THE GENERAL ELECTION AND THE WAY FORWARD PARLIAMENTCategory: Politics
Though Labour has only a numerically small majority in Parliament, this is no reason for refusing to take drastic action in the interests of the workers.
The oppositions in Parliament is not united. There are sharp divisions among the Tories, reflected in the conflict over the leadership, but in essence over policy. Heath’s confrontation policy led to the disaster of February, but the Tories have not yet been able to evolve an alternative policy.
Already the votes in the Commons have shown that even considered only in Parliamentary terms, Labour can carry through a policy which challenges big business.
If it did so, it could rally powerful support outside Parliament which would defeat any attempt by the opposition to sabotage its policy.
Thus the small majority must not be made the pretext for what we warned against in our election campaign — a right wing line which in effect means coalition policies without a coalition.
POLITICAL SITUATION NOT RESOLVED
At the same time it is important to emphasize that the October election did not resolve the political situation in the country revealed by the February election.
While it is a welcome fact that the Tories lost ground, Labour still only got 39.3 per cent of the total vote (up 2 per cent since February although slightly down on votes). The Liberals with just over five million votes, suffered a setback. The Scottish Nationalists significantly gained in votes and seats.
Why is Labour still unable to get a total majority of votes? More pertinently — why, when the Tories were making such a poor showing and their bankruptcy was so evident, was Labour’s majority so slender? The solution to the crisis advanced by Labour’s main spokesmen was to make industry more profitable, and they had no proposals to curb the power of the monopolies. In this and other important respects their policies were in conflict with the left trends in the unions and decisions of recent Labour Party Conferences. These tactics gave the Tories their biggest card, the opportunity of sowing confusion among the electors. They also undermined socialist consciousness among the workers. Had Labour gone into the election with a clear explanation of the crisis, and bold measures to deal with those who are mainly responsible, the multinationals and other big industrial and financial monopolists, there would have been greater clarity among the electors and better possibilities for winning a bigger majority.
It was said that the election could have been won or lost in Scotland. In fact, in spite of the big nationalist offensive, Labour did not lose seats in Scotland. This to a considerable degree was due to the last minute change in Labour policy on devolution. Our Party in Scotland played a big part in bringing this about.
How the labour movement now responds to the national movement in Scotland and Wales is going to be of increasing importance not only for Scotland and Wales, but for the future of United Kingdom politics as a whole.
It is urgent that we get the movement clear on these great questions. We believe that the left will fight, but the initial reaction of some left MPs to the Queen’s Speech, the attitude of so many trade union leaders to the social contract, shows the big job the Party has to do. Whatever proposals or criticisms we have to make will be advanced in the context and with the intention of expanding left unity.
This survey of the election and its aftermath underlines the role and responsibility of the Communist Party and the Morning Star in the new period in British politics now opening up. We are a party of struggle. We entered the election arguing that a Labour majority was not enough. Continuous mass political campaigning, mass action and pressure would be required.
The main sphere of action will be the democratic mass movement outside Parliament. But at all times we should try to combine this with the maximum impact on Parliament and in particular get the combination of the mass movement, the left in Parliament, and the trade unions.
Compelling the government to carry oiit left policies will be both necessary and more difficult. We should apply and carry forward the line of left unity decided at our last Congress, and seek new methods of approach to carry the left forward and isolate the right.
We fought the election with a three-fold purpose: to win an outright Labour majority which would be compelled by left pressures to carry out progressive policies; to advance our policy to deal with the crisis; and win the biggest possible Communist vote in the constituencies we were contesting and in all other constituencies to vote Labour and especially to help the return of Labour MPs in marginal constituencies; to prepare the working class and people generally for the big struggles which would lie ahead after the election.
In our campaign we alone gave a real analysis of the cause of the crisis and in our election manifesto, which will be even more valid in the period ahead we put forward our policy to deal with the crisis. We exposed the Tories and big business while at the same time criticizing official Labour policy. We advanced a principled criticism of the social contract warned that the mixed economy proposals were no solution to the crisis and that ever the limited gains on price control, rents etc., were at risk and that the cost of living would go up. We said that the real danger was coalition policies without a coalition. We strongly counterposed to the crisis of capitalism our radical alternative solution, which would open up the way to socialism.. We said that the election was only a stage, albeit a very important one, and that from October 11 the battle would go on; that we as a party would be at our posts and that mass pressure on the Labour government after the election would be the key question.
Our main line of political argument in our campaign and manifesto was correct, has been borne out by events during and since the election. It will stand up to the passage of time, and will stand us in good stead for the future.
To put this policy was one of the main reasons we entered the campaign. The best and most effective way to put it in a General Election was to contest. There can be discussion as to how far we influenced the outcome. If we hadn’t been on the election the comprehensive alternative policy would never have been put by our candidates and in our public campaigning; we would not have been able publicly to influence the election at all, except by comment in our press.