1980s >> 1982 >> no-931-march-1982

Political Notes: Splits

Does the Tory government know its own mind? On the one hand we have Howe and Tebbitt, dredging among the official statistics, assuring us that there are unmistakable signs that the worst of the recession is over and that we can now look forward to better times ahead. On the other there is Francis Pym, who has the job of master-minding the government’s propaganda, warning us that things are going to get worse:

  In the short run, living standards generally can only fall . . . we have to find ways of coping with and living with much higher levels of unemployment

There is no evidence that Pym was thinking about his own living standards or his own unemployment, although he talked about what “we” have to cope with. In any case, those with memories extending beyond last week may well prefer this sort of gloomy prognostication, from their experience of what has too often followed a politician’s hearty assurance that better times are just around the corner.

Are speeches like Pym’s, then, completely irrelevant? In fact, some people might find consolation in them, for no politician can forecast what will happen to capitalism’s economy; they can no more foresee a slump than they can a boom. If they had this ability the present recession would not have happened. There would be no three million dole queue. There would be no public expenditure cuts. We would be spared the offensiveness of ministers like Norman Tebbitt, who pretends that poverty (ours, not his) is good for us. We would not have to endure Thatcher’s nervous defiance of the reality she sees all around her. And we would be freed of the drivel of people like Pym.

Whatever stress this government is under, they are not split on the fundamental principle that capitalism must be run in the interests of its owning minority of parasites.

The death last month of Ritchie-Calder saw the end of an identikit lefty, who moved easily in the unreal world of soft headed, temporising liberals, ready to support any excess of capitalism provided it is the work of their favoured party.

A devoted member of the Labour Party and a journalist who wrote mainly about science—which he saw as a means of dealing with social problems—Ritchie-Calder must have been thrilled when, in 1963, Harold Wilson began to claim for Labour the role of the party of science. The red (or was it white?) hot technological revolution, promised Wilson, was going to abolish poverty and strife through a four per cent growth in productivity. It sounded simple and it deceived a lot of people, like Ritchie-Calder, who should have known better. And of course it didn’t happen as Wilson promised.


Typically, Ritchie-Calder was a professed pacifist who nevertheless supported war, ending up with an important job on the Political Warfare Executive during 1939/45. Plenty of other lefties went the same disreputable way, after a brief obligatory struggle with what they called their principles.


After the war, Ritchie-Calder’s continuing quest for impotence led him into the United Nations; he toured the Congo on their behalf during the troubles in 1960. He probably felt more comfortable there; the history of that country’s blood soaked exploitation by the rubber-seeking imperialist powers can keep a left wing journalist’s typewriter rattling for months.


Inevitably, he joined CND. No Aldermaston march was complete without his personification of the delusion that capitalism can be a society where human knowledge and achievement are used for human benefit.


And inevitably again, the ruling class showed what they thought of him that he presented no threat to their interests—when in 1966 he became a life peer and. a few years later, chairman of the Metrication Board.


Ritchie-Calder was one of those eminent people who give respectability to the organisations of capitalist reform—and therefore to capitalism itself. They may or may not be sincere; what is undeniable is that they are dangerously misguided. We have had too much of them and of their works. Behind a benign exterior they are as devastating as a malignant disease.


Margaret Thatcher was once dubbed by Labour MPs, taking advantage of the abolition of free milk for some school children, as Thatcher the Snatcher. (The Iron Lady later said that she had been so wounded by these slurs that she would creep home and weep privately to her husband Denis.)


Well now the Prime Minister has advanced up the scale of criminality and from a snatcher has become, according to one outraged Labour MP. the Westminster Ripper. This parliamentary language may be written into the Labour Party campaign to exploit the government’s discomfiture over the cuts in public expenditure, which are now being blamed for almost all our ills from suicidal unemployed to decaying hospitals.


From this there has emerged a handy, distorting equation: Tory equals cuts equals poverty; Labour equals no cuts equals prosperity. Like all such propaganda, this has no basis in truth.


The Labour government of 1929 was infamous for its attacks on the already precarious living standards of the workers. That this was no accident was proven by such Chancellors as “Austerity” Cripps and Roy Jenkins, with his lugubrious warnings about the disaster awaiting us if we continued to live it up in our palaces on caviar and champagne. As a result of watching Jenkins on TV, a number of slum dwellers are said to have guiltily reduced their consumption of fish fingers, hoping thereby to contribute to the national recovery.


The last in this line—Denis Healey—was known as the “first monetarist”, which did not mean that he was a “monetarist” but that he zealously pursued a policy of public expenditure cuts. The latest account of this is in the book Inside the Treasury by Joel Barnett, who was Healey’s Financial Secretary. Apart from admitting that, in contrast to their promises to be able to control capitalism, the Labour government of 1974 did not have the first idea of what to do about the economy, Barnett records how Healey’s proposed cuts were pushed through the Cabinet, against some typically inconsistent opposition: “There is no will in this Cabinet,” expostulated Peter Shore, “To tell the IMF to take a running jump, even if unemployment rose to 2 million”.


Both Labour and Conservative governments have imposed cuts, which is another way of saying that they have both tried to do what the capitalist system demands of a government. They are basically in complete agreement on that. And that is another way of saying that no member of the working class, with the power to transform society, should misuse that power by supporting them.