Editorial from the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
Among the empty slogans bandied about during the election campaign there was little of real interest to the discerning voter and even less by way of any firm commitments from the major parties. As was only right and proper, few of the parties’ promises were believed or actively supported. The majority were so tentative that it was an embarrassment to put them under the gaze of public scrutiny. To this extent, the campaign illustrated what has become apparent for some time—we now have "reformist” politics without the reforms.
Gone are the days of grand social schemes to eradicate the evils of modern capitalism. The evils, of course, are still there it is just that the traditional remedies for them haven't worked and there seems little point in carrying on the charade. Nothing illustrates this better than the problem of unemployment.
All the major parties declared themselves in favour of full employment and yet none of them have a programme which they think will achieve this aim. The best they can do is "make steps towards” getting people back into employment, but nothing very specific.
The only pledge—for what it's worth—made on this front was made by the Labour Party. Labour would, they claimed, put 250,000 young people back into work in a programme funded by the “windfall tax" on the privatised utilities.
This was a sop—admittedly a small one—to the idea that it is possible to increase taxation on the owning class to provide for public works programmes. Exactly, in fact, what the new Labour government did after 1974 in an attempt to reduce unemployment. The only problem was that it didn't work. Unemployment doubled from about 800,000 to nearly 1,700,000 and Labour was eventually forced to reverse its programme and go cap-in-hand to the IMF.
New Labour—being the great “pragmatists” of capitalist politics that they are—must know full well that such a course of action simply doesn't work, frightening capital investment in an entirely counter-productive way. So, with unemployment considerably higher and more entrenched then in the 70s. they offer not a grand scheme but the flimsiest reform still capable of attracting publicity.
But if it is possible to tax profits to provide steady employment (direct or indirect) why only 250,000 jobs to be "created? Why not create full employment?
Is it simply that the Labour Party’ care for the capitalists more then the unemployed? Or because they know full well that it is an unworkable policy that will not have the overall effect on unemployment that they claim? Perhaps, shrewdly, they have decided to keep their most obvious failures small ones, and their real economic impotence under wraps as best they can.