1980s >> 1982 >> no-930-february-1982

Political Notes: Images

The job was not widely advertised but the Conservative Party recently appointed a new Marketing Director (we are not making this up) and he at once got down to a review of the Tories’ advertising and presentation strategy (we are still not making this up).

One likely result of this review is that the famous advertising firm of Saatchi and Saatchi, who took time off from composing lies about things like detergents and breakfast foods to master-mind the Tories’ return to power in 1979, will be sacked.

Of course the dismal record of the Labour government may have had a bit to do with Thatcher’s victory but advertising agencies and marketing directors need to believe in their power to influence people or they would resign from their jobs or blow their brains out or something equally useful.

Well the elation of those heady days, when all was going to be put to rights through the beneficient workings of the market, is now looking decidedly drab. Saatchi and Saatchi’s 1979 slogan “Labour Isn’t Working”, under a picture of a long dole queue, has recoiled so that the Tories will forever be stuck with responsibility for three million unemployed.

Not unnaturally many Conservatives, with an eye on the next election, are getting uneasy about the image they present now, as a hidebound, callous bunch of wreckers. And Saatchi and Saatchi, equally nervously, feel it does their image no good with the makers of detergents and corn flakes to be so closely associated with so unpopular a government.

Time too for the voters to reflect on the insulting cynicism of those whose business it is to sell capitalism to them, who wheedle for their support with lengthily constructed campaigns of concealment, evasion and deception.

Capitalism deprives the working class of the full product of their labour. It makes a world of conflict, terror, famine, disease. Its hall mark is exploitation, poverty, the degrading of its people. For them it is the worst possible bargain, which they buy with their sweat, suffering and their blood.

Alliance Split
Some observers of the squabble between the Liberals and the Social Democrats over who shall contest which constituency may have been puzzled by the talk of “gold” seats and “silver” seats. Was this to be some bizarre version of the Olympic Games? Is Roy Jenkins so desperate, that he plans to cut down on the richer foods and heavier wines and get into condition for the Marathon?

If the squabble goes on much longer, will the Alliance even get to the starting blocks? Unable to split on matters of policy, because it hasn’t got one yet (which raises the fascinating question of what will happen when they have) the SDP and Liberals are quarreling over the good, old fashioned issue of power grabbing.

The SDP’s preoccupation in this is well illuminated by Jenkins’ tireless search for a parliamentary seat, in which he now threatens to subject the workers of Glasgow Hillhead to his unguent cynicism. Jenkins’ passion to get into Parliament is very much part of his need to be seen as the undisputed leader of the Alliance, to prevent Owen and Williams becoming too established at the top.

Another shaft of illumination came from the behaviour of Rodgers, who brought his old role of Labour’s parliamentary muscle man into the haggling between the two parties. When matters of political power are under discussion, Rodgers has a famously low level of frustration.

The simple fact is that the SDP/Liberals are nothing new, although their success very much depends on their ability to deceive the working class that they are. A compound of discredited Labourites and disorientated Liberals, the process which they call breaking the mould is really the rehash of the same stale ingredients.

Before long they will be inviting the workers to elect them into power over British capitalism. Time then to remember these fractious days, which revealed them for the power-seeking opportunists that they are.

Town Hall vs. Whitehall
Until the 1950s it was very rare to find a Conservative candidate in a local election. Of Labourites and Liberals there was no lack; but apart from that there were usually only people with descriptions like Ratepayers’ Association or Municipal Reform.

It is true that these same people airily emerged at general elections as active members of the Conservative Party. But they argued that local elections, about matters like keeping the pavements clean and where to erect the street lamps, should not be influenced by national issues. Politics, they said, should be kept out of the Town Hall. The autonomy of local authorities was vital; how could the man in Whitehall know what went on in Little Sodbury?

Well the Tories now openly contest local elections. Even more, as they are showing during Michael Heseltine’s current battle with local authorities over rating and expenditure, they are convinced that Westminster should be able to dictate important policy matters to every Town Hall.

The Labour Party has also changed its line. They once argued, against those phony Ratepayers’ and Municipal Reform candidates, that autonomy for local authorities was wasteful; better to co-ordinate it all under Whitehall’s benevolent eye. Now they stand up (some Labour councillors declare they are ready to defy the law, and go to gaol, on the issue) for what they call local democracy against the encroachments of a hectoring Parliament.

It has always been clear that the machinery of government exists at both national and local levels and that all must be taken over if there is to be a fundamental change in society. The argument between the Labour and Tory parties about state against local council is, like all the other disputes between the parties of capitalism, a sham fight based not on principle but expediency. Anyone concerned with a democratic society needs to look farther than that for the real issues.