From the March 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard
Red Wedge is a campaign by rock musicians aimed at conning young workers that voting Labour is in their interest. It is a cynical tactic employed by a party which, despite the idealistic intentions of some of its supporters, is in the business of forming a government to run the capitalist system of inequality, exploitation and insecurity.
The campaign strategy is simple: concerts are sponsored by the Labour Party and young workers are sold tickets promising a good night out. Then comes the propaganda. Billy Bragg or Paul Weller sing a few songs and then pass some comments on the need to get Kinnock into Number Ten. They might just as well advise people to try disco dancing on the M1. Waiting in the wings at all Red Wedge concerts are a few Labour MPs—carefully selected ones who don't use long words or talk about the need to recognise the realities of the world market. Their job is to make big promises, like drunks in pubs who tell you that if you come back tomorrow night they'll be drinking with Samantha Fox. Recipients of these giant-sized whoppers are supposed to leave the concert with a burning desire to vote Labour.
This all comes as music to the ears of Labour leaders like arch-opportunist, Robin Cook, who has observed that
At the next election there will be four million first-time voters who were too young to vote in 1983. Norman Tebbit might ponder with profit on how they will vote on the day of reckoning, and his campaign advisers could usefully remind him that it was a majority among young people that secured the election of a Labour government in 1964 and in 1974. (Guardian, 7 February)
So, the Labourites are again hoping for electoral success on the basis of anti-Tory feeling by workers too young or too forgetful to know that Labour-run capitalism is just as bad for the working class. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Labour's strategy is its negative appeal: in general, workers are not told that Labour will do anything great—rather, Kinnock has been at pains to stress how little he would try to change—but are urged to rally under the pink flag because "anything must be better than Thatcher". In short, the Labour Party is depending on a rejection of the present, rather than plans for the future.
Paul Bower, Labourite co-ordinator of the Red Wedge con-trick, has a pessimistic view of the mental capacity of young workers. Indeed, he is condescending in the extreme:
Leaflets convince nobody. Meetings convince nobody . . . Why push a leaflet through somebody's door? They're probably so depressed they don't want to read it. A woman's come home from doing a cleaning job. She's too tired to read bloody boring leaflets. Also, people aren't literate in the same way that they were twenty years ago . . . they don't sit down and read books in the same quantities that they used to. I read books all the time. I love books. But I'm the product of a very different society than Britain between 1979 and 1985. (LAM, 28 January)
What patronising nonsense! If Labour leaflets and meetings "convince nobody"—and we are glad to hear this from one of the party's promoters—perhaps it is because workers are sensible enough to reject the message they are being fed. Are we also to believe that women who go out to work are too mindless at the end of the day to examine "bloody boring leaflets"? What Bower must understand is that bloody boring parties inevitably produce them and workers will rightly throw them away. How often have socialists been told "Don't bother putting any of that socialist stuff through my door; I've seen it before and I can't be bothered reading all them promises". The propaganda of the Labour Party is a big turn-off, but that is no reason to suggest that workers are unable or unwilling to read anything.
In the USA, that land of bogus freedom and democracy, moderate actors can become President. In the recent election in the Philippines, Marcos and his wife toured the night clubs doing a double-act song and dance routine to whip up votes for their particularly vicious brand of capitalism. Perhaps all this is the necessary direction of capitalist politics, as reformist promises become hollower the emphasis must be on pure showmanship. Maybe we have yet to see the Iranian Ayatollahs doing a barber shop quartet and Gorbachev playing the spoons on network Georgian TV. We have already experienced the sickly picture of Kinnock dancing around in a pop video with Tracey Ullman.
Red Wedge is just another descent on that familiar journey of political opportunism. Of course, music can and always has been used by those who want to express themselves politically. But there is a mighty difference between the passion of the singer who has something to say and the hollow sound of this new gang of party-political mindbenders.