Editorial from the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
Many people acknowledge what a thoroughgoing job Saatchi and Saatchi have done for the Conservative Party. It is widely known that the Tory image-builders have changed Margaret Thatcher's hair and her make-up, have brought a huskiness to her voice, have persuaded her to arrange her head into that irritating slant whenever she is being interviewed for television. We can only guess how effective all this has been, whether it has actually influenced any votes. The entire operation rests on the theory that political leaders need to present themselves to the electors, not as they actually are but in an image, and that no matter what reality lies behind it, the most attractive image will win the most votes.
A corollary to this is that the working class, heedless of their suffering, can be persuaded to vote for a political party under a kind of social anaesthesia which renders them insensible to factual evidence and experience. This would explain why the Tories are now campaigning to convince us that they have not been cutting, but have been increasing, state expenditure on medical and social services; that hospital patients who observe the extra stresses imposed by staff cuts are deluded; that workers who are homeless, or existing in slum conditions in temporary homes, are imagining it all.
And perhaps the Tories have got it right. Perhaps, in spite of all that has gone on during their time in power, when it comes to the next election the workers will return them gratefully to power, in the expectation of another five years of Tory capitalism. One piece of evidence in this direction is that the Labour Party are also turning their attention to the matter of their political image. In fact this has always been a concern of theirs, except that in the past they have tended to rely on the amateur talents of leaders like the late Richard Crossman, who was in psychological warfare during the last war and who brought that experience to bear in planning Labour Party propaganda, or on the spare-time services of sympathisers in the public relations business. But in their present plight, and perhaps impressed by what Saatchi and Saatchi are supposed to have done for the Tories, Labour are giving rather more attention to the matter of public deception.
Their new general secretary, Larry Whitty, has begun a drastic reorganisation of the party administration, part of which has brought a young man — Peter Mandelson — to be head of Labour's Communications and Campaign. Mandelson describes himself as ". . . an extremely talented, bright high flyer" and claims that the next general election will effectively be fought from his desk (public relations people have never been famous for their modesty). Another move has been to sift out Labour’s shadow environment minister, John Cunningham, as the personification of the thrusting dynamism so essential to something called "positive credibility" (which means he's more likely than most other politicians to be able to get away with lies and evasions). The process through which Cunningham was selected for this role is wrapped in the mysteries of the market research teams and the image-makers. But chosen he has been, and soon he will be presented to us. shaped and gilded and packaged, as Labour's new image of dynamism and credibility.
He will have a difficult job. Labour have to persuade the workers that those years when they were the government were not as bad as they actually were; that one Labour government after another did not attempt to hold wages down while goading workers to work harder in the interests of their employers. They will have to obscure the fact that their last Chancellor, Denis Healey, did not have a policy of reducing state expenditure, that unemployment did not double under Labour, that there was no such thing as that final winter of discontent in 1978/9. They must try to convince the voters that any problems in those days were really avoidable mistakes, which Labour has since learned to avoid; the future under Kinnock, with Cunningham at his side to give credibility, is an assured path away from Tory destitution to Labour prosperity.
Well it could be that by the time of the next general election there will be enough workers disillusioned with the Tories to fall for Labour's new image. If so, they will again be ignorant of, or will be side-stepping. the real issue and the genuine alternative. At every election, the Socialist Party campaigns to the limits of our resources. We point out that capitalism cannot solve its problems, that social ailments like poverty — with all that it means — and avoidable disease can only be abolished through social revolution. We argue that war can be ended only by eliminating its cause, by getting rid of capitalism, and that campaigns to ban some weapons, or to make others less destructive, or even to abolish weapons altogether, are a futile waste of time. Our propaganda reaches only a limited field but the substance of it that there is a fundamental fault in modem social organisation which must be put to rights — is evident in every moment of working class life.
Socialists campaign, all the time, not on any spurious image or blown-up personalities to gloss over the harsh realities. We appeal to the working class with solid argument, backed with undeniable fact. We were formed, and we operate, on the principle that socialism will be the democratic act of a majority of politically conscious workers whose understanding of socialism will mean that they do not need leaders, however glamorous, to tell them what to do, how to think, in which square to put their vote — and to deceive them. Socialism will be the end of capitalism's desperate problems; it will be the next, highest, stage in human social evolution. It has a promise which stands in stark contrast to the public relations gimmicks and to the squalid wheedling so characteristic of capitalism.