Paul Foot

If only Harold had got the date right

(July 1970)


From Socialist Worker, 11 July 1970.
Reprinted in Chris Harman (ed.), In the Heat of the Struggle, Bookmarks, London 1993, pp.186-7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In THE offices of Tribune in Smithfield, London, a myth has been born. Like many similar myths before it, it is likely to be believed following the shock and disillusionment of the election.

The theme is a simple one: that Harold Wilson and his advisers in the leadership handed the election on a plate to the Tories and that the decision to go to the country in June with a low-pitched election campaign were the real reasons for the Tory victory.

The alternative is equally simple. With an election later in the year, fought with a high-pitched campaign, the Tory disaster would never have come about and Harold Wilson would be back in Downing Street for most of the seventies.

One question, however, remains unanswered. What evidence is there that if the Labour leadership had held on till October any more of the ‘wounds’ inflicted by the government would have been ‘healed’?

Was it not just as likely that with an Irish crisis, a worsening balance of payments situation, and roaring inflation, a few more ‘wounds’ would have been inflicted in the intervening months and the ‘fighting spirit of 1964 and 1966’ (whatever that was) would have been further dampened?

Harold Wilson’s basic theme throughout the last six months had been that Labour must run the capitalist system as efficiently and profitably as possible and must engineer an election victory every four or five years.

Although Tribune is free in its criticism of the government’s record over the past six years, it singles out the 1970 Budget for special attention. It complains that when Jenkins had money to give away he should have given it away to the Labour movement.

Tribune argues that if the Chancellor had done this in the 1970 Budget, the workers would have voted Labour with greater enthusiasm and in greater numbers.

No doubt this is true. But the point is that big business works under the same laws whether there’s a boom or not.

No self-respecting capitalist will waste money on higher wages just because he has higher profits. He needs to invest his profits to make sure they increase even more. He may feel that directors and shareholders deserve a little reward. But wages are too large a part of the costs to permit substantial increases.

The Labour government accepted these priorities from the start. They accepted them in their manifesto before the 1964 election, which Tribune approved. And, cheered on by Tribune, they accepted them in 17 stumbling months before March 1966 when Tribune called for an early general election.

They accepted them in four cruel and wavering years after 1966, in which time the Parliamentary Labour Party became a play-thing of the increasingly vicious machine of big business.

Workers and students outside parliament reacted in the most powerful outburst of militancy since the war. None of this was reflected in parliament or in the Labour Party, which, as the tide of militancy rose, lost supporters and influence in the trade union movement.

The Labour Left and Tribune reacted by bitching and sneering at revolutionaries (see Francis Flavius on the International Socialists and Socialist Labour League in Tribune of 5 June). It isolated the struggle for socialism within parliamentary boundaries and by mouthing old slogans and old responses, it must take a share of the blame for the isolation of politics from militancy.

The election result is a bad blow for the British working class movement. But it will have even worse consequences if socialists now believe that the violence and barbarism of capitalist society can be ended or even altered by tinkering around with election dates and framing different policies for Budget Day.


Last updated on 20.12.2004