Monday, June 25, 2018

Political Notes: Some Win, Some Lose (1982)

The Political Notes column from the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some win, some lose
It may have escaped attention—because in the shocked aftermath no one was admitting to defeat—but it was the Social Democratic candidate who won the Hillhead by-election.

The Tories congratulated themselves on losing so few votes and on coming second after nearly three years of rescuing us all with their unpopular policies. The Labour Party, in a process which would have done credit to the most hardened wrangler, found solace in their discovery that more Hillhead voters had deserted the Tories for the SDP than they had Labour.

Naturally, the spokespeople for these parties could not be expected to face the fact that the voters rejected them because they had failed so wretchedly to live up to their promises. They came to power trailing glorious visions of prosperity, justice, freedom . . . They lose power miserably in their impotence and squabbling among themselves about who among them bears the major responsibility for their defeat.

The working class, who at elections vote to continue the experience that life under capitalism is a daily struggle, understand so little of their class position and interests that they turn from one discredited futility to the other—then back again.

Many of them are now deceived into thinking that the SDP/Liberal Alliance offers something radically different from the outworn nostrums of the Labour and Tory parties. What the SDP offers is no more than a rehash of the programmes and the personalities of those other parties. There is no reason to believe that they will succeed where the others have failed; their character is basically the same—a prescription for failure, despair and defeat.

Hillhead was no cause for rejoicing. Capitalism grinds on. Whoever won, for working class interests it was another defeat.


Good news for some
Good news for the government: the number of people claiming Supplementary Benefit has reached a record 4 million, with the Guardian (23/3/82) estimating that the number on the poverty line (which would more accurately be named the destitution line) is around 6 million.

Supplementary Benefit was originally considered, in those long gone days when Beveridge was readjusting working class poverty and calling it prosperity, as an emergency fall back for a few, particularly unfortunate workers. In theory, the other benefits which could be claimed “as of right” were in almost every case enough to eliminate need.

The change in this—and in the rise in the numbers on Supplementary Benefit—is due to developments like the growth in long term unemployed and the ending of earnings related benefits, which served to keep many claimants above the theoretical supplementary level.

Thus do some “reforms”, plus the inexorable anarchy of capitalism, undermine others and expose their general impotence. Tory MP Peter Bottomley has wailed ". . . the Supplementary Benefits system is falling apart. . . ”.

But perhaps some ministers will welcome this as good news because one of their theories, often expounded by the likes of Norman Tebbit and Keith Joseph, is that British capitalism will best thrive if workers’ incomes are kept as low as possible; then they will be pricing themselves into jobs. And incomes could not be much lower than Supplementary Benefit.

Even on their own assumptions, the “low wages equals competitive, profitable industry” argument is not valid. Of course the problem for the government is that those 4 million claimants are not getting wages; they’re not employed, not turning out commodities to be sold and to realise profit. It is a symbol of government’s impotence, that try as they might, they can do nothing about that either.

If there were signs that the working class, in or out of jobs, were beginning to see that—now there would be good news indeed.


Gang of Another Four
Admirers of Jenkins, Williams, Owen and Rodgers will not welcome the emergence of another Gang of Four; in fact they will probably find it positively embarrassing. But it makes an interesting story.

It is all happening in Islington, in London, where a short time ago there was a mass defection of councillors from the Labour Party to the SDP which gave the SDP control over the council. For some time before this, the Labour Party in Islington had been notorious for its Tammany-style of operations about which, perhaps in the interests of clinging leech-like to office, the Labour Party at large did nothing significant. So there may have been some relief among their members, when the Labour leeches on the council transferred their attention to another body.

Now the blood is beginning to flow from the SDP. The national party has expelled four of the Islington councillors who recently prevented the council settling the new rates by leaving the chamber before the vote was taken. Thus mucking about with the financial juggling of the little bit of capitalism called Islington was a grave offence.

This new Gang of Four responded by deciding to stand at the coming local elections as Independent Social Democrats, although they had in any case already been rejected as candidates by the local SDP branch. This was another grave offence so the Four had to go.

Such brawls are not uncommon in the cockpit of capitalist politics. Members of capitalist parties are elected to office by workers who, ignorant of the realities of the social system, accept their pledges to be able to improve things like housing and local and social services.

When the economic laws of capitalism intrude into this delusion, and the election promises are exposed, the party comes under stress, which often results in recriminations, splits, expulsions.

The SDP promised that, in breaking the mould of traditional politics, they would not experience this. Now they arc themselves exposing this myth, showing that they are basically no different from the parties they split from.

And all this, mark you, before they have any agreed policies. Whatever will happen, we might ask, when the great day arrives and the SDP actually stand for something other than vague pomposities?

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