50 Years Ago: Scarborough Follies

Another year, another autumn, another Labour Party conference. We have, by now, got the message. In 1963, again at Scarborough, Labour heard Harold Wilson say that a better life was just around the corner, as soon as we had a Labour government to set the scientist free.

In 1964 they heard Wilson—then Prime Minister—assure them that, with Labour in power, better times were definitely on the way.

In 1965 Wilson was on the defensive, struggling to justify his government’s incomes policy and what he called redeployment—not, he insisted, unemployment. All of this was, he said, a necessary preliminary to the better days which everyone knew lay ahead.

In 1966 it was an outright wage freeze, credit restrictions—in fact everything which under the Tories had been stigmatised as stop-go—which Wilson said must be endured before we could come into Labour’s Promised Land.

This year it was the same old story. Better times are coming—in fact, Wilson can actually see the hoped-for improvements which prove to him that we are almost round the corner. But before that, there is a little matter of wage restriction, unemployment and cutting the unions down to size which must be gone through.

So it goes on, year after year.

Party conferences, as everyone now knows, have little meaning other than as exercises in public relations. This year the Labour leaders used their gathering to defend their records and, with one or two exceptions, they did it with diabolical skill.

The delegates accepted it. The wonder is that they never tire of hearing the same weary promises, the same cynical justification of broken pledges, the same old visions of prosperity just over the horizon.

Labour Party members, it is clear, are content that they will never arrive at the Promised Land. But surely even they must see that they are not even travelling hopefully?

(from Review, Socialist Standard, November 1967)

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