The Political Notebook Column from the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
At The Seaside
In case you failed to notice, another season of seaside political conferences has passed. The three large parties carefully go through the charade of participation by the faithful and then proceed to ignore the wishes of the membership. This, they call democracy. The Labour Party have some experts in this field. Their former leader (more anon) is famous for his resolute refusal to take a blind bit of notice of the Labour Party Conference decisions from 1966 to 1970.
We can all remember Ted Heath’s famous U-turn on economic policy but we shall have to find another letter of the alphabet to fit the change which is apparently being contemplated now by Callaghan’s government.
To begin with, a little recent history. Labour came back to power in 1974 on a clear pledge that there would be no more interference with the unions’ bargaining strength. Their policy in the October 1974 election said, in part:
The Social Contract . . . is the agreed basis upon which the Labour Party and the trade unions define their common purpose . . . The unions in response confirm how they will seek to exercise the newly restored right of free collective bargaining.
Well we have seen what happened to the so-called free collective bargaining, as Healey has tried to impose successively lower limits on wage rises. But even more striking was the change in policy which Callaghan was threatening, when this year’s Labour Party conference rejected Healey's proposed 5 per cent limit on rises.
“. . . if, as a result inflation starts to move up”, said Callaghan, "the government will take offsetting action to keep inflation down through monetary and fiscal measures”.
Now this is exactly the policy which has been put forward, as the solution to the current problems of British capitalism, by the likes of Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher who, says the Labour Party, have a burning ambition to discipline the workers with the scourge of unemployment.
Of course there is nothing new in Labour and Conservative Parties adopting each other’s policies; that is all part of the fact that they have basically the same policy — the maintenance of capitalism and, within that social system, the protection of the interests of the British capitalist class.
Dirty Hands Make Light Work
The Labour Party has other problems, too. George (now Lord) Thomson accuses Harold (now Sir) Wilson of having dirty hands; soaked in oil flowing into the illegal (“matter of weeks, not months”) Rhodesian Regime. Harold denies knowing anything about it. George says he has a copy of a letter sent to Harold when Harold was P.M. pointing out that petrol companies were breaking the sanctions. As The Times (21.9.78.) put it so diplomatically after the publication of the Bingham Report:
Sir Harold has said that he never received any report of British Oil Companies being involved in supplying oil to Rhodesia. Lord Thomson maintained that he informed the Prime Minister of the time and other Ministers most directly concerned, of everything that happened at the meeting.
One of them is lying. It is so difficult to know which to believe, but as Harold is only a mere “Sir” and George is a “Lord”, I suppose most people will believe George . . .
One of the problems at the Labour Conference was whether Harold would turn up at all, and if so, what he would say, and what would be said to him. In pre-conference gossip, the Daily Mirror said Harold had applied for a ticket but his presence was “by no means assured” (29.9.78.). His assured presence was certainly dinted when a Canadian T.V. Reporter had the cheek to ask him directly about the sanction busting. Harold just stopped the interview. How dare they ask him such awkward questions!
The Liberal Party has similar problems. Their main difficulty seems to be in shaking off the scandal so obstinately sticking to them. What with missing funds, and the police swooping around their conference, they had indigestible problems enough. But these shrank to trifles compared to the unsavoury dishes being served up to Jeremy Thorpe; little matters like allegations of conspiracy to murder are not good for the image of the Party of good losers.
The majority of the current leadership tried to ensure Thorpe was isolated prior to the October general election that never was. They issued an injunction imprisoning him in his Devon Constituency. Treated like the chief carrier of the latest smallpox outbreak, Jeremy was banished from the Liberals National Campaign. He was also asked not to turn up at the Liberal Conference in September at Southport. Nevertheless, up he turned. The press loved it; perhaps they realise that the policies of the Liberal Party are about as interesting as steak to a vegetarian. But a bit of scandal . . . nothing sells better. So The Daily Mirror (15.9.78.) could write theatrical reports like “Everybody felt the tension, everybody knew he was out there, away from sight, standing in the wings, waiting for the signal to make his entrance”. Even The Times got carried away with the amateur dramatics of it all and ran a headline the same day saying "Mr Thorpe Takes The Limelight”. For those interested in these matters, Mr Thorpe is due to take more limelight at Minehead Magistrates Court on the 20th of this month.
This concentration on the bad boy of the moment annoyed the other Liberals at their Conference, so Cyril Smith made a long speech in which he explained just how good the Liberal Party really was. He spoke about its wonderful history and excellent record etc. Nice one Cyril! Nothing like self praise. Cyril also said with real feeling that the Liberal Party were sick of being painted as a bunch of “incompetent criminals" (The Times 15.9.78.). Suppose. Cyril, we call you and all capitalist politicians "competent criminals". Does that improve things? You are criminals because you deliberately deceive the working class into believing you can solve their problems, without a shred of evidence that you can actually do so. “Competent” because, alas, to date you succeed in your criminal enterprises.