From the February 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
Bang the drum
As the date of the General Election approaches, the Labour Party girds its loins. The constituency parties are told to hurry on their preparations. A glossy party statement makes its appearance. Transport House tells of the special efforts being made in marginal constituencies, and reveals that the fighting fund is swelling to record proportions. The Labour Party prepares for battle.
The uniforms are smart, the drums exciting, the banners promise the earth. All is well until you read the accounts of the last campaign. What have the Labour M.P.s who were returned at the last General Election, after claiming working-class support, been doing to justify their claims to be Socialists ?
Mr. George Strauss, for example, the Labour M.P. for Vauxhall and a former Minister of Supply. Late last year he surveyed the world scene—the exploitation of the working class by capitalism, the colonial bloodshed, the wars and the threats of wars—-and then he kicked up a great fuss in Parliament about . . . the way the London Electricity Board disposes of its scrap cable (The Times, 5/12/58). He was afraid the Board might not be getting enough money for it. Mr. Strauss supported the reorganisation of electricity supply as a State capitalist industry, and is desperately anxious to show that State capitalism can make just as big a profit as private capitalism.
Unfortunately for the Labour Party, workers who see that the entire profit system must be ended are not likely to be excited by Mr. Strauss’s activities.
Or take Mr. J. Callaghan, the Labour member for South-East Cardiff. Mr. Callaghan is worried because he thinks the Foreign Office is preventing British shipyards building warships for the Indonesians to kill each other with. In the Commons he alleged that shipbuilders here could have got orders for sixty million pounds' worth of warships but for the Government’s interference. “It has always been our policy to supply other nations with warships,” he said (Manchester Guardian, 13/12/58). Some of the orders, he said, had now gone to Italian firms.
Indonesia is now in a state of civil conflict and rebellion, and any warship which the Indonesian Government gets would first be used to crush opposition among the islands. The last moments of a dying Indonesian rebel would be made doubly bitter if he thought he had been shot by an Italian-built warship, when he could have been killed by a genuine British product.
British shipbuilding firms will appreciate Mr. Callaghan's concern that they should have full order-books, and, consequently, fat profits. Mr. Callaghan said that “our people were being put out of work by the present Foreign Office policy,” so no doubt he would claim his prime concern is for the shipbuilding workers. But under the capitalist system, that is like demanding that more food shall be provided for the rich men, since the poor people will also benefit because of the few more crumbs which will then fall from the rich men's tables.
In any case, if Mr. Callaghan were successful, and these orders for warships went to British yards instead of to the Italians, what about the Italian workers? If Mr. Callaghan thinks it would be an advantage to the British workers that these orders should be placed here, he must also agree that it would be a corresponding blow to the Italian workers, and to their wives and families, if the orders were withdrawn from the Italian shipyards. No, Mr. Callaghan: if you want to benefit the working class, you won’t do it by juggling about with order-books, so that one group of workers, instead of another, are kindly allowed to be exploited full-time.
Arms and the Labour man
Mr. R. Mellish, the M.P. for Bermondsey, is another Labour member who keeps a wary eye on armaments. In Parliament he asked the Secretary for War what progress had been made with the development of the medium tank, and if he would give its approximate weight and speed and armament (Manchester Guardian, 18/12/58). He was much displeased with the answer that the tank would be ready for development trials towards the end of 1959. He put a subsidiary question:
“Surely you will be aware that your predecessor in 1956 decided on a policy of manufacturing the medium tank ? Are you telling us now that these trials are not going to take place till 1959 ? Why this enormous delay?”
The British ruling class will be heartened to think there is such a good watchdog in Parliament as Mr. Mellish: sufficient arms to protect their interests in a third world war will not be lacking if Mr. Mellish has his way.
Presumably the electors of Bermondsey in the coming election will be invited to “Vote for Mellish and better tanks.”
Apart from these recent activities of the present Labour M.P.s the Sunday Express (14/12/58) has reminded us of an Act passed by the Labour Government in 1949 which must thrill the hearts of all the party’s supporters.
Lady Mountbatten revealed in 1949 that her net income, because of taxation, had fallen to only £4,500 per annum. So Lord and Lady Mountbatten had to scrimp and save on an income of only £90 a week, plus, of course, Lord Mountbatten’s pay as an Admiral and any other income he might have. A shock of horror ran through the country. I remember it well—protest meetings of dockers and miners, housewives weeping in the streets, old age pensioners offering to contribute. The Labour Government took swift action. It was at the time when they were endeavouring to enforce a wage freeze on the workers, but they realised immediately that the Mountbattens were in a different class. A Bill was introduced into Parliament—the Married Women (Restraint upon Anticipation) Bill— which enabled Lady Mountbatten and other heiresses in the same position, to borrow in advance on future income, and thereby save a considerable amount in surtax. The day was saved. But the incident had enabled the Labour Government to demonstrate its practical sympathy towards the sufferings of the people or at any rate of one of them.
Another vote for Labour
Why has the Sunday Express brought all this up now? Well, it appears that the 1949 Act was only an emergency measure, as it were. New moves, we are told, have started which will enable Countess Mountbatten to draw still more money from the trust fund she inherited from her grandfather. After all, her husband's income as an Admiral of the Fleet is only £100 a week. The exact nature of the new moves is uncertain. If they have not been successful by the time of the next General Election, and if Labour is returned to power as it hopes, no doubt a new Labour Government would come to the Countess's rescue as chivalrously as the last one did. But the workers had better not expect the same generous attitude, or they will be disappointed.