Editiorial Winds of Change?

THE DEBATE about Clause 4 is a debate which never present principles. Mr. Cousins, who knows a mixed
really happened. Or rather, it would be truer to say that economy when he sees one—and doesn’t like it, held
a phony debate, purposefully raised by Mr. Gaitskell his hand until so late a point in the game (he did the
and his close compatriots in order to strangle the same thing last year in the nuclear debate), that he
subject of common ownership once and for all, and preserved his independence, but weakened the quality
conducted by them in the most doctrinal manner of the resistance to creeping Gaitskellism. Mr. Bevan
possible, has come to an end without a clear decision was ill. The Left, instead of being on the attack, found
having been declared one way or another. The itself leaderless, without that compelling political vision
Economist, throughout, prepared a sturdy ramp for which could give heart and direction to the Party,
the leadership, and The Spectator nobly fended off fighting a rearguard palace revolution.
Michael Foot and the ‘rebels’ in its editorial columns. Is the situation really so desperate? There are, surely,
But despite the much-publicised National Executive three main tasks for the Left. The first is to develop the
meetings, and the calculated (and uncalculated) leaks moral and economic case for socialism in a developed
to the press, and the passing of drafts in Swiss Cottage, and so-called ‘affluent’ society. The second is to recreate
the debate at the top failed to connect: it neither the tattered vision of a new society. The third is to
settled the question of ‘means’ and ‘ends’, nor did it discover the political means for taking us through
envisage anything like a political timetable for the to that society in the sixties, without the risk of
Labour Movement. While the National Executive nuclear extermination. Are there no answers to these
laboured and travailed over words, the electorate questions?
yawned.
The compromise quite accurately reflects the present In fact, the moral and economic case has been more
disposition of strength within the Party. Mr. Gaitskell cogently argued in the last few months than at any other
carefully estimated that the shock of electoral defeat, time this decade. The case against a semi-stagnating,
the general torpor and the unpopularity of Morrison- inflation-ridden, jerky and unjust ‘prosperity’ was
style nationalisation, would be powerful enough to presented by John Hughes, in his Tribune pamphlet,
drive his policies through, setting “piecemeal engineer- Socialism in the Sixties, in terms which even the News
ing, within the framework of capitalism”, at the mast- Chronicle was forced to admit had logic and cogency.
head of the Party. Instead, the Left—composed on this Audrey Harvey’s pamphlet, Casualties of the Welfare
occasion of some Left MP’s, Tribune, the bulk of the State, ripped to shreds the Crosland thesis that managed
constituencies and a scattering of centre Trade capitalism is delivering the goods in the welfare sector.
Unionists—managed to halt the drift towards tame Professor Titmuss, in The Irresponsible Society, showed,
Fabianism, without mustering enough strength to set not only the moral bankruptcy of a society of “private
a more socialist perspective before a faltering Party. opulence and public squalor”, but also linked this with
The result, for the time being, is that Mr. Gaitskell has the compelling theme of the growing, built-in concen-
neither won nor lost: he has been stalemated. The New trations of wealth and privilege, which mock the concepts
Testament, with its flabby, imprecise phrase about “the of equality and social justice. Mr. Gaitskell, who was
commanding heights” (which pleased everyone, without bland and confident enough to preside over Professor
settling anything) now sits beside the Old, giving off its Titmuss’s press conference, must either have lacked the
pale gloss. Mr. Gaitskell has been forced to accept, time to read the pamphlet carefully, or be incapable of
with better grace than he showed at Blackpool, a understanding its political point. Michael Foot, among
compromise solution, but he is still in possession of the others, stirred by the palpable insanity of a society
only “commanding heights” that matter at the which permitted the atrocity of Mr. Cotton’s Piccadilly
moment—the leadership of the Party itself. monster, pushed Mr. Gaitskell into admitting that
The compromise also reflects the weakness of the perhaps the Labour Party ought to consider the
Left. After ten years in the wilderness, it has failed so nationalisation of urban land!—a proposal so radical
far to convert a manoeuvre, intended to destroy it, into in its implications that it would put every policy proposal
a political debate which would transform the Move- contained in the purple pages of The Future Labour
ment. The opposition was a pretty ragged affair. The Offers You into the shade.
constituency parties are still instinctively inclined to the The staring, unmistakable fact is, as Charles Taylor
left, but they have not heard a convincing case for argued in his article, What’s Wrong With Capitalism
common ownership since 1945. Many Trade Unionists (NLR 2), that the priorities of our society are hopelessly
who rose to the defence of Clause 4, were acknowledging wrong, and wrong, not because of the ineptitudes of
—rather guiltily—past loyalties, rather than affirming Mr. Amory but because of the nature of capitalism
1
itself. Indeed, Mr. Harold Wilson might well have been
quoting this article in his Budget speech:
“Are members really satisfied with a scale of values
under which we are spending more on advertising than
on industrial research, more on packaging than on
education, and more on egg subsidies than universities?”
This line is even in danger of becoming fashionable:
Mr. Roy Jenkins, in a rather off-hand way, referred to
“private opulence and public squalor” — without, of
course, taking the political point about capitalism.
Of course, in order to carry through a radical
political programme which comes anywhere near
matching the abuses of capitalism, we need the vision
of a different society, to link together the various
discontents engendered by the system, and a movement
of people wider than the Opposition Front Bench. The
Left, unfortunately, has to confront, not only the
faulty analysis of the Right (or its sheer dishonesty
when facing the implications of the facts about our
society), but also its hidebound, bureaucratic, en-
crusted notion of how politics works. It seems safe to
say that Mr. Gaitskell is incapable any longer of
understanding what a popular, democratic movement
of people would be like (as opposed to clammy,
organisational directives from Transport House), and
cannot see how this relates to the “effective opposition
in Parliament”. He has consistently forgotten that the
purpose of the Labour Movement is not to provide
the Queen with alternative whipping-boys, but to change
the society, to alter the quality of its life and the social
relationships within it. Professor Titmuss’s Irresponsible
Society may not spell out its political lessons: but he
is talking about a different kind of society, which has
no echo at all in Mr. Gaitskell’s “way of life, based
on the glossy magazine”, enunciated with pomp and
ceremony at Blackpool. Mr. Gaitskell, after all, is not
a socialist leader who happens to have moderate views
on common ownership: he is a bourgeois politician who
happens to think that public ownership has a part to
play in contemporary capitalist society. So, after all,
does Mr. Maudling. The question is whether Labour is
the party of a new social order, or simply another part
of the contemporary scene.
Thus the sickening spectacle of the Labour benches
cheering (without irony) the Budget of a Chancellor,
which ignores, for all practical purposes, a dangerously
inflationary situation, simply because it piddles in the
stream of corporate privilege and capital gains. Or the
sight of Labour MP’s, stalking righteously into the
lobbies, to protest because the early-warning station at
Fylingdales (four bleeps to nuclear suicide) conflicts
with the principles of Town and Country Planning! It
is Mr. Gaitskell, now (not Mr. Watkinson), who
believes in an “independent British nuclear effort”
(because of “fear of excessive dependence upon the US”),
and Mr. Dennis Healey who wants a European-Nato
deterrent (to “trigger off” a reluctant America). That
is a leadership without any remaining shred of political
or moral vision at all.
2