Editorial from the November 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
When Conservative Party Chairwoman Theresa May recently said at the Party conference that the Tories were perceived as being the “nasty party” the media leapt upon it as an admission of guilt. The political opponents of the Tories in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties described it as striking confirmation that they'd been right all along: the Tories were a peculiarly sorry and vindictive lot.
That the Conservative Party has long held some rather unsavoury assumptions and has revelled in the distasteful political practices consequent on them is without dispute. From single mothers and the unemployed to Afro-Caribbeans who do not support the England cricket team, the working class in Britain has felt the wrath of the Tories (and their media friends at papers like the Daily Mail) longer than most of us care to remember. That their assumptions were tainted by rank hypocrisy from the start to finish (such as with the “back to basics” of John Major) made their political swagger all the more difficult to take – and their demise when it came all the more satisfying.
But if the Tories were the “nasty party”', what do we have now? Are New Labour the “kind and cuddly” party? Or are they at least the “lesser evil” – the “not quite so nasty” lot? Socialists have an uncompromising view on this and we can illustrate it through an analogy.
If there are two other people in a room with you and the first one of them is openly hostile, abuses you at every turn and is obviously working for interests diametrically opposed to your own, you would have to be crazy to consider them a friend. But if the other person in the room keeps telling you that they are on your side, sympathises about how awful the first person is being, and says you should trust them instead – while all the while they are pursuing interests just as opposed to yours and will proceed to stab you in the back at the first opportunity – then who is your real friend? Neither of them is the answer, of course, though we can say that you are less likely to be deceived by the openly hostile one.
The function performed by the Labour Party is always to appear as the benign friend to the workers in distinction to the “wicked” Tories. In the 1950s Labour hero Nye Bevan said the Tories were “lower than vermin” and in more recent times ex-Labour MP Frank Haynes called Margaret Thatcher “a wicked, wicked woman” to her face. But at least you could say Thatcher and her cohorts were straightforward about their support for privilege and their subsequent contempt for the workers – indeed, rather more straightforward than the Labour Party.
Already since their re-election in 1997 Labour is the Party that has hit the benefits of single mothers and the unemployed, has introduced tuition fees for students (something the Tories were unable to get away with) has set its face against so-called “wreckers” and militants in the trade union movement, has allied itself with the world's greatest superpower at every turn and is now preparing to unleash war upon tens of thousands of unsuspecting Iraqis in the name of “saving” them from military dictatorship. It is tempting to ask that “with friends like that, who needs enemies?”
But does this make the Labour Party any more “nasty” or “evil” than the Tories? The answer is irrelevant. Both organisations (just like any others wishing to take over from them like the LibDems) are “nasty” parties in effect because they are attempting to run a thoroughly nasty system which pits human being against human being in a never-ending struggle for existence. Even if the Tories and the Labour Party had the best of intentions they would be unable to operate the system in any other way than that demanded by its internal logic. And its internal logic is what leads to the wealth of the privileged few being placed before the satisfaction of the needs of the many, to a crumbling society where community is destroyed by rampant individualism and competition, and to constant warfare across the world over trade routes, spheres of influence, power and profits.
Hoping that the Labour Party will behave differently to the self-styled “nasty party” – or hoping that the “nasty party” itself will behave any differently in future should it form the government is an unrealistic – indeed utopian – expectation. Any party that tries to run capitalism gets its hands grubby, as a matter of course, in what is a very dirty business.
Socialists are revolutionaries and that means we recommend struggling against the capitalist system as a whole rather than just one or other of the various parties that support it. A democratic socialist revolution would relieve the Tories of the embarrassment of unloading their guilt and hypocrisy in public any more and Labour of having to do the same the next time they're kicked out of office. Indeed, a socialist revolution can help build a society where honesty and mutual respect are the norm rather than the headline-grabbing exception to it. And for that reason alone, it must be an option worthy of consideration.