Listening to the Labour and Tory parties trying to explain the points of difference in their respective policies reminds one of that popular ditty of a few years back, “You say ‘neether' and I say ‘nighther.' " There is no basic idea now held by one of these parties which is not held by the other, though each may express it in different words. Whether or not this tendency, which is almost daily becoming more marked, is viewed by either as a sign of the correctness of its policy, it should certainly be of the greatest interest to those who imagine that any fundamental change would result with the advent of a Tory government.
Generally Labour politicians are inclined to adopt a rather smug attitude towards the inability of the Tories to advocate any radical change When referring to any of their doubtful achievements, such as the now legendary “free" teeth and specs, they chide their opponents for being unwilling to oppose them openly, at least to a degree greater than the Labour Government has since been forced to do so. They offer their supporters, in consolation for the hardships that Capitalism inevitably imposes on the working class, the comforting thought that anyway the Tories could do no better.
Under the title “Labour and Tories Draw Closer," Maurice Cranston writes:—
“The Tories talk of more freedom, but they have no real intention of denationalising what has once been nationalised. As for planning, the Tories have now accepted the principle of putting Britain on a war economy, and nobody pretends this could be done without planning."The important point is that a change of government will hardly make the slightest difference in British policy at home or abroad. The Opposition accepts the principle of the Welfare State, just as the Government accepts the principle of rearmament and collective security against Communism. There would be inflation under the Tories, but there is inflation now."(Labour's Northern Voice,” June, 1951.)
Nationalisation, planning, Welfare State, rearmament, inflation—there is no real difference of policy on any of these issues, and the list could be added to. To complete this picture of two greyish parties, each eager to show its whiteness in comparison with the blackness of the other, we may turn to the comments of the newspapers supporting the Conservative point of view. For instance, the Daily Mail affects to be mildly shocked at the signs of political opportunism it detects in the Labour Party’s policy on nationalisation.
“ In January, 1951, Mr. Herbert Morrison said there must be 'national ownership and development of basic resources, with freedom of private enterprise in nonmonopoly industries.'But in January, 1950, he had been hot for the national ownership of sugar, cement, insurance, and meat distribution. Only when he found the country was against these measures did he drop them. Wonderful, is it not, how the noble ideal of Socialism can be altered to suit the prevailing electoral winds? ”(Daily Mail, 4.7.1951.)
Wonderful indeed, if it were Socialism that could be so altered. The truth is that the Labour Party, in common with all other parties undertaking to run Capitalism, alters its programme of reforms according to what is most likely to retain support, irrespective of past policies. What more damning indictment could be made against any Labour M.P. than to show that he is acquiescing in the very measures to which his party has long been traditionally, if only nominally opposed?
“He dislikes Defence, but is forced to provide it. He hates Imperialism, but is compelled to embrace it. He is against Free Enterprise, but he has been made to support it And he will vote for all, the things he detests in order to keep his job.”(Daily Mail, 4.7.1951.)
Just in case it may be thought that the so-called Left Wing of the Labour Party is less committed to present policies than its main body, then Aneurin Bevan's pamphlet, "One Way Only," should dispel this illusion. The Evening News takes Mr. Bevan to task on his attitude to the present policy of rearmament.
“Mr. Bevan, after fulminating against this rearmament, talks of a 'degree of rearmament necessary to deter the Russians from military adventures.’ When do we reach that degree, Mr. Bevan? Don’t look now, but it appears to us at this point that it is a rearmaments race you are actually advocating.”(Evening News, 10.7.1951.)
No doubt Mr. Bevan would not agree that he is advocating a rearmaments race. Nevertheless whether he does so or not it is bound to occur, as a result of the capitalist system he supports, caused by rivalries between single or groups of nations over world markets, trade routes, mineral deposits, etc. A bullet in the head from one who “ didn’t mean to do it ” is no less fatal than one from a deliberate killer.
The best way of detecting the microscopic differences between Labour and Tory policies is to have them magnified in a discussion between a representative of each. Such a discussion was recently broadcast on the B.B.C. Third Programme under the title “Is Socialism Losing Its Appeal?” which would have been more accurately titled “Is the Labour Party's 1945 Programme Losing Its Appeal? "
Mr. J. Enoch Powell, M.P. (Cons.), remarked in this discussion that Labour Party propaganda, being essentially optimistic, invites disappointment when it led to Labour Government He claimed that a supposedly revolutionary party, on achieving political power, was required to produce the revolution, or to find excuses for not doing so. Mr. Donald Chapman, Secretary of the Fabian Society, sought to show that British “Socialism” (i.e., the Labour Party) was more practical than the Continental variety, and accepted much of the Liberal traditions in receiving suggestions from the opposition. Socialism, he went on, had something to contribute to the steady development of the British Way of Life; it had put forward a severely practical programme needed to correct the excesses of an earlier period. Mr. Powell preferred to say that Socialism had to cease to be Socialism in order to retain public appeal, which sounds good but means nothing. He asserted that the Conservative Party had accepted much of Socialism, but later claimed that Toryism was not a whit socialist. Both debaters supported the idea of Social Services, but Mr. Chapman saw a difference in the spirit which made them sponsored, not grudgingly accepted. The argument, if it could properly be called such, wandered on along these lines, ana the remark by Mr. Powell, “You talk of State, I talk of Nation,” was typical of the depth of the whole dispute.
What are the lessons to be learned from this growing unity of policy of the two main contestants for political power in this country? One is that any party that advocates reforms can command a big following by promising to solve the problems that Capitalism engenders, just so long as it is not called upon to form the government. Another is that at a time when it is a toss-up which party will win the next election each must offer the electorate all that is popular in the rival programme plus a little extra in order to tip the balance.
But the most important lesson for members of the working class is that if they want to express their dissatisfaction with the past results of Capitalism they are wasting their time voting for any party offering to make a better job of it in future. They must understand that it is Capitalism that determines the policies of the governments that undertake to run it, and not the other way round. In the light of this knowledge they will then organise with us for the establishment of Socialism, which alone can make a reality the dreams of a better life that Capitalism has made potentially possible, but can never actualize.