Sunday, July 29, 2018

Between the Lines: Currie and chips (1986)

The Between the Lines column from the November 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Currie and chips
Perhaps, on the basis that if the government will not last forever it might as well go by suicide, Margaret Thatcher gave a ministerial post to the unacceptable face of medievalism, Edwina Currie. No sooner was Currie installed behind her new desk than she was throwing out insults to the impoverished of the North about how their bad health conditions were all down to too much booze, too many fags and excessive amounts of fast-food. (Evidently nobody has told Currie that capitalists investing in those products are among the biggest donators of funds to the Tory party). World In Action (ITV Monday. 6 October. 8.30pm) set out to go for the Edwinian jugular, which in her case meant sticking a microphone in front of her and letting her show her extensive capacity for insensitive stupidity. Currie's final comment that (paraphrased) if workers spend their money on unhealthy food and drink it will be their own fault if they die early is just the sort of talk which puts the lie to the myth of "caring capitalism". But the programme's method of trying to demonstrate that workers in the North are more poor than the luckier ones in the South was misleading and can only create further confusion about how to rid society of poverty.

The evidence used was a comparison between some of the poorest areas of Newcastle and a poor district in South East London. It was shown that workers tend to die earlier in the first area and that this is due to an inescapable cycle of poverty which is especially prevalent in the North. Even if this is so (and there are numerous parts of the so-called prosperous South East which are ghettoes of extreme deprivation), what conclusion would it lead to? Put more money into health care in the North? Reformists may argue for this, but within capitalism this may simply create new, worse problems for areas from which the NHS funding will be taken.

Ironically, one of the reasons for particular problems in the NHS in London is precisely a result of a central government policy to divert London NHS funding to other areas. Like the documentaries which seek to demonstrate that the real poverty is in the Third World, this programme serves only to fragment the analysis of poverty and to miss the point that deprived workers in Africa or Newcastle or Surrey are impoverished because it is profitable to let them be. That point was never made to Edwina Currie, thus allowing her to skate around the real issues, albeit on ice so thin that one hoped she was wearing her thermal underwear.


Paradise postponed
This is not a literary column but it so happens that 1 have always regarded John Mortimer as a much over-rated playwright. His current epic series (BBC2. Saturdays. 9.30pm) called Paradise Postponed is one of those tedious scripts full of apparently witty comments which leave the viewer thinking, How come I don't go around all day making witty comments and receiving them from other people? The thesis of the drama (beware of dramas bearing theses) is that after 1945 everyone expected the new government and the welfare state to create something approaching paradise, but it all failed because there are not enough idealists around.

I do not know whether John Mortimer, who spent most of the period concerned operating in the lie-courts as a barrister, sees himself as one of the few idealists but it is evident that he is a Labourite who like so many others is now playing out his disappointment that it all ended up just as The Socialist Party always said it would end up. No, the welfare state and the other crumbs lobbed towards the proletarian voting fodder have not created paradise or anything like it. In this drama Mortimer calls on us to mourn with him over the passing of this dream: maybe he will get some agreement from the reformists who see nothing but defeatism and the postponement of any real social change as inevitable but socialists did not share in the illusion in the first place and will not share in any theatrical shedding of tears over the televised burial of Labour's sterile ideals


A puzzler for Mr Dimbleby
Your reviewer dutifully watched most of the conferences on TV and contemplated the joke which asks, how can you tell when politicians are telling lies? Answer: when their lips are moving. But I have a problem for David Dimbleby and his buddies at the BBC. Let us imagine for a moment that they began to take democracy seriously and decided to cover the conferences of all political parties, even the little parties who do not spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on such events.

So they are given the job of commentating on the conference of The Socialist Party. What would they do? Firstly, there are no socialist leaders. So there is no big speech from some pompous windbag designed to rally the faithful, no polls which can be taken to find out whether our leader is more or less, or as popular with over-85-year-old widowers than David Owen or Neil Kinnock. And with no leaders there can be no leadership splits. So all the Dimblebyesque interviews, so common with capitalist parties' conferences, about what wets think of dries and rights of lefts and cuddlies of hards (this is quite aside from Playschool, you understand?) would be redundant.

Secondly, our conferences are very democratic. So the TV merchants would not be able to hang around outside smoke-filled hotel rooms at midnight to find out whether the Milton Keynes delegation is going to give its block vote to the Dundee amendment about how big the print should be in The Socialist Standard. Thirdly, in The Socialist Party we have no secrets. Now, it is well known that journalists love snooping around looking for secrets to uncover. They poke around looking for copies of private letters between supposedly important correspondents.

In this party the only subject we would wish to discuss with the media are the principles and policy of The Socialist Party. The discussion of ideas — that will be a novelty act for Robin Day. We are not expecting the TV cameras at our next annual conference (the 83rd) and nor do we expect the capitalist media to conduct our propaganda for us. But when enough workers — the people who do not control the media — see the urgency of the socialist proposition we have no doubt that the experts in distortion will be losing no time in working out ways to spread disinformation about this party.
Steve Coleman

No comments: