The Political Notes Column from the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
New Centre Party
While the famous Punch and Judy show of Thatcher and Benn goes through the motions of convincing the electorate that there is a vast ideological gulf between Right and Left, Roy Jenkins, ex-Labour Minister and current President of the European Commission, pursues his scheme of forming a Centre Party. Nobody knows what the proposed Party will be in the centre of, nor what policies it will advocate which have not been tried and failed in the past. The following predictions may be made. Firstly, the new party will stand for capitalism. It may not say that it does, preferring to call it “the mixed economy” (mixed up economy would be more accurate), but by accepting the continuation of class property, wages and profits, we will know which system the Centrals support.
Secondly, if elected, the Centre Party will fail to tackle any single social problem: its reforms will be no better than those of the present capitalist parties. It will blame its failure to carry out promises on all kinds of causes—the unions, the oil sheiks, the weather—but will not concede (or even realise) that the problems are inherent to capitalism. Thirdly, the new Centre Party will evolve its own factions. There will be a Left standing for more state control, less arms expenditure and improved welfare provisions, and a Right standing for less state control, more arms and less welfare expenditure. Some of the Centre Party may fall between both wings and conspire to form a new party of the centre. It too will be marked by the same features as its parent party. And so it will go on — capitalist leaders fighting over the best way to run the worst system. It is perhaps in the recognition that Jenkins’ naive plan is doomed to fail that most politicians have wished to have nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, the non-issue of the day dominates the headlines. Will Jim resign? How long will it take Benn to convince the Stock Exchange that he is respectable? Will Maggie do a U-turn? Will the Liberals revive? Questions that don’t matter, and answers that matter less. The only question of the day which should concern all workers Left, Right and Centre —is whether or not they will continue to support a system that offers them poverty, suffering and insecurity.
The Russians claim that they went into Afghanistan to “liberate” its inhabitants from an American-backed oppressive regime. The Americans claim that they are concerned about the “freedom” of the Afghanistan people, which has been harmed by the new Russian-backed oppressive regime. Socialists know better than to believe either of the capitalist super-powers when they shield their imperialist motives behind pious justification for warfare. Critical readers of the Guardian will have noticed two separate reports which confirm that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan is explicable in plain economic terms. On 1 May 1980, an article in the gas industry magazine Gas World is reported to have pointed out that
“Supplies of natural gas from Afghanistan will reach 2.5 cubic metres this year, 16 per cent up on last year. The increased supply coincided with Moscow’s refusal to meet Iranian demands for a five-fold increase in the present price of 76 cents per 1,000 cubic feet.
Gas World comments: 'The extra supplies available from Afghanistan obviously strengthen their hands in negotiations with the Iranians who are already arguing that the Soviets are swindling the Afghans by including the cost of the invasion in the price of the gas they are importing'.”
Two days later, the Guardian included news of the Russian attempt to do a deal with British Petroleum. BP has apparently been offered a supply of 45,000 cubic metres of Soviet gas a year to sell in Western Europe in exchange for technology and managerial knowledge to be used in the Arctic. Meanwhile the press, including the Guardian, continues to perpetrate the image that the conflict in Afghanistan is primarily ideological. A cynic might conclude that they’re talking a lot of gas.
A visitor to the Special Conference at Wembley on 31 May would be excused for thinking that it was the Tories, not the Labour Party, who were the organisers. After all, handed to all delegates as they entered was a short leaflet published by a Labour Party faction called The Social Democratic Alliance. This is what it said:
“Oppose the extremist NEC statement! Oppose the move to withdraw from NATO! Oppose re-nationalisation without compensation! Support the mixed economy! Support the Western Alliance! Support the Centre — support the SDA!”
Now, “Left Wing” delegates at the Conference were dropping these on the floor with the contempt that they would show for a signed photo of Sir Keith Joseph. “These people have no place in our great movement” commented one trade unionist. The funny thing is that the SDA policies were precisely those of the last Labour government. The Left may be permitted to shout and make rhetorical threats at Conference time—they may even will the right to put them in their manifesto— but come the next Labour government, the leaders will be dancing to capitalism’s tune, and those who put their faith in the Labour Party will be crying that they were betrayed.