Peter Shore does not usually have the effect of confusing and splitting his opponents. A more familiar experience for him is to unite them in a common contempt and irritation at his transparently ambitious suggestions for the more efficient exploitative operation of British capitalism.
So perhaps Labour's Shadow Chancellor was surprised at the effect of his recent talks with the big brass of the employers’ organisation, the Confederation of British Industry. Many Tories were angered at what they saw as the CBI consorting with the enemy. Taylor Woodrow, the building firm which is a hefty contributor to Tory funds, resigned from the CBI in protest.
In fact Shore’s talks were all very proper and necessary. If there is ever another Labour government. Shore will hold a very high post in it; indeed, as a likely future Labour leader he may even become Prime Minister. The Labour Party will presumably eventually lose patience with Foot’s unerring instinct for losing votes and look around for a leader with a slicker, craftier approach.
It has always been a preoccupation of Labour governments to promote the greater profitability of British industry and commerce, and this has fashioned their policies of contesting with the workers over wages and conditions of work. They have also gone to great lengths, in both words and deeds, to reassure the British capitalist class that there is absolutely nothing for them to worry about in the event of a Labour government in this country. And in power they have been as good as their word. Under Labour the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer.
As the employers’ trade union the CBI is naturally interested in such policies. That is why they are concerned to discuss and negotiate with Shore, perhaps to make promises and pacts for the more intense exploitation of the British working class if Labour gets back to power. It might all have saved the need for those embarrassing speeches, aimed at giving comfort to the City of London, soon after a clutch of Labour ministers have gone to kiss the queen’s hand or whatever they do before they get down to the business of making her even more secure in her class dominance.
And while the Tories and the CBI members were protesting, what of the Labour Party? What outrage seethed in their ranks at this blatant example of fraternising with what is supposed to be their bitterest class enemy? It was all silence. Are the Labour Party so paralysed at the prospect of losing yet more votes? Or are they so keen to have Oily Shore as their leader?
There was no perceptible dejection in the ’bus queues, supermarkets and factories when the news came out that will soon give up being Defence (sic) Minister and go back to being a busi(sic)man.
Neither was there any apparent gratitude for Nott, who in 1966 generously left the lush pastures of merchant banking to toil in the bleak fields of trying to run the Armed Forces, order new weapons, send workers out to fight in the Falklands and so on.
Merchant banks are strange, if often wildly prosperous, organisations. Strange because they are prone to criticism from public supporters of capitalism on the unlikely grounds of their excessive appetite for profits. Names like Lonrho (the cheekbones in Ted Heath’s '‘unacceptable face of capitalism”) or London and Counties sit uneasily on the City of London's memory.
Prosperous because they are often adept at taking advantage of the complex financial machinery which capitalism has made essential as one of the shackles on human progress and security. Taking this advantage can involve unpopular operations like asset-stripping, which usually stripped a lot of workers of their livelihood. But the merchant banks are devotees of their own sales talk. They regard their role — really as one of the band of robbers who share in the proceeds of working class exploitation — as vital, for which all workers should be grateful.
Nott is a lean man with a citric face and a smile like a Falklands winter. His public devotion to the exploitative, repressive disciplines of capitalism’s class relationships is as rigorous and relentless as a Dickensian schoolmaster. In his very person he demonstrates the connection between “business” and “politics”, that it is natural for someone who has made a lot of money from realising some of the results of surplus value to want to have a say in how the robbery is organised and legalised.
He will not be missed, and whoever his successor may be will not be welcomed, by anyone who is concerned to end the exploitation and cynicism of this miserable society.