When did socialism become a dirty word? What’s more, why did we sit back and allow it to happen? The people who turned it into a dirty word seemed to have an awful lot to gain by doing so. For instance, I can recall Margaret Thatcher spitting it out venomously on many occasions, but it seems to me that one might expect her to say that.
The common slander of the time was to call anybody on the left a fanatic or extremist, claiming that they wanted to bring down a democratically elected Government. The result of this was essentially similar to what happened in post-war USA; a kind of McCarthy-ite paranoia, stoking up anti-Trade Union sentiments and causing divisions in the Labour Party.
The Conservatives exploited the fact that the 1970s had been a period of much industrial action, and this had created negative feelings towards the unions. What was forgotten was the cause of this industrial action; the OPEC oil crisis, poor wages, the three-day week and inflation – it was hardly any wonder that there were strikes, but the fault was more often with bad management than with workers. Furthermore, the fact is that most of the electorate were – and still are – essentially workers; whether they be blue-collar or white-collar. Who looked after their interests? Trade Unions. The Conservatives claimed that she would clip their wings, but what they in fact did was create a blood-bath.
Trade Unions were never simply about pay, despite what the media asserted (and still does). They are also about ensuring that people can work in a safe environment, have rights and don’t have to work unreasonable hours. Instead, what we now have are ambulance-chasing solicitors who make accident claims after the event, and make a fortune in the process.
Instead of standing up for the Trade Unions, the Parliamentary Labour Party (with some notable exceptions) got scared. This was understandable since so much pressure was wielded on them by the media, rate-capping of Labour councils and demonising any dissenting voices. The party was reported as weak and fatally divided, while in fact the Conservative was too; any Tory MPs who didn’t follow the neo-liberal line were called ‘wet’ and if they were cabinet-ministers they were sacked and cast into the wasteland (ex-Chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s resentment over this led to the end of Thatcher’s leadership). The seeds of our current economic woes were cultivated during the Thatcher administration; the cult of greed, the worship of the so-called ‘entrepreneur’, stock market manipulation, lives built on credit. It is regrettable that the Labour Party, when in power, didn’t reverse this neo-liberalism.
The Tories coined the word ‘spin’ when criticising Blair and Brown’s governments, but it was they who developed media-savvy politics. Their administration had been all about image and manipulation of the news; they effectively managed to gain public support for policies that were against the public interest. For instance, privatising publicly-owned assets by selling them back as shares to the public; if this had been done by an individual he/she would have been convicted for fraud. The result of this was the creation of arrogant corporate monopolies like British Telecom and British Airways (who now have competition but still behave as if they don’t). This created the illusion that the British public were now gentrified and taking part in the neo-liberalist’s wet-dream, when the reality was that large swathes of the UK were unemployed and alienated. It was the Tories who claimed that there was ‘no such thing as society’ (ironically Cameron ran a ‘Big Society’ campaign), destroying communities and breaking up families, while still claiming that they supported family values. There are now parts of the UK that have been unemployed for generations as a consequence of the policies they instigated. Labour was beginning to reverse the trend, but the ConDem coalition have already stripped away the initiatives Labour put into place.
The current illusion that the Tories are trying to create is that this government is a coalition, but the Liberal Democrats have sold themselves out – it is a party that has been swallowed whole by the Conservative Party. The scorpion and the frog is the perfect metaphor to describe the current situation. This is a Conservative administration. Moreover, there is an even more transparent illusion that they are trying to spin; that this will be a government of consultation – that they that will listen to the people. Where is the evidence to support this? Do the public really support all these cuts? Vince Cable famously (and with much fanfare and popularity) during the election claimed that it would be dangerous to start cutting back of public expenditure in the first year of government, but has changed his mind now that he is part of this administration. He seems to be following the party-whip (the Conservative party-whip). Therefore, this government are not even listening to members of their own cabinet. They are following their own neo-liberal instincts again. It is the Tories who are the fanatics, illogically pursuing ruinous policies – for what? Do they believe their own propaganda? Are they simply being bloody-minded?
They don’t seem to mind individuals being in debt, so why not the country? It is part of their ideology to encourage people to be mortgaged up to the eyeballs, run businesses on loans and overdrafts – all of this is considered sound business practice and it is one of the things that drove us to the economic situation we’re now in. Are we supposed to believe that George Osborne is the right Chancellor to lead us though these troubled times? This is a man who has never had to worry about paying a bill in his life – how can he possibly relate to the problems of an ordinary working (or non-working) family?
The Labour Party needs to reclaim socialism. Neo-liberalism has proven to be disastrous and it would be wrong for another Labour government to slavishly adhere to it for the sake of being in power. Pragmatism is all well and good, but capitalism is simply past its sell-by date; the Wall Street Crash should have been enough of a hint of that in 1929, but apparently not for the likes of Friedman and his Chicago cronies (Thatcher and co were his cheerleaders). It is abundantly apparently that Cameron is a creature of Thatcherism and he has already started blaming ‘socialism’ for the deficit (even though Blair and Brown did not pursue socialism, unfortunately). Cameron is self-consciously lying but he will be believed if he is not contradicted. Socialism is the soul of the Labour Party, it is the very core of it – modernise by all means, but that should never be forgotten.