The late Lord Fisher, discussing a proposal to place the fleets of allied nations under one supreme commander, disposed of the matter with the remark, “the great objection to an allied fleet is that you cannot hang the allied Admiral.” The same kind of difficulty applies to political parties joined together in a coalition government. It starts off by pleasing all the members of all the parties concerned but ends by pleasing nobody. The leaders have to accept and defend a compromise programme and policy, and have to try to justify it to their own followers. They cannot take the usual course of blaming the leaders of the other parties. If the rank and file of the various parties develop strong views of their own their leaders cannot fall into line, for to do so would jeopardise the coalition. We can see this working out strongly at the present time. The entry of the Labour Party into the Churchill Government was overwhelmingly approved by a Labour Party conference but now—as is shown by bye-election results—local Labour Parties and the electors of all the parties in the government are kicking against the discipline imposed by the headquarters organisations.
The result of this strained feeling inside the large political parties is that independent candidates are getting elected in spite of the joint efforts of the party machines and there is much talk of new groups being formed such as the “People’s Movement,” formed by Mr. W. J. Brown, M.P., Mr. Edgar Granville, M.P., and Captain Cunningham Reid, M.P., with the aim of attaining “total efficiency in total war.” What is exercising the minds of party leaders is whether these events presage the decline of the old parties and the formation of new ones. The B.B.C. “Brains Trust” was recently asked if they agree that the party of the future will be formed out of a group from the Labour Party joining with the Communist Party? One member of the “Trust” gave the view that there would be no essential change, merely a shake-up of the old parties. Another thought that active spirits in the Conservative and Labour Parties would rally round the Liberal Party. Mr. Hannen Swaffer, a Labour Party supporter, has expressed himself as follows : —
“Conservatism, as we knew it in pre-war days, is dead except in the minds of the diehards who would still strangle us with the Old School Tie and who control the Party machine.As for the masses of Labour people, while they remain loyal to their trade unions, without which they would be helpless, many of them feel that the Labour men in the Government are in the pockets of their Tory bosses.As we are ruled by ‘joint Cabinet responsibility,’ we do not know what ameliorative schemes have been insisted upon by Attlee, Greenwood and Bevin in the past.Nor do we know how much dragooning of the workers they have stopped. But, anyway it is obvious that the majority of the electorate are no longer going to be controlled by either Party machine.Their new hero, whether they are justified in idolising him or not, is Stafford Cripps. And yet he belongs to neither party, and has no supporters except his own constituents in Bristol.Were the Labour leaders well advised, they would make every possible endeavour to get Cripps to rejoin their ranks. He stands out as a national leader. The Tory machine may not like it. The Labour machine may not like it. But it is true.”—(“People,” May 3rd, 1942.)
It would be rash to be precise about the future of the political parties that bear the old names, though it seems most likely that after a period of depression the Conservative, Labour, Liberal and Co-operative Parties will regain much of their old position when they regain freedom of action in Parliament and the constituencies— even though the present leaders may give place to new ones. What is more important is not, however, the emergence of new names, but whether any new leaders or new parties will be essentially different. While capitalism remains there will be the same interests seeking to use political parties for the furtherance of their policies in Parliament. There are, for example, the interests represented in the Conservative M.P.s’ Committee known as the 1922 Committee. They were recently responsible for urging on the Food Minister the policy of making the multiple stores and the co-operative societies pay higher prices for their bacon, biscuits, butter, etc. In this they represent the interests of the smaller traders, who complained that the big stores bought direct from manufacturers or importers and thea sold at the same retail prices as the small traders who had to buy from wholesalers, at prices well above the manufacturers’ or importers’ prices. (Daily Express, May 16th, 1942.) The same Conservative Committee successfully opposed the proposed coupon fuel rationing scheme, this time in the interests of the fuel companies. The Manchester Guardian (14th May) says: —
“There were two strains of Conservative critics, and they met on the 1922 Committee. . . . One of these strains reflected very clearly the private interests concerned with fuel, the coalowners and the gas and electricity undertakings”
Similarly the trade unions use the Labour Party to look after day to day political questions affecting them as organised bodies, and the co-operative societies use the Co-operative Party. These are the forces that matter in capitalist politics, not the vague talk of new worlds after the war, or condemnation of the excessive rigidity of the old party machines, or the need for new blood and less old school tie. The latter are secondary matters, and there is little doubt that the politicians will find means of bringing themselves into line with discontented sections of the electorate who want capitalism to be reformed in slightly different ways or under different slogans.
In short, until the working class understand that their interest lies in achieving Socialism and not in reforming capitalism, capitalist politics in spite of such surface restlessness and re-grouping will go on in the same way as before.