50 Years Ago: Labour’s Lost Chord
Against all the precedents, and to the surprise of many Labour supporters, the Tories have won their third election in succession; and have even managed to increase their majority. The most interesting aspect of this was not Supermac’s victory, but the changed attitudes and moods of the electorate, that were revealed more clearly than before. These changes affect the Labour Party far more than the Tories, and in some ways appear to be a major disaster for Labour, causing much heart-searching and what John Foster Dulles called “agonising re-appraisals.”
In spite of high polls and a fairly steady Labour vote, something has gone from British politics, and gone for ever. This “something” might loosely be called “left-wing idealism.” Where is the enthusiasm of Labour’s early years; where the desire to make the world a place of dignity, free from slavery and oppression; where the striving to make man master of the machine instead of its mere adjunct Labour in the past expressed, however incoherently, all these aspirations of a working class just out of its infancy, crying out, not for charity and mercy, but for political power with which to change the world.
The Labour Party was formed in 1906, yet despite its recent emergence (as compared with Liberal or Tory) its appeal is already fading, its policies old-hat, its ideals threadbare and increasingly lost in vague verbiage. Fifty-three years have seen the rise and decline of that sincere idealism that sent hundreds of thousands of workers onto the streets campaigning, not for “we can make ‘ You have never had it so good’ even better,” but to build a society worthy of Man’s sense of his own dignity. Left-wing idealism has died, and all the trumpeting of Bevan, Barbara Castle, Mikardo and “Tribune” cannot bring it to life again. Labour today can only mimic its former styles; and the result, with even the rebels supporting H-bombs, rearmament and the trade struggle with foreign powers, sounds as hollow as an old biscuit-tin.
(From article by F.R.I, Socialist Standard, January 1960.