1980s >> 1981 >> no-918-february-1981

Political Notes: Norman’s Defeat

Norman’s defeat
Norman St. John Stevas, as might be expected about anyone with a name like that, is well known for his sense of humour. At least, much of what he says matches the soppy grin he perpetually carries about on his face.

Whatever he has. he probably needed all of it when he was abruptly sacked in Thatcher’s first reshuffle of her government. In fact the whole thing had its funny side because when she fired Stevas Thatcher sent him a lovely letter telling him what a splendid chap he is and what valuable work he has done in the government. If a management did that on the factory floor the Industrial Tribunals would be swamped with complaints about unfair dismissal.

However, Norman added to the hilarity by declaring himself a devotee of “. . . compassionate, caring, one-nation Conservatism” and promising to keep up a fight for this. One problem he will obviously have will be knowing just what he is fighting for, since there can’t be anyone who is confident about the meaning of the phrase. Stevas is in immediate danger of becoming lost in the forest of meaningless verbiage which is the political terminology of capitalism.

Whatever is meant by “one nation”, it clearly doesn’t exist in a society which is founded on the privileged standing of a parasitic minority over that of the useful, working, producing majority. It is no more than a catch phrase intended to hide the realities of capitalism’s opposites of riches and poverty and at that it is transparently bogus.

But connoisseurs of such deceits need not fear. Norman’s dismissal doesn’t have to harm his ambitions, especially if he becomes a leader of the growing Tory unease at Thatcher’s performance. We may even end up with him as another in the line of “one nation” Conservative Prime Ministers. And we will need a sense of humour to survive that.

Roy Jenkins
With the return from Europe of Roy Jenkins, like a messiah come back from the wilderness, or wherever messiahs come back from, the prospects for the formation of a new Centre Party in Britain begin to look firmer. Of course it will be a pretty big job starting up a new organisation aiming at the immediate capture of political power against the might of the Labour and Conservative parties. And if that doesn’t leave Jenkins with enough problems there is Lord George Brown promising that if a Centre Party is formed he will be one of the first to join.

A few Labour MPs are also lining up for a seat on what they hope will he a runaway bandwagon, even it it is a bit early to get in their bid for a job. Mike Thomas is one, declaring himself in the Co-operative News — although whether anyone actually reads that journal is another matter. Roy Mason and Tom Ellis are others who are threatening to recast the entire face of British politics and then of course there is the famous, if less predictable. Gang of Three. ‘This dazzling array of talent is banking on popular disillusionment with Labour policies persuading workers that capitalism would be more tolerable if it were administered, not from the “left” or the “right”, but from the “centre”.

Nobody has actually decided what these terms mean nor where, say, the “left” ends and the “centre” begins. The problem is that in essentials there is no difference between them other than perhaps an ephemeral emphasis on a particular ailment of capitalism or on a personality.

Experience tells us that “left wing” ministers run capitalism very much like “right wingers’’ and that, whatever label is stuck on a government when it takes office in practice it is very little different from others with different labels—and it often ends up with the opposite label to the one it began with. This has little or nothing to do with the personnel of a government: it is simply that the capitalist system can be run in only one way — against the interests of the majority of its people.

So if Jenkins does ever make Number Ten from the Centre, we shall hardly notice the difference. His journey from Brussels is not necessary.

Postman’s knock
As the new season of explosives by mail order gets under way, we might anyday find that the 1981 publicity slogan for the Post Office will be that “Someone, somewhere, wants a letter bomb from you”.

There was, let us say straight away, absolutely no substance in the scurrilous rumour that the recent example of such missives, addressed to Margaret Thatcher, was sent by the reshuffled Cabinet Wets. At the current rate of postal charges they would have needed a whip round to pay for it, which might have been difficult at their lower wages.

What on earth do these bombers think they are doing? Do they seriously believe that if they had killed or injured Thatcher it would have made the slightest difference to the way British capitalism operates? Do they think there would not have been someone ready to take her place, at the head of a Tory government? Do they delude themselves that it would even have damaged the Tory Party? Or done anything at all to convince the working class that they should stop giving their support to capitalism?

In reality such acts of political terrorism have the opposite effect. Firstly, as they arouse sympathy for the victims and for what they stand for; as the IRA know only too well, martyrdom is a seductive vote catcher. They encourage an official state reaction against the terrorists, which can damage working class political freedom—witness the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act, rushed through by “liberal” Home Secretary Roy Jenkins immediately after the Birmingham pub bombings.

Finally, terrorism obscures the essential issue that the policies of capitalist parties exist and operate only because the working class support the system. That support is a matter of ideas and those ideas must change before capitalism will end. There is no evidence that this change will happen under the pressure of violence, however it is delivered.