatcher; if the Hayeks and the Friedmans, the LBSs and the NIs are abandoning her, then she really is going to be left without a friend in the world.


Still, this talk of money is a little irrelevant; after all most people don’t see very much of the stuff. A Low Pay Unit report in October last year said that a record number of people were living in officially designated poverty conditions. British mothers are given the second lowest maternity grant in Europe (only Eire is worse) and even some of the poor “third world” countries manage to find more for expectant mothers and new-born babies than Britain (The Times 23.11.79). Of course, the Tories would say, this does not matter in Britain because living standards have risen greatly over the last hundred years. That is what they would like us to believe anyway. But another Low Pay Unit report in February this year disclosed that the poorest workers in Britain earn less today in relation to average pay than in the 1880s. Nearly 6 million adult workers (34 per cent of the labour force) earn less than £60 per week. “They would have needed to earn that amount to be left with an income after tax equivalent to the official poverty line, as measured by the supplementary benefit rates for a family with 2 children . . . In fact the report states, the pattern of low pay since the 1880s shows a depressing rigidity” (The Times 11.2.80). Whether Tories or Labour are in power, capitalist interests come first.


Ronnie Warrington