In my last blog I asked how on earth 30% of those polled couldn’t decide between Conservative and Labour when the differences between them are so stark: one, the party of money and privilege, the other, the party of public service; one, the party that is clear about wanting to dismantle the welfare state, the other, the party throughout the 20th Century which drove its creation and expansion; the Conservatives who have never left office without leaving massive debt burdens, Labour, the only administration since the war that has created a budget surplus at the same time as lifting 500,000 children out of poverty and expanding the NHS and benefits for the poor. Obviously, these differences are blended out and dissolved by the media – and by the parties themselves – with tropes and dissimulations. In this blog, I want to go back to a sharp language, one that makes no bones about these differences.
If you want to be politically inspired, read the 1945 Labour Party manifesto – the successful election pitch that led to one of the most potent and accomplished government administrations of the 20th century – led by Clement Attlee, widely regarded as a “dull” man. That manifesto opens by arguing that the working man and woman won WW1, but lost the peace. Lost it, that is, to the wealthy and the corporate state which had profited massively from war. Listen to this soaring rhetoric – and as you read it, think about today. Substituting ‘the war’ for ‘the pandemic’ helps:
The people made tremendous efforts to win the last war [WW1]. But when they had won it they lacked a lively interest in the social and economic problems of peace, and accepted the election promises of the leaders of the anti-Labour parties at their face value. So the “hard-faced men who had done well out of the war” were able to get the kind of peace that suited themselves. The people lost that peace. And when we say “peace” we mean not only the Treaty, but the social and economic policy which followed the fighting. In the years that followed, the “hard-faced men” and their political friends kept control of the Government. They controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which the people got their living. They controlled the ways by which most of the people learned about the world outside.
Lessons were learned and, for example, the Labour ministers during WW2 ensured the reintroduction of a special tax on industrial interests profiteering from war – a tax on “excess profits” of up to 95% – in Britain, but replicated in the USA and other countries in The Alliance. In 1945, Labour insisted that ‘the people’ would not lose the peace again.
Big Business knows that this will happen only if the people vote into power the party which promises to get rid of the controls and so let the profiteers and racketeers have that freedom for which they are pleading eloquently on every Tory platform and in every Tory newspaper. They accuse the Labour Party of wishing to impose controls for the sake of control. That is not true, and they know it. What is true is that the anti-controllers and anti-planners desire to sweep away public controls, simply in order to give the profiteering interests and the privileged rich an entirely free hand to plunder the rest of the nation as shamelessly as they did in the nineteen-twenties.
Sound familiar? – at a time when our Brexiteering government is attempting to rip up thousands of ex-EU controls ensuring worker, consumer, industrial and environmental protections. But look – the Labour Party won the 1945 election arguing against the profiteering classes, and arguing for the nationalisation of major industries in order to lead an integrated drive for modernisation – all when national debt was 250% of GDP – two-and-a-half times what the country was worth! Interestingly, this was mentioned in neither of the two main parties’ manifestos, with the Conservative manifesto, in fact, calling for cuts in taxation.
So where’s the difference today. In spite of all of us knowing that friends of the Conservative party plundered the country during the pandemic and now occupy grace-and-favour positions of power and influence, almost one-third of us think the choice between the parties is a narrow one. The Labour Party, much chastened and cowed by the country’s lurch to the Right, can barely muster a similar inspirational rhetoric. It is cowed, too, by the relentless invocation of ‘debt crisis’ along with the claim that public services are becoming unaffordable – our finances are, it is said, ravaged by the Covid pandemic, and now by the war in Ukraine. There is no debt crisis (see Who Needs the Cuts: Myths of Economic Crisis, Hesperus Press, 2013). The Covid pandemic cost us a fraction of what we spent during WW2, (more than £1 trillion with industry, infrastructure and housing devastated) while this country is more wealthy than it was 80 years ago. Our national debt barely reaches 100% of GDP, well within OECD norms.
But the chilling similarity that dare not speak its name is the capacity for wealthy and corporate interests to “plunder” the country. This is the language we should be unafraid to use, notwithstanding the insistence of the media that “division” is bad for the country, and that “we are all in this together”. Beware weasel words!
Good one, dear Saville! Mirrors what we need to hear on this side of the pond.
I’d love to hear your assessment of yesterday’s national strike.