The Political Notebook Column from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
It's tough being a capitalist these days. What with inflation and profit squeezes, not to mention petrol shortages, it’s almost like being a worker. After all, do we not share the same problems? Are we not one big happy family? Maggie Thatcher and the Tories would try to make us believe that. She wants us to work together for the good of the ‘nation’. She says that we are all in the same boat, rich and poor. Maggie has even discovered a new aspect of human nature — everybody wants to leave some wealth to their children. That is why she wants to sell off council houses, so that the slums that belong to the local authority can be handed over to the poverty-stricken people who have to live in them. Then, no doubt feeling suitably grateful, workers can work even harder for the rest of their lives under the wonderful illusion that they are leaving something to their children. No doubt the grateful workers will vote Tory as well. So you can look forward to receiving the mortgage in your parents’ will, as well as the clapped-out motor car.
Now according to the philosophy of Maggie, it’s all a question of hard work. Those that work harder get on and get the best rewards. Like a director of the insurance group, Alexander Howden, for example. Mr. I.R. Postgate was recently given a pay rise of £1,884. No, not per year, per week. His gross salary in 1978 rose from £45,000 per annum to £143.000 per annum (The Guardian, 4.4.79.). Funnily enough, the report forgot to mention the productivity deal that goes with this 100 per ccnt-plus increase. No doubt Postgatc will be able to increase proportionately the number of inter-company memoranda, not to mention swings with the golf club.
Then again, according to Maggie’s right hand (or should it be -wing?), Keith Joseph, it’s all a question of initiative. For example, it you want to get on, find something that people want and sell it. It’s dead easy. One obvious way is to rake round the attic and sell some of your old junk, even bits of paper will do. Look at Lord Cobham. He sold some old paper described as family archives for £164,000 (Daily Telegraph, 13.12.78). That’s real enterprise. Mind you, it is hard work. At the end of the Sotheby sale, poor Lord C. was described as looking ‘tired and upset’. Why don’t you sell your archives too and become rich? There’s that picture of Grannie that has been lying around for ages; or what about you and the kids at Margate in ’73?
Still, not everyone has got an attic, but what about the cellar? Sell off your old bottles for example. The Duke of Northumberland sold off his spare plonk — 18 bottles of South African sherry (1791 or 1809 the year is so important) for £3,305 (The Guardian, 23.5.79). And of course, a corkscrew to go with them; one sold for £350 and one for £170. So what about those old cans of beer . . .
Another obvious thing to sell if you need a bit extra to make the family budget go round is an old castle or two. Lord Brooke, for example, sold Warwick Castle to Madame Tussaud’s for one-and-a-half million pounds. Mind you, can’t please all the people all the time. The Farl of Warwick, Lord Brooke’s dad (described as a tax exile living in Paris, though his home is in Rome - confusing, isn’t it?) said of his son, “He’s a clot . . . he could have got four times that sum.” (News of the World, 8.10.78).
Still, 1 am sure she’s a good mum. Her child won’t suffer from such extravagances. Nor will any other children. After all, Maggie says we live in a caring society where all children are well looked after, just like Annie’s little one. The fact that the number of children living in families with incomes below the Supplementary Benefit level has risen between 1974 and 1977 from 260,000 to 500,000 (The Guardian, 27.3.79) is quite irrelevant. The Child Poverty Action Group reported in March this year a ‘seemingly inexorable’ rise in the number of families with children living below the official poverty line. All scroungers, Maggie? Living off the state. Sir Keith? Refusing to work. Jim Prior? Well no; 400,000 out of the 500,000 are in families where the breadwinner is in full time employment. But the CPAG has the answer. They wanted the Chancellor to raise the child Supplementary Benefit allowance from £4 to £4.85 per week. Just think of all the bottles of South African 1791 the parents could buy with that.
Anyway, even the poorest families could probably give their child an apple occasionally. After all, that 85 pence would probably cover three or four pounds of apples at today’s prices. This year there is going to be a surplus of over half a million tons of apples in the EEC. Wonderful! All those poor families will be given a few apples instead of that extra money. It could even save the increased burden of Supplementary Benefits, Geoffrey Howe is no doubt thinking. But what actually will they do with the spare apples? Obvious dump them. (The Guardian, 10.3.79). Why? To keep prices up. Who does that benefit? The producers. Are they the same as the consumers? No - one buys, the other sells. The buyers, if they are poor, can’t afford the apples; the producers only want to sell if they make sufficient profit. So it isn’t one happy family after all, is it, Maggie?