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

Running Commentary

Freddie’s Fall

Speaking in the House of Commons on February 9, Margaret Thatcher added her trickle to the gush of praise poured on Sir Freddie Laker after the collapse of  Laker airways: “Whatever his difficulties now, nothing can take away from the great service he has done. He brought the possibility of travel to people who never dreamed they would have it.”

Immediately after the crash a “Sir Freddie Friendly Fund” was set up to which thousands of members of the working class contributed in a bid to relaunch the business of the man who sold us the world. Like the pupils at some public schools who are made to say “thank you” to the master who has just beaten them, these workers were expressing a curious gratitude. Laker did not provide any “great service” for anyone, unless of course we are talking about the milking of “his” workforce to gain great wealth.

Laker services were really performed by the people who built and piloted the aeroplanes, navigated the routes, controlled the air traffic, handled the luggage and worked in the airports. What Laker actually did in this business has been described as “providing the initiative”, “being the spark plug” and “organising the show”. This means that he was a “good” business man: good at negotiating (arm twisting and trickery), good at managing people (authoritarian and arrogant), a shrewd operator (ruthless) and good at investing (putting ink on to cheques).

Laker Airways was established to make profits for its owners, not as a loving venture to enable poor people to enjoy visits to exotic places. The airline went into receivership with debts totalling over £210,000,000 and there is a plain similarity between its troubles and those of the Polish government. Both organisations were engaged in heavy borrowing in the middle 1970s in order to finance expansion (in 1973, Poland had the third fastest national growth rate in the world) and both were eventually unable to satisfy their creditors who had become particularly anxious with the onset of the recession.

The profit system is founded on competition and it is ironic that one of today’s most outspoken worshippers of the advantages of “free enterprise” has been squashed by the system of which he was so fond.

Substitutes

The British Movement has recently formed a Women’s Division. In an Organiser’s Directive, BM members were told to “encourage  wives and lady friends to join and become active. Most women work for either large concerns or are out throughout the day meeting people so they are often in a better position than the men for spreading our ideas”.

What ideas? Well, apart from the notions of “keeping Britain white” and “fighting Godless Communism” which are moronically repeated in slogans throughout BM publications, there don’t seem to be any. A recent copy of British Tidings, the BM newsheet, does not reveal very much. We are informed that the development of the Women’s Division will play a vital role in enlarging the Movement “to work in an organised way for our Country’s future”.

The Newsheet continues: “They will have their own uniform. For younger women there will be the very attractive British Movement jump suit in dark blue with usual badges. Party badge, England shoulder flash and where necessary, an armband.” Like the Chinese “communist” uniform, only nicer?

But what members of this organisation are supposed to discuss as they march about in uniforms is nowhere made clear.

However, if members of the British Movement share John Tyndall’s view about children’s education, we should not expect them to be brought up to have very much to talk about. In the National Front magazine Spearhead (October 1976) Tyndall wrote: “In every school curriculum there should be a number of hours in the week set aside for activities which should bring the young child into contact with rudimentary military procedures . . . there should be a much greater emphasis on physical fitness and the object should be to produce a hard, tough youth capable of great endurance and with a combative spirit”.

Perhaps it would be cheaper and more efficient to forget books and education courses altogether and simply train the children by hitting them repeatedly over the head with blunt instruments.

Assault

Warren Hawksley is the Conservative MP who last month tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to the effect that any male aged between 10 and 14, or young person aged between 14 and 18, found guilty of assault, provocative language or criminal damage should be liable to be whipped.

Hawksley, who no doubt had an expensive education so that his thoughts might be more sophisticated and refined than those of the hoi polloi, has even specified the instruments with which the blows should be struck: canes for children while the over-14s get the birch rod.

There are one or two points Hawksley does not make entirely clear. Will governments continue to be exempt from committing criminal damage when they authorise the production of weapons of war? Will priests and politicians continue to be exempt from provocative language charges when they tell us that our poverty is ordained by heaven or that the unemployed should solve their problems by roving round on a bicycle? Will the police and the army continue to be exempt, in practice, from charges of assault as they go about their duties?

Probably the answer to these questions is “Yes”, since the institutions mentioned could not exist if they were forbidden to behave in those ways. And, speaking of the police, it was interesting to hear a police-recruit instructor advising his rookies on the subject of arrest, in a documentary last month (“Training Recruits”—Police, BBC 1, 8 February): “If you deal with working-class people they do not mind at all that much being arrested . . . but wealthy people sometimes take offence to being arrested.”

Puny Benn

If you believe the mass media then you will consider Tony Benn to be a socialist of the most extreme kind. A man who wants revolution. A man who, perhaps unlike Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, wishes not to tinker with capitalism but actually to end it. In fact, Benn does talk about socialism more than most politicians in the Labour Party; but when you actually examine what he says you will discover that the change he desires is not all that radical.

Some of his “extremely militant revolutionary” followers must have been a bit put out when he appeared recently in a television interview (After Noon Plus. Granada, 29 January). For ten minutes or so, two interviewers interrogated Benn about the changes he would like to see and Benn outlined a programme of measures concerning the Welfare State, nationalisation, the Civil Service and the House of Lords.

One of the interviewers observed that this list of policies were merely a collection of individual changes: “You are widely regarded as a revolutionary, is it fair to call you that?” Benn rubbed his chin and thought carefully, while “You tell ’em Tony!” must have been shouted at thousands of television screens by proud militants. “Revolutionary change”, came the reply, “it’s a funny word, isn’t it. No. I believe in reform.”

Who gets Away?

As the “holiday season” draws closer we are bombarded from all sides with glossy advertisements advising us to forget the drabness and monotony of workaday life for a while and get away from it all. The popular idea of a pleasurable break from wage slavery is to be herded into buses and planes, shunted to sunshine and shingle for a couple of weeks and then shunted back home for another fifty weeks of displeasure.

The wealthy do not have this problem—for them life is one long holiday; and while unemployment is a blight to us, worsening our living standards, unemployment for the wealthy is a reason for delight. Last year, in one of his customarily penetrating insights into the workings of society, Prince Philip said: “A few years ago everybody was saying “We must have more leisure—everybody’s working too much’. Now that everybody’s got so much leisure, they’re complaining they’re unemployed. People don’t seem to be able to make up their minds what they want, do they?” (Daily Express 11/6/81).

This year the Prince will receive a social security cheque for £160,000, excluding his free lodging in five royal palaces and his wife’s two private estates, free travel on Royal planes, train and yacht and other expenses. He will not be clocking on every day, signing on every two weeks or longing for a vacation to taste paradise for a while in a two-star hotel in Barcelona.

Dick Giordano, the managing director of BOC International, is another example of a member of the wealth-owning class who will not be found yearning for a few days in each year when he can do as he pleases as long as it doesn’t cost too much. It was announced last month that he had enjoyed a 76 per cent pay increase, taking his “earned” income to £477,000 a year. Meanwhile, households with a weekly income of £50 to £60 in 1979 on average spent £55.64 on holidays (Poverty in the UK, Peter Townsend). Holidays are very often cheap and short-lived bids to escape from reality. But there can be no individual escape from a social system.

Gary Jay

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