Greasy Pole: Fables And Fabians
Not much longer now. One of the priorities of the Coalition government was to legislate to introduce fixed term five year parliaments so that the next election would be in May this year. At the time the discussion was about the need for some stability in government to ensure that any presented remedies for the recession would be able to run their course until the country emerged into blissful prosperity. There were of course other reasons – for example to discourage any prospective dissident Lib Dems from causing trouble when their seat on the Front Bench, with its treasured place at the upper reaches of the Greasy Pole and the right to pontificate on the chaotic futility of the efforts to control the vagaries of British capitalism, no longer depended on a particular government being in power.
It has not turned out to be like that and the prospects now are for a ‘balanced’ House of Commons where political leaders are under pressure to reveal their present plans to establish a benignly humane society for us to flourish in. Capitalism continues on its vandalistic way while we are subjected to a series of insidious evasions by the party leaders. Ed Miliband, becoming more desperate each day to ward off those in his party who are haplessly impressed by the images recorded by sneak photo sleuths which expose his problems with eating a sandwich or dropping a coin or two to a street beggar, has been spouting the usual style of re-assurances on issues such as British capitalism’s financial crisis, immigration and the like. Labour’s back room strategists have worked hard to establish the delusion that these matters should be of serious concern to the voters. Which means that Miliband must pose as a leader who has the power and talent to deal with them.
And then, of similar anxiety, there is the National Health Service which is daily revealed as inadequate for anyone who is unable to afford treatment in some lavishly costly clinic. Miliband has seen the reports of problems in Accident and Emergency departments and on the wards and in GP surgeries. So he has promised that a Labour government will flood the service with doctors and nurses and GPs all of which, he says, will be driven by ‘…care, compassion and co-operation, not competition, fragmentation and privatisation’. Such alliteration may disguise the fact that a former Labour government began restricting the NHS on the grounds that it was being misused by hordes of hypochondriac cheats. On similarly shaky ground is David Cameron who has been promoting the false notion that the level of tax should be of concern to those who depend for their living on selling their labour power for a wage. There is, he assures us, an ‘…economic, moral and practical case’ for lower taxes which a Tory government will be sure to apply, because ‘…it is people’s money not government’s money and we should leave them with as much to spend as we can rather than frittering it away on wasteful government projects’. But, like Miliband, Cameron is ignoring a vital reality; his government has worked devotedly to hold down ‘peoples’ money’ as wages and to dis-empower any organisation such as a trade union which resists that policy.
Emerging from the background, the Fabian Society recently offered a paper – In It Together – designed to provide some constructive advice to the Labour leadership: ‘A Labour government is going to need all the help it can get to achieve its social mission and so needs business as an ally, not an enemy. Rather than seeing markets as needing regulation to prevent them being socially destructive, the left needs a greater focus on how they can be helped to create social good . . . What matters most is for Labour to engage business in a dialogue and then ‘co-produce’ a set of solutions that can achieve its vision of a more responsible capitalism . . . (but) Simply put, business doesn’t trust Labour.’ This argument, apart from anything else, does not fit in with the behaviour of the last Labour government under Tony Blair (who has since shown us how advantageous a ‘dialogue’ with ‘business’ can be) and its attacks on our standards of survival as a discipline favoured by ex-ministers like Alan Milburn – now approved by the Fabians as one of the ‘New Labour ultras’. In opposition to this, the Guardian on 5 February listed some of the more powerful chiefs in industry who support the return of a Labour government. Like Lord Allen of Global Radio; Graham Cole of the helicopter firm Agusta Westland; Lord Noon the ‘leafy meal’ millionaire; Martin Littler of Inclusive Technology.
The Fabian Society was formed in January 1884, named after the Roman general Fabius Maximus – ‘The Delayer’. It has been associated with a variety of objectives, from its earliest pamphlet which urged ‘. . .you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently . . . but when the time comes you must strike hard’ to the present when its stated aims are rather less military: ‘To promote greater equality of power, wealth and opportunities, the value of collective action and public service.’ Its reformist objectives have included a national minimum wage, health service and education system, a welfare state. Among its members have been Ramsay MacDonald, Harold Wilson, Tony Benn – and er – Tony Blair who saw Fabians as ‘…often born relatively wealthy but who were indignant about inequality…They were like the Georges Duhamel character who says “I love humanity; it’s just human beings I can’t stand”’.
During the coming weeks we shall be subjected to a barrage of propaganda from the parties contesting the general election. We shall hear promises which will never be kept. Excuses for those given in the past which are now forgotten. Already there has been a contribution to this from the Fabian Society – an organisation claiming to be above such campaigning. We will have witnessed it all before, and been angry and frustrated before. The vital exception to this will be the ten candidates of the Socialist Party who will make no promises or attempts to re-write history. Their campaign will be on the single issue of the need to replace the inhuman system of capitalism with a world of freedom.