Editorial from the October 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the 1964 General Election, as in those of the past, the capitalist political parties have encouraged us to believe that fundamental issues are at stake.
This is far from the truth. The Labour and Conservative Parties are arguing over trifles—the fight between them is sham. On the vital issues of the day they are one.
This is reflected in many ways. It is reflected in the basic agreement in the parties’ policies. It is reflected in the fact that, although each side presents its leader as a paragon of honesty, knowledge and strength, none of them take the fundamentally different stand of opposing leadership in principle.
Home or Wilson? Landed aristocrat or Grammar schoolboy made good? Amiable elegance or rumpled, chubby purpose? The voters are asked to make their choice between these two representatives of capitalism, on the assumption that leaders are necessary, because without them we poor dunderheads would lose our way in the treacherous maze of the wicked world.
It is not difficult to penetrate this sham. The most casual investigation of leaders past and present reveals them as hard, cynical men-dedicated to the ruthless administration of the capitalist system. It also shows up the game of leadership as a dirty business.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home has recently joined in the game for whatever advantage his party can get out of it. On the other side Harold Wilson has shown that a leader’s most valuable asset is a cold, professional determination.
It is no coincidence, and not entirely due to the General Election, that since Wilson became leader the Labour Party has kept its splits plastered over. So smooth has his political handling been that his public relations men are trying now to dispel the image of him as too clever, as the cocksure, calculating political climber.
There have been several books about Wilson recently. One, Harold Wilson —The Authentic Portrait by Leslie Smith (Hodder & Stoughton, 16s.) — relates the now familiar story of the boy prodigy, born into the “ lower middle class,” who rises to knock on the door of “Number Ten.”
Young Harold quickly showed that he had a talent for politics. When he was seven he urged his parents not to miss voting for their Labour candidate — Philip Snowden. Is Wilson now satisfied that this advice was sound?
A few years later Wilson would calmly announce, when asked about his future,"I should like to be Prime Minister.”
The rest of the story is familiar enough. War time civil servant, work with Beveridge, Labour MP for Ormskirk, junior minister and later President of the Board of Trade in the Attlee government.
It was from this post that Wilson resigned in 1951 over the level of armaments expenditure and the Health Service charges. This earned him Dalton’s contemptuous description of "Nye’s little dog.” More accurate, perhaps, was the reporter who wrote of Wilson’s resignation speech. "Mr. Bevan had ended with his boats ablaze. Mr. Wilson’s boat carried fire fighting equipment.”
The Wilson fire extinguisher has stood him in good stead, and his boat has floated serenely on, past many who started out before him.
Another book—Harold Wilson, A Pictorial Biography, by Michael Foot (Pergamon Press, 12s. 6d.)—tells the same story as Leslie Smith’s, but in racier style. And, of course, there are the photographs and the cartoons.
These are worked hard to establish the Wilson legend. Mr. Wilson wiping the dishes; playing shove ha’penny with Attlee; holding up George Brown’s arm at last year’s Conference. Mr. Wilson with an old age pensioner, with Freddie Trueman, with Erhard, Khrushchev, Kennedy, Johnson. Mr. Wilson with the Beatles. And Mr. Wilson with his pipe. Always his pipe. A thin book, in content as well as size.
The fact is Harold Wilson has posed the Labour Party a considerable problem. How to reconcile the traditional, emotional and working class appeal of its past for what it called "Socialism,” with its present wholehearted acceptance of the status quo? Like the Conservatives, Labour upholds the capitalist system and is a Party of opportunism without principles.
How, for example, to reconcile old notions still dimly held, about internationalism with Wilson’s declaration to the 1963 Conference: " . . . we are a deeply patriotic party?” How to satisfy a few lingering ideas on common ownership with: “I’ve no prejudice at all against big business or industry . . . . I am in favour of investment . . . ”
Michael Foot answers these doubts by referring to Wilson ". . , skilfully combining the Socialist heritage with the new challenge.” Leslie Smith less dramatically calls Wilson: “a highly disciplined professional politician.”
And these are the men whom the working class are asked to vote for election — skilful, professional opportunists whose purpose is to secure the continued existence of capitalism. On all sides these men plead for our votes. But there can be no hope for the working class as long as they put their trust in leaders and support the capitalist system.
The issue which should concern the workers of Britain in the Election is the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.