The Cooking the Books Column from the March 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
It’s quite amusing really. The Labour Party has long since given up any opposition to capitalism and its profit-making and merely offers itself as an alternative manager of the capitalist state and economy in Britain.
Yet some capitalists and their mouthpieces in the media don’t believe them – or feign not to – and accuse Labour of being ‘anti-business’. Labour politicians protest. And grovel, the worst example to date being the historian Tristram Hunt, their spokesperson on education, who wrote a rather disparaging biography of Engels. Under the headline ‘We’re furiously pro-business, Labour MP tells private sector’, the Times (9 February) reported him as saying.
‘I’m enormously enthusiastic about businessmen and women making money, delivering shareholder return, about making profit’ (Times, 9 January).
There is a certain logic in this position. If you accept capitalism and that productive activity under it is driven by the need for firms to make a profit, then you have to accept that they should, and not do anything that might discourage or endanger this. Otherwise you will provoke an economic downturn.
Writing on this issue in the Times (5 February) their financial editor, Patrick Hosking, claimed:
‘It has taken decades to establish an enterprise culture in Britain. There are now only small pockets in Britain that refuse to acknowledge that profits are a good thing.’
This may well be the case since most people, unfortunately, think there is no practicable alternative to capitalism and understand that if you have capitalism you have to have profits, otherwise the system won’t work. The opposite is true as well of course. If you are against profits you should be against capitalism. Not like some reformists who shout ‘tax the rich and their profits’ and then expect the capitalist system to function normally.
Not that anything Labour is saying or proposing to do is anti-business or anti-profit. Miliband might have been unable to disguise his boredom when meeting capitalists but the most Labour has done is to criticise and say that they will put a stop to the practices that some capitalists and capitalist firms have engaged in to boost their profits such as tax-dodging, customer-cheating, supplier-bullying and market-rigging. This is to go no further than Ted Heath, when as Tory Prime Minister in 1973 he labelled one action of the businessman Tiny Rowland as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’.
Which of course is not a criticism of capitalism as such but merely of the way some capitalists behave, a criticism that can be shared by other capitalists such as that of tax-dodging capitalist firms by other firms which don’t have the chance to do this and so have to pay more tax. Though Hunt, with his enthusiasm for profits not just as the driving force of the capitalist economy but also as ‘delivering shareholder return,’ can’t logically complain about this because the various sharp practices that capitalist firms engage in do increase ‘shareholder return’, at least in the short run, and are engaged in precisely to do this.
That the Labour Party is in any way anti-capitalist, anti-business or anti-profit is a joke as the capitalists who are raising this spectre must know full well. Labour has thoroughly absorbed enterprise culture.