1990s >> 1992 >> no-1052-april-1992

Caught In The Act: Future Uncertain

Future uncertain


John Major is famous for being the nicest of nice guys so naturally his motives in timing the general election for April 9 were the purest of the pure. It was. he said, the “right time“, the people wanted an election and of course “we will win the election . . . with a working majority.”


It is not clear whether Major was suffering from the delusion that there were crowds swirling around the gates of Downing Street, clamouring to be allowed to choose between the Labour and Tory methods of trying to organise British capitalism. Nor was it clear whether he had forgotten that his announcement of the date came the day after the Budget, which was supposed to be so attractive to the voters that they would insist on showing their gratitude to Major and Norman Lamont by returning them in a general election as soon as possible. In the event the announcement of polling day effectively removed the Budget from the headlines.


But docs anyone, anywhere, really believe Major when he says that April 9 was the right date because that was what the people wanted? Doesn’t everyone understand that the timing was motivated by the desire to get the biggest possible vote. And doesn’t the fact that Major, like all the other leaders before him, plays the election timing game, expose the myth that the Nice Guy is better than the Nasty One?


Nice Guys, as they say. usually come second and Major, when all is said and done, is a politician which means that coming second doesn’t interest him. After all.,what will happen to him if the Tories lose? It can’t have been entirely coincidental that immediately after the election has been called the media were speculating on his likely successor. Naturally Michael Heseltine was involved in this, declaring bashfully that he had no intention other than giving Major the kind of support, that football managers get from their chairman just before they arc fired.


None of this was calculated to comfort Major, who recently told the Tory conference that he likes being Prime Minister and intends to stay in the job. Depending on the election result, there will be a few other people with a say in that.


Forecaster unsuccessful


Of course Major got a lot of advice on the best dale for the election, some of it from Norman Lamont the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now Lamont has the vital job of keeping control of the economy of British capitalism so that it runs as he wants it to. This sounds very impressive except that Chancellors probably spend as much time complaining that the economy is out of their control as they spend celebrating that it is behaving as they want.


According to press reports Lamont was pressing Major to postpone the election until May. His reason was that the brilliant remedies he was applying to the recession and the other current problems of British capitalism would need a little longer to take full effect. By May their effectiveness would be plain for all to see and the voters would gratefully and dutifully return a Tory government and Lamont’s job in the Treasury would be rather more secure than the three million-odd people on the dole.


The snag is that Lamont’s true claim to fame is his persistent inability to get his economic forecasts right — or rather to have the luck to do so. If Major had had any sense Lamont’s advice to wait should have persuaded him to call the election as soon as possible, because as things are if Lamont says the situation is going to improve it’s a fair bet that it’s about to get worse.


Lamont’s style of assessing economic trends is not new. He is liable to interpret a slowing in the rate of increase in unemployment as evidence that unemployment is actually falling. He is also liable to assume that his forecasts are so reliable that industry and commerce can behave as if what was forecast has actually happened.


None of this deters Lamont from forging on, through the exposure of his bufoonery and his blunders, with even more assessments and predictions. There is only one way of taking him seriously — as the embodiment of capitalism’s chaos, immune to the conceits of its politicians.


Millionaire unrepentant


Of all the MPs who will not be seen again in the Commons, because they are retiring, none will be missed more than Alan Clark, the Honourable Member for Plymouth Sutton, son of the famous art historian Lord Clark, millionaire owner of the splendid Seltwood Castle in Kent (and much more), disdainful racist and sexist bigot.


Clark made a name for himself through a succession of what may have been interpreted as indiscreet statements. Nobody seemed to consider whether what he had said was really perfectly discreet, in the sense that he was showing his boundless contempt for anyone whose skin is black, or whose sex is female or who is a member of the working class. Even his apparent disparagement of his old school had this edge to it. Only someone rich enough to have been a pupil there could afford to say that “Eton was a very useful lesson in human cruelly and deceit”


The same can be said about his sneer at those who, because they have to work for their living, were gullible to the Thatcherite dream of a land populated by mortgages: “It’s not that one wasn’t scared of losing one’s jobs, but at least one wasn’t scared of not being able to pay the, er, what’s it? . . . Yes, that’s it, the mortgage!”


It is impossible to feel anything other than anger and contempt for his supposedly jocular — but actually bigoted and insulting — wish to send black people “. . . all back to Bongo Bongo Land” and for the arrogant sexism in his mock concession “I now realise that women can do all jobs better than men, except butchery and coal mining“. This might have been a little more impressive if Clark had had the slightest acquaintance with butchery and mining as jobs.


His career — if that was what it was — in politics has yielded a rich harvest of such boorishness, yet there is this to be said for him. At a time when the Conservative Party is led by someone who thinks that capitalism can be a classless society it is not simply provocative to have a politician like Clark, who glories in the reality that this is a class-divided society of rich and poor, in which millions must be exploited and repressed. A politician who knows which side of the class division he is on and makes no secret of his resolve to stay there.


So that’s alright then. We know where we stand; we should also know what to do about it.