Thursday, March 22, 2018

Getting Tougher (1997)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was not so long ago when the competition between the Labour Party and the Tories was over which of them was the more moderate. Political extremists were dangerous, damaging, eccentric, beyond the pale. And anyway they were suspected of losing votes. Moderation was the buzz-word. There was something called a bi-partisan foreign policy, under which broad agreement between the two big parties decided how the interests of British capitalism were to be represented abroad. In economic affairs there was Butskellism, a combination of the names Butler and Gaitskill. who were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Shadow Chancellor and who were expected to agree on almost everything about working-class exploitation and making profits

This was all very cosy, even if it could cause frustration among some MPs. There was, for example, the Tory Gerald Nabarro, a loud-mouthed buffoon who sat for a well- heeled constituency in Worcestershire and who once asked out loud whether any sensible parent would want their daughter bringing home a black man. There were those Labour Members who had come to Parliament from a background in the mines or the shipyards and who persisted, in the face of all the evidence, in their belief that their party would one day transform society in the interests of the working class. No serious attention was paid to these people: moderation, bi-partisan policies were regarded as the best way to protect the interests of British capitalism.

Well things are a bit different now because the competition today is for the title of the tougher party and in this the Labour Party is doing its best to make the running. Gordon Brown, who recently dispelled rumours that he is moderate enough to consider getting married, promises that when he is Chancellor he will be tough on government spending. There will, he says, be no blank cheques, which means no uncontrolled expenditure on things which most people probably think highly desirable if not vital; things like health care, education, housing. Jack Straw promises that when he is Home Secretary he will be tough on people who wash car windscreens without being asked, noisy neighbours, kids who are on the streets when they should be in bed. David Blunkett will show he has taken over Education by being tough on homework. Tony Blair will be tough on just about everything and everyone, especially members of his party who disagree with him, because he is the Leader and he wants to be Prime Minister.

The Labour Party’s zeal to become the next government is causing its leaders to take stances which many of their supporters must find surprising, or amusing, or outrageous. In fact the leaders are only revealing the true nature and purpose of the party, a capitalist political organisation whose object is to be in power. In the past this has often been obscured by Labour leaders' pretence that their policies will transform capitalism to the benefit of the majority. New Labour has gone some way to disposing of that fallacy. When, for example, Gordon Brown talks about not signing blank cheques he is stating a fact, even if the people who, according to him, have benefited from "blank cheques"; sick people. unemployed workers, the homeless, single parents on benefit will be considerably puzzled to hear about this generosity which they are supposed to have received.

Homeless
In a recent conference on homeless young people (organised by the National Children's Homes, which wants to abolish homelessness among people aged 16 to 21 within five years. No-one should hold their breath about this) Blair claimed that in spite of its get-tough policies the Labour Party still cares: "I believe you can be in favour of zero tolerance of crime and zero tolerance of homeless" was how he put it. This subtle link of crime and being without a home illustrates how Blair and his party are trying to face both ways at once on the issue. If crime is encouraged by social and personal handicaps, why is the Labour Party so keen to punish the criminals? What happened to the principle Labour once lay claim to to deal with the causes of disruptive behaviour rather than with the people who disrupt? (In fact, there is evidence that homeless people are more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators. They are more vulnerable than the average; that is one reason Kings Cross is so ugly a place.)

At that conference Blair defended his New Labour policies:
   "It is only by broadening our appeal that we stand a chance of winning an election: and frankly it is only by winning an election that we will be able to do anything for the poor, the unemployed and the homeless."
The Blair strategy, of making the Labour Party so much like the Conservatives that they will benefit from the kind of voter intentions which have kept the Tories in power since 1979, may have one effect the Labour leader has not bargained for. If, the voters may ask, there is nothing to choose between these two parties what is the point of making a choice?

Apathy
This attitude can already be found by anyone who gets involved in a discussion about politics with people who would normally vote for one of the capitalist parties. It is very difficult to find someone who supports the Labour Party with any passion or conviction. It is very difficult to find anyone who intends to vote Labour but believes a Labour government will be noticeably different from the present one. Cynicism rules, but is this OK?

No. Because cynicism can breed apathy. as people who are pre-occupied with the struggle to get a living ask questions about the effectiveness, not only of politicians. but of the whole process of political debate and choice. It is healthy to doubt the politicians, to use our experience to expose their opportunism, the flaws in their arguments, their inability to affect the problems they solved so easily in their manifestos. But to despair of political issues, to give up working to understand why capitalism works as it does and what we have to do to change society, is to surrender our political power.

The case for a new society docs not deal in moderate compromises with opponents. It is the clear assertion of the fact that those who run the world now can do it in their own interest instead of that of a parasite minority. It is not power to the Tories or to New Labour but to the people.
Ivan

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