1980s >> 1983 >> no-951-november-1983

Running Commentary: Silver spoon

Clean-cut prefect type that he is, the thought could never have entered the Brylcreemed head of Cecil Parkinson that he would one day be the subject of nationwide salacious jokes. As usually happens, there was much misunderstanding about the affair between Parkinson and Sarah Keays and the lucky child who as a result will find itself born into the British ruling class.

Parkinson’s extra-marital activities were denounced as inconsistent with the Tories’ well-advertised concern for what they called Victorian values, particularly with the sanctity of the monogamous, nuclear family. Should he, repentant, leave the government? The party? The country? All of this on the assumption that politicians operate on consistent, absolute principles.

But of course the Thatcher concern with the capitalist family was designed as a vote-winner and in any case applied only to that class in society (which does not include Parkinson) which has a subservient role and must be disciplined into it, by one method or another. Now this is perfectly in line with the values of capitalism, whoever is on the throne. It was so in Victorian times and it is so today. Capitalism now, as then, is a society of two conflicting classes, one of them socially superior and privileged and the other socially inferior and disadvantaged.

Parkinson and Keays enjoy a life-style, and assumptions about their futures which result from the exploitation of the working class. It is instructive to compare the treatment of Keays with that of a working-class female who conceives a child without being married. Keays negotiated through her solicitors — which means with a lot of legal protection and comfort — for what Parkinson assured us would be an adequate financial arrangement for her and the child. A spacious cottage near the home of her rich family in the lush Cotswold countryside was renovated for her.

Meanwhile, in magistrates courts throughout the land unmarried female workers apply for maintenance orders against similarly impoverished fathers of their children. In most cases, the courts award them a few pounds a week — which is all the father can afford — which is promptly deducted from their Social Security “benefit”. The working class should attend to the repression and the indignity represented by that rather than to the personal peccadillos of their arrogant masters.

A black hope
Jesse Jackson is tall, handsome, energetic and he believes in the American Way, so nobody should be surprised that he is a possible candidate in the next Presidential election.

In fact, the mere possibility is driving thousands of American workers into a frenzy of enthusiasm because Jesse Jackson is not only tall, energetic, etc. etc, but also black. Even more; he says he was there on the balcony when Martin Luther King was shot and that King died in his arms; he kept on a bloodstained T-shirt for a highly-charged TV appearance soon after the assassination. American blacks love him; “Run, Jesse, run” they urge him onwards to the nominating conventions.

Jackson is being lauded, not just as the new hope of American blacks; he is said to have something to offer whites as well — an unprecedented insight into their problems and a unique ability to come up with the answers. “In America,” he said during a recent visit to Brixton, “our struggle has shifted from a focus on freedom to the drive for real equality”.

It would be most remarkable if a politician who aspires to power did not try to arouse passion and enthusiasm by claims to have a novel solution to the problems which have been troubling the enthusiasts for such a long time. It is only when the power is won and the reality of trying to run capitalism strikes home that the ardour dies and the hero wilts, sometimes into obscurity.

Even before he gets near the convention there are questions hanging over Jackson. In particular, his claim to have been with King when he was shot is denied by fellow black Andrew Young, who undoubtedly was on the balcony. But it is important to consider more than questions. It is time the workers, in America and all over the world, refused to be misled into hysteria by the promises, the deceits and the charisma of leaders. Real experience shows that capitalism cannot be other than a divided, repressive social system of impoverishment and fear. No leader can change that.

Run Jesse run? Where to?

Method unimportant
After their defeat in 1979 the Labour Party went through a Benn-inspired reassessment of their constitution which was supposed to make them a more democratic and more effective organisation. This was as agonising for them as a bad illness and after the treatment they decided, among other changes, on a new method of electing their leader. No longer would this be through the preferences of only Labour MPs; now the whole party, affiliated trade unions and all, would have a vote on the issue.

Triumphant left wing Labourites claimed that they now had a serenely democratic party, better fitted to take power and. in some unexplained way, to force socialism on us. Some of their leaders, on the grounds that too much democracy was a bad thing, left the party to take their place at what they hoped would be the foot of Labour’s death-bed. And out of this marvellous new method has emerged Neil Kinnock, who has not so far been justified on the grounds that he is the fruit of a more democratic method of election but because his party hopes that he has the formula to win them back into power.

Whatever system the Labour Party used, the leader who emerged would have carried the same hopes. Kinnock, for his youth and his carefully constructed reputation, would always have been a very strong candidate for the succession. Labour’s new constitution, born amid so much pain and dispute, has really changed nothing.

Labour’s elected leader is expected to be enough of a crafty opportunist to play the electoral game of deceiving the working class to such effect that it results in a Labour win. As long as the workers — who vote for Labour and Tory governments over British capitalism — continue to acquiesce in this cynicism the problems of modern society will remain. The method through which leaders emerge is unimportant; what matters is the social system which they serve and which they try to control — and the urgent need to abolish it.