1980s >> 1987 >> no-989-january-1987

Promises

“Anyone’s better than that bloody woman”, is a phrase that is often heard. It will be used a lot more in the coming months with the prospect of a general election, where Thatcher’s Conservative party will be seeking another five-year term to run British capitalism. The argument behind the disgust is that the Tories are largely responsible for the many problems people in this country are facing, and that, despite the many inadequacies of Labour and the Alliance, anything has to be an improvement on Thatcher.

All shades of political opinion will be asking people to cast negative’ votes. Most of the so-called left-wing parties will be urging you to vote Labour — supposedly the mass party of the working-class’ — despite the fact that they spend much of their time criticising the Labour Party. Some people in the Communist Party will call for a broad anti-Thatcher alliance, seeing Thatcherism as a new, worse form of Tory rule. The tactical voters, people who vote for someone they disagree with to keep out someone they dislike even more, will be out in force.

The argument works the other way as well. Thatcher and Tebbit will be issuing stern warnings about how the opposition will ruin the economy and leave the nation defenceless. Disillusioned Tory voters will be warned not to vote for the Alliance and let Labour in by the back door. The scare stories the government put out will be designed to focus attention away from their own numerous shortcomings.

Life for most people in the last seven-and-a-half years of Conservative rule has certainly been no bed of roses. Before she was elected in 1979. Thatcher made a big deal about the doubling of unemployment under the last Labour government. Pictures were distributed of a long queue outside a dole office with the caption. “Labour Isn’t Working”. The bitter irony is that unemployment hasn’t doubled under the Tories — it’s trebled. The frustration and anger people feel at the humiliation of the dole queue can only intensify when the government apparently shows no concern for their plight. The poverty of existing on a giro can only feel worse when ministers show righteous indignation at the supposed large number of social security scroungers.

More recently the Tories have been worried that their uncaring image may be losing them votes. Lord Young, the (un)employment secretary, has been told to make the right kind of noises about caring, and to present the various cheap labour schemes, like YTS. as being indicative of the government’s concern. This real social security scrounger is obviously in a position and of the right social background to sympathise with someone getting £30 a week supplementary benefit.

The Thatcher government has made cuts in health and education and the number of new houses being built has been drastically reduced, despite the fact that thousands of people are homeless and thousands of building workers are unemployed. In view of the poverty workers endure, these cuts seem callous, although welfare can never eliminate the basic impoverishment of working-class life in capitalism

The Tories have passed several laws designed to weaken the trade unions. They have made it harder for workers to go on strike, and made the unions open to court action if they don’t follow certain procedures for striking. They have also ‘toughened up’ the law and eroded many of the civil liberties that people ‘enjoyed’.

Thatcher’s ‘Iron Lady’ image, her projection as a strong leader, also worries many people, who fear her enthusiasm for nuclear weapons. Her support for the American bombing of Libya last year plus the Falklands War makes her seem a dangerous warmonger. She and her government are certainly maintaining the long tradition of conservatism by endorsing the slaughter of millions of workers in the interests of British capitalism.

The Conservatives have shown once again that they stand for the dominance of the privileged few, the small number of people who effectively own and control this country. It may seem tempting to vote for some other party just to get them out — until you consider the alternatives.

The main alternative is the Labour Party. Many people still see them as the party of the working people, a party out for a fairer society which will tackle the problems mentioned above. A brief look at what the Labour Party does when it is in power shows that they are no different to the Tories.

The Labour Party makes a great noise about the evils of unemployment and how it is going to get people back to work. At the 1983 election they claimed that they would cut the dole queues to under a million in five years. However, this was seen to be too wild and extravagant, so they now claim they will reduce unemployment by one million in two years. However, every previous Labour government has left office with a higher level of unemployment than it faced when it entered office. The claim that Labour is the party to tackle unemployment is a lie. The level may rise or fall but it is beyond the power of any government to affect it significantly.

Despite its current opposition to the cuts in services the last Labour government also introduced drastic cuts in the health and social services and in education. It was also willing to impose wage restraint and break strikes, hardly the actions of a party anxious to redistribute wealth and create a fairer society. Its current concern with tackling poverty can also be seen for the lie that it is.

It is important to contrast what Labour (or any other party) say when they are in opposition, hunting for votes, and when they are in power, having to act in the only way they can. in the interests of capital. The most obnoxious and deadly contradiction between what Labour says and does is in the sphere of war and peace.

The Labour Party claims that it is the party of peace, and has promised to get rid of nuclear weapons and rely on conventional forces. These so-called conventional weapons have been used in wars where millions have been killed, wars which the Labour Party supported. They are prepared, just like the Tories, to use armed might to protect the interests of capitalism, the usual reason why wars are fought.

Apart from the rhetoric there is no real difference between Labour and the Tories. The argument that you should vote for one rather than the other is untenable. The Liberal/SDP alliance claim to be a real alternative, or at least they try to present themselves as a nice bunch of people, much more decent than the rotten old parties. The leaders of the SDP were senior ministers in the last Labour government. a regime they only now find convenient to criticise. Their objection to the other parties cannot be very deeply felt as they are continually going on about the conditions necessary for entering into a coalition with them in a ‘hung’ parliament (where there is no overall majority, not the more attractive meaning).

The Liberals can present themselves as political virgins, uncorrupted by power. They have not been in office since the days when Lloyd George was Prime Minister and thousands of troops were being sent to their deaths in the trenches of World War One. From 1977-79 they kept the last Labour government in power. David Steel said they were doing it to prevent the worst excesses of Labour. These excesses obviously did not include the wage cuts imposed and the strikes broken by troops in this period.

Whether the politicians seeking your votes are really committed to changing things for the better, or whether they are just power-hungry careerists is really irrelevant. Once they get into power they have to administer the system in the only way it can be run — against the interests of the vast majority, the working-class. Capitalism is a system of society where the means of life are owned by a small minority, and the majority of people have to work for them in return for a wage or a salary. This basic class division means that workers have only a limited access to society’s wealth, that their needs must constantly be denied in the interests of profit.

Attempts to work within the system to make things fairer, to reform away the problems people have, ignore this harsh reality. A society based on the exploitation of the majority can never work in the interests of that majority, no matter how caring or well-meaning the reformers might be. Unemployment, poverty, bad housing and all these other problems are inevitable in this system.

The fact that the main parties work within these limitations results in the narrow, limited political debate that currently prevails. So we are confronted with arguments about the level of unemployment, but not why — in a world of potential abundance — people are poor as a result of class division; and arguments about how best to defend a country, not why workers should be prepared to lay down their lives defending their masters’ interests.

The only real alternative is the Socialist alternative, a world of common ownership and democratic control, where everything on and in the earth is used solely to satisfy human needs, where people take control of their own lives. Arguments about ‘doing something now’, about choosing the lesser of the evils on offer, serve only to delay the achievement of Socialism, to prolong the life of this miserable society.

To achieve Socialism, workers must understand and desire it. and reject the insulting nonsense put out by these other parties. We must decide to work and vote for something really worth having, and not get lost in the muddy waters of capitalist politics, sifting through the shit for something worth voting for. At the next election, you will, as always, be faced with two alternatives: voting for Capitalism or Socialism. Make your choice!

Ian Ratcliffe