Soft soap opera

It is a mark of the level at which political journalism is conducted when what seems to loom largest in the minds of some press commentators is the dress-sense, hairstyle, and love-life, of Shirley Williams. While all manner of things may be germane to our political and social condition, does the existence in William’s one-time Oxford rooms, of seven photographs of Peter Parker, (Guardian, 10 February), have any possible bearing on that condition? What, one is entitled to ask, will these newspaper hacks cobble up for us next?


The reason for printing such irrelevant hogwash is a determination in Fleet Street and broadcasting to build up the Labour Party’s latest defectors as the beautiful people of British politics (even if that means the inclusion of Roy Jenkins). We are to be persuaded that these dilettantes are more concerned with the “moderate” decencies of political life than with its intrigue and infighting. In fact, what primarily motivates the media is the perpetuation of privilege and patronage among an “in” group who are assured of a comfortable ride on one or other of the band-waggons operated in the interests of our masters (who can recognise a loyal servant when they see one.)

The “sacrifices” such as Shirley Williams and her friends are flaunting in our less-than-terstained faces are those of the true class -collaborator, who would be (Roy Jenkins and Lazards, for example) received into almost any boardroom in the country. Neither would such people have much difficulty in being accepted by their Fleet Street friends, or by the BBC or IBA. To these latter they are very much a commodity, produced for sale with a view (that of the media) to profit. So naturally they can afford to play ducks and drakes with the organisation which provided them with so very lucrative a platform from which to mislead, and betray, the class they purported to represent.

The point about the whole sorry mess is that the defection from the Labour Party of a handful of disaffected class collaborators must essentially be a matter of indifference to us of the working class. It is a true measure of the sort of organisation the Labour Party is (and always was) that it can contain so motley a crew of the misguided, the careerist, the opportunistic and the sycophantic. The real surprise is that Williams and Co. have decided that their political fortunes lie elsewhere. After all, as will become increasingly plain as the months pass by, the Labour Party will revert to type: a reformist hotch-potch; a “broad church”, complete with its pocket-lining priesthood, offering the working class nothing more nourishing than the same old mixture of pious platitudes and shop-soiled placebos. Right up Shirley Williams’ street, one would have thought: but no—she’s off; even if she has to be seen standing an awful long time upon the order of her going. (But then she would no doubt wish to maximise both the damage to her erstwhile colleagues and the publicity to herself.)

It is certain, should the beautiful quartet represented by Williams, Owen, Rogers and Jenkins, manage to play in tune, we shall shortly discover that their music has a remarkably familiar ring. Before so very long the cynical rhetoric will begin to fly. No amount of thumbing through Roget’s Thesaurus will disguise the old shibboleths: the inevitable “incomes policy”, even should it be further euphemised as, say, “rational rewards”, or “restructured reimbursements”, will remain an attempt strictly to control wages. A Centre Party, or as they may prefer to call it, a “Social Democratic Alliance”, will, willingly or unwillingly—wittingly or unwittingly—run capitalism in the interests of those who primarily benefit from it: the capitalists. And if this means—as it will—a continued toleration of all the inequalities, frustrations and miseries so familiar to those who collectively produce all wealth, then our “social democrats” may confidently be expected to remain dry-eyed as they toast each other in their Limehouse redoubt.

Rodgers, Jenkins, Williams and Owen.

For make no mistake about it, Williams and Co. are quite unable to do anything more effective than jerk on the ends of the strings the ruling class have strung them with. The nearest mention of Karl Marx’s name would be enough to send our Shirl scurrying for her crucifix (or whatever equivalent she might prefer). These people have deliberately chosen not to arm themselves with the sharpest weapons available to us. Again this is natural enough, for there is no career to be carved out of the ripping away of the mask from the face of capitalistic exploitation. So they turn to the likes of John Maynard Keynes and, using his tool-kit, they tinker with what has manifestly become a clapped-out old banger. Oh, yes: it can be made to cough and stutter on almost indefinitely; but how many of us are to be asphyxiated along the way?

So, should a “Social Democratic” Party start to roll it must merely mean that the politics of capitalism will have been further fragmented. The divisions and sub-divisions; the shades of meaning already virtually numberless, and to be found both within the parties and outside them, will have been further increased. Understanding of our class position will have been even further confused. Workers, offered once again a multiplicity of predictably mendacious “solutions” to the inevitable crises of capitalism, may well be tempted to turn to a shiny new grouping; (well, dusted off and refurbished, anyway). They might as well resort to a chiropodist to cure a hopelessly gangrenous leg. For it is the capitalist system itself which is solely responsible for the contradictions and absurdities, the cruelty and waste we see all around us. Capitalism works on a cold and irrational cruelty which leads to a total disregard of the cost as measured in human lives; it is under a compulsion to behave in this way. And capitalists, while exploiting the working class, must also gobble up each other: it is their only way “forward”.

Labour’s Gang of Four (or however many they are by now) may be the beautiful people of British politics but they are trying to do the same ugly job as all the others.

Richard Cooper