Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Best years of your life (1985)

From the October 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

No wonder it's called the silly season. While the scenes at the party conferences purported to be "serious politics", the media events outside the conference halls were what were really meant for public consumption. to show that our leaders are really human.

You know the sort of thing — Neil Kinnock finds a beach to fall over, or maybe Margaret Thatcher chances on the birth of a calf in Scarborough. All in front of the TV cameras. But that's not the end of it. In this, the International Youth Year, youth has suddenly become important to the politicians and their PR officers. This is not because of any particular concern for the health or hopes of the young, but something of far greater importance — their votes.

According to the Observer (1 September 1985). between now and the next general election two and a half million new votes will join the electoral register, bringing the total number of voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four up to a decisive five million. That's not all because, as the Observer quotes a leading psephologist, the young are "trendy and more malleable than other voters" and they no longer give automatic support to the Labour Party. The evidence of previous governments has shown that despite the repeated promises from Labour politicians on jobs, peace and poverty, the Labour Party is as powerless to deal with these problems as are the other parties of the profit system.

Many of the young suffer particularly from these problems; from the prospect of a life that capitalism — through the dole queue — dictates will be useless; from nuclear war, the mere threat of which claims some psychological victims among those least used to the brutal truths of the property society; or from the artificial escape of an empty crisp bag and a tube of glue. As if this were not all, from every hoarding and magazine the young are offered Clearasil for their spots, pop stars for their emotions and carefully packaged leaders (in many flavours) to do their thinking for them.

So it's open season on the political field. The hunt is on for that prized species, the gullible young voter. Reared on mindless and unquestioning fodder from the pulpit, the press, or the classroom, they are fair game for any opportunist with a nice smile. The first shot in this massacre was fired by the SDP in the form of their "Youthblitz". According to the Observer, David Owen, who is worried at the effect of his Gang of One style of leadership, has devised a series of speeches and high profile media stunts due to start soon. From the party that delights in meaningless slogans (remember "Caring about the People, Caring about the Costs". "Compassion and Competition", and "Toughness and Tenderness"?) they now plan all this publicity under the title "Have You Got The Guts - To Take Up The SDP Challenge?", which is presumably like the Pepsi Challenge TV advert, except less honest.

On the other side of the Alliance. David Steel is keeping a lower profile, presumably because, with his style of leadership he does not need to worry so much about his image with the youth of the Liberal Party. He listens intently and earnestly to the Young Liberals every year before overruling their annually-successful conference resolutions on "defence". The leader of the Liberal Party, though, is already a pastmaster at the sordid business of capitalist politics, that of getting votes regardless of the basis on which they are given. Not for him the blatant publicity tricks of Owen, nor the degrading scraping after votes on any flimsy pretext. No, when David Steel seeks votes he's artistic — a couple of years ago he rapped on a truly unforgettable disco-funk record called "I Feel Liberal, OK”. But it had about as much chance of getting to number one as he has of getting to Number Ten.

The leader of the Labour Party must have learned something from that, for when he recently entered the pop world (appearing on a video for a Tracey Ullman single), he for once kept his mouth firmly shut. It seemed to work. His popularity rating improved immediately. Tracey Ullman, however, hasn't had a hit since. Another artist prepared to align himself with the Kinnock camp is the rock poet Billy Bragg, who appeared with Neil Kinnock as part of the Labour Party's Jobs and Industry campaign. The task of the Labour leader was to explain how it is that this time the Labour Party in office will create jobs when, in their last term of office, unemployment in fact doubled. Billy Bragg's function was to entertain a few thousand people with just himself and his guitar a relatively easy task, as it turns out, compared with that of Neil Kinnock.

The SDP, for their part, have decided on principle that they don't want to stoop to the depths of the Labour Party and use pop stars in their campaigning. This decision, however, may also have something to do with the fact that no pop group (that would like to continue selling records) is prepared to align themselves with the SDP. For the Tories, who had their bluff called in 1983 and are now vainly trying to fulfil their promises, the best policy is silence; the best argument is no argument. Their efforts will be directed towards keeping the FCS (which spells electoral liability) well out of sight.

Add to all that lot the more mature activities all other parties go in for to attract the vote of adults —such as kissing their babies — and it should be clear that only the Socialist Party is concerned with the workers' vote to the extent of what it represents. In the hands of gullible, misled workers the vote is a waste or worse. But in the hands of politically aware workers who refuse to be diverted by the rhetoric, the promises, or the pop songs of politicians, it is a potent weapon for peaceful, democratic, revolutionary change. To paraphrase Engels, the vote is like a razor-blade in that you can use it for its real function, to shave, or you can cut your throat with it.

The point then is clear. The problems that plague young and old under capitalism, as well as the insulting attempts to trick them out of the power of their votes, will continue only as long as we let it. So next time you turn on the TV to be faced with the sight of Neil Kinnock looking out of place in a Madonna video, or maybe Nigel Lawson breakdancing in the city streets for the benefit of the cameras, don't just think "What pillocks!", but rather. "What's the alternative?"
Brian Gardner

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