Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Labour or Tory? — Tory or Labour? (1964)

From the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sometime before next November the people of this country will decide on their next government.

Although both Labour and Tory parties have a large nucleus of loyal supporters who would never vote for any other party, there is a vast number of voters who arc not committed beforehand. It is these, commonly lumped together as the “floating vote”, who determine which party victory goes to in present day political conditions. The further away from the solid nucleus of a political party the voter is, the more is his vote likely to “float”, and the governments under which we suffer are in effect determined by the most indeterminate of voters—victory goes to that party which is able to capture the temporary support of a few million voters.

The way in which the tide can ebb and flow is well demonstrated by the fluctuating percentages of support published in the public opinion polls. But even these are often not accurate prophets of the actual results, and elections have been won or lost on the strength of the smell of red herrings drawn across the path by the Tory or Labour fishwives just before the votes are cast.

Most voters think the art of government is some mystical thing which is the prerogative of professional politicians; once their votes are cast they are prepared to leave the job to “those who know best”. No small wonder then that the working class get the government they deserve.

Such results inevitably produce a certain amount of disillusionment. From time to time, there arise movements clamouring for the reform of the electoral system or, even more misguided, for the total rejection of the electoral system itself. But the adoption of various systems of proportional representation in other countries has demonstrated that such reform does not solve the basic problem, as the sway of government still passes between the major parties or major coalitions according to the temper of the day. Although it is possible for more shades of opinion to be represented in the debating chamber, the general effect is usually only to lead to greater instability in the government.

Stability or non-stability is not, however, what we are after. What we are after is the establishment of an administration we want—not a government we deserve! To achieve this object two things are politically necessary:

First, the right to vote—this we already have; second, the ability and knowledge to use the vote in the right way—this statement immediately poses the question —What is the “right” way?

Obviously the right way is to vote for what we want. But this involves the ability and knowledge to judge whether the policies of political parties will in fact achieve the desired results; that what the politicians say will happen, will in fact happen! From lifetimes of experience we know only too well how contrary these results have been.

There are two main lessons for this. First, the short term expedient, the shaping of immediate policy into election pledges to try to capture the floating vote. Second, the long term impossibility, the complete inability, of any political party to control the present economic system. The familiar pattern of governments which are incapable of carrying out all their policies and which are inevitably forced to repudiate their pledges and promises will continue so long as the electorate has insufficient knowledge of the causes of Such political duplicity.

Both the major political parties are prepared to use expediency to gain office and neither has a policy designed to rid us of the present economic system of capitalism. Consequently, whichever party forms the government after the next election, the pattern of events which follow will be similar to what we have experienced before.

Some people think there are fundamental differences between the Labour and Tory parties—others, and this view has gained more credence in recent years —think there is very little difference between them. The latter view is nearer the truth the more we consider fundamental issues; the former view reflects more correctly the views of those who are concerned mainly with surface appearances. It is the fundamental issues which are more important but we should not blind ourselves to the fact that there are considerable differences between Tory and Labour Parties on the ways and means of organising the economics and politics of the country. It is these differences which will decide the result of the next general election.

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