Paul Foot

Hungry for power?

(7 November 1992)

From Socialist Worker, No.1316, 7 November 1992, p.11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WE USED to complain about the Labour Party longing for office but being terrified of power.

In the last few months there has been quite a change. Now the Labour Party is terrified of both office and power.

Robin Cook had a good joke the other day about the concessions made by Heseltine when Tarzan realised he’d gone too far on the pit closures. “I could have asked for a general election,” said Cook. “Maybe we’d have got one as well.” Ho, ho, ho went the backbenches.

But wait. Was it so funny after all? During all the momentous crises that have shaken the government since 16 September, not once has the Labour leadership called for a general election.

Indeed anything which might so shake the political consensus as to make it even possible that the government might resign – a general strike, for instance, or even a vote of no confidence – has been studiously avoided by Smith, Brown, Beckett and Co.

Does this mean that the Labour leaders have lost their lust for office? Not at all.

For the trappings of power, for the appearance of power, for the deference which comes naturally to any Secretary of State, the Smith brigade are as hungry as ever. What terrifies them is the responsibility of office.

So scared

Where does it point to, this impotence of opposition? Does it mean that Major and Co can go on ruling however great the economic crisis and however unpopular their cuts and wage freezes? Not at all.

However impotently Labour behaves, they cannot help but represent the power and the fury of the people at the bottom of society who will be most affected by Major’s autumn cuts.

The Tories cannot do anything because of the opposition on the ground and Labour cannot do anything because it is so scared of taking over. It is an impasse which cannot last forever. It can be broken by the Tories beating the workers or the workers beating the Tories.

In the meantime there is an alternative, one which in my view grows more likely day by day.

As the Tories find it more and more impossible to combat the crisis and as Labour finds it more and more impossible to challenge the Tories for the job, the two leaderships could move together.

They could break the impasse by joining each other in what both would hail as a Grand Coalition for Recovery. The policies of the coalition would be very much the same as those demanded by the more liberal Tory leaders now.

Capital spending programmes would be encouraged, all spending on wages would be discouraged. Some pits would stay open in exchange for a total wage freeze. There would be cuts and freezes in every area of social security. Housing, on the other hand, would get a boost from the release of the council house sales money.

With the support of Labour and some big unions, the Tories and big business would get their worst cuts and their Maastricht treaty through parliament. Labour ministers would get their chauffeurs, their seals of office and their turn at the dispatch box.

The only thing this new government could not do is solve the capitalist crisis which would go on bashing away at the economy until a great many people start to see what is needed is not a change of leaders in parliament but a change in the economic system.


Last updated on 7.2.2005