From International Socialism (1st series), No.59, June 1973, pp.3-4.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
‘The Labour Party is a Socialist Party and proud of it.’ This famous, if quite untrue statement, appeared in the Labour Party’s 1945 election programme Let Us Face the Future. ‘Its ultimate purpose at home’ continued that programme ‘is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain.’ It is rather unlikely that Labour’s Programme for Britain, which will be published this month, will contain any such claim.
The point is that even the lies people tell about themselves can be illuminating. A comparison with the past helps to put the much advertised ‘left turn’ of the Labour Party into perspective. Naturally, only a very naive person would take a Labour Party election platform as a serious indication of what the party would actually do in office. All the same a platform does give some indication of the balance of forces between ‘left’ and right in the party and how the leaders estimate their problems and prospects.
From this point of view the pre-publication row about the proposal – now apparently dropped – to ‘nationalise’ (through a ‘National Enterprise Board’) 25 of the largest manufacturing companies is instructive. The right wing objected strongly, at the joint meeting of the NEC and the shadow cabinet, and they were reportedly supported by those pillars of the ‘left’, Ian Mikardo and Michael Foot. There is not the slightest reason to suppose that the right was worried that the proposal marked a step towards a general attack on capitalism. In fact, allowing for the usual watering-down process, the proposal for a National Enterprise Board bears a remarkable resemblance to the scheme of the famous ‘revisionist’ document Industry and Society (1957) whereby, through state purchase of shares in selected enterprises, ‘the community (would) acquire a stake in the expansion of industry.’ In any case the right wing are confident that their policies will prevail in the next Labour government, as in every previous one, whatever may be said in election platforms and even if, as is quite possible, the government were to be headed by a new champion of the ‘left’. Their objection was based purely on a fear of losing rather than gaining votes.
All the party leaders know that they cannot simply count on being swept into office by the unpopularity of the government – real as that is. There has been no sign of mass enthusiasm for the party. The huge gains in seats in the two waves of local government elections did not result from a growth in the Labour vote. On the contrary, the decline of about 1 per cent on 1972 in the county elections was followed by 1.3 per cent decline in the metropolitan district elections on an even lower poll. The general elections can hardly be more than 18 months away and could be much sooner if Heath calculates that it is better to fight before the effects of putting the brakes on the economy are felt. In these circumstances, the inner party clash is between those, the ‘lefts’, who believe that the best chance is to give the party a ‘radical’ image which, they hope, will arouse working class enthusiasm in spite of the experience of past performance and those, the right, who believe, probably correctly, that the party is even less credible wearing ill-fitting left wing garments than normally. On past form the ‘lefts’ can be counted upon to give way on all matters of substance, notwithstanding their majority on the NEC and the backing of Conference, provided they are consoled with suitably vague leftish phrases. They have never been able to resist the appeal for ‘unity’ in a pre-election period.
Leftish phrases there will certainly be. What about ‘the economy is still dominated by a small ruling caste ... a small and compact oligarchy ... the top one per cent of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s private wealth and property ... the menacing growth of private monopoly and the consequent concentration of power in irresponsible hands?’
If the phrases have a familiar ring it is because they are taken from Signposts for the Sixties, the basis of the party’s 1964 election programme. Throw in the odd reference to Lonrho, tax havens, fat consultancy fees for the ‘compact oligarchy’ and so on and you have an updated version that will be quite adequate to keep the ‘lefts’ quiet. It would have exactly the same effect on the activities of a future Labour government as Signposts for the Sixties had on the last one. That is to say none whatsoever.
Last updated on 25.12.2007