“The Mail on Sunday” on socialism

The 3 January issue of the Mail on Sunday contained an article by John Junor in which he referred to John Smith as “the leader of the Socialist Party”. Quite apart from the fact that we have no leader, we complained to the paper’s ombudsman. Mr Chris Rees. We publish below his reply, together with our response:

I think it is fair to say that few, if any, members of the Labour Party would object to being called Socialists and many staunchly uphold the values and aims of Socialism.

There are. obviously, different interpretations of the word “Socialist” but in general terms the Labour Party is seen to be Socialist and of course John Smith is leader of that party.

It was good of you to point out the old Press Council ruling which stated that readers of the (Evening Standard) article would clearly understand the organisation referred to and I think the same logic must apply to the article by Sir John Junor.

Copies of this correspondence will be passed to Sir John and the Managing Editor, Mr Forgham. so that they are aware of your complaint and comments, but beyond that I do not think I can usefully take the matter any further forward.

Yours sincerely
Chris Rees, Ombudsman

Dear Mr Rees.

Having considered your response, as an allegedly independent Ombudsman, the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party is astonished by its political reasoning.

Firstly, we are told that few members of the Labour Party would object to being called Socialists. It is surely the job of a newspaper to describe people as they are, not as they choose to be described. For many decades the only nation in Europe which had a title describing itself as being democratic was the tyrannical, state-capitalist police state, the German Democratic Republic. If your newspaper chose to describe the dictators of the ex-GDR as being democratic on the grounds that most of them would not object to being so called it would be a rather perverse way of defining truth.

Secondly, it is stated that “the Labour Party is seen to be Socialist”. By whom is it so seen? Its leaders rarely describe it as standing for socialism and refuse to use the term in their publicity. Most of its active members criticise it for not being seen to be socialist. So, on what grounds do you maintain your view that it is accurate to describe it in such a way?

Thirdly, and most astonishingly, you state that not only is the Labour Party seen as being socialist, and not only is its membership willing to be so described, but “many staunchly uphold the values and aims of Socialism”. This is an independent conclusion of your own which presumes some knowledge of what Socialism means.

Socialists stand for the establishment of a social system in which all goods and services are produced solely for use. not profit. Do “many” Labour members “staunchly uphold” such an aim? If so, when have they ever upheld it? When, for example, have they ever argued the case for moneyless free access to goods and services instead of the existence of the market standing between people and the satisfaction of their needs? Please supply us with a single speech, manifesto (local, national or European) or press release which upholds, “staunchly” or otherwise, that basic socialist aim. We suspect that all that you, or any writers or researchers on your newspaper, will be able to come up with are Labour plans for administering, regulating or reforming the capitalist market. After all, the famous Clause Four of their Constitution commits them to support for the market exchange of commodities.

We shall publish your response to us, and this response to you, in our official journal, The Socialist Standard (which was itself established two years before the Labour Party). We commit ourselves, as democrats, to publishing any response you can give to our questions and. in particular, to letting our readers know what evidence you arc able to cite in support of your contention that many members of the Labour Party do staunchly uphold the aim of Socialism. If you wish to retract the latter contention, on the grounds that there is absolutely no evidence to justify it, we shall be pleased to allow you to set the record straight.