Peter Sedgwick

Do we say ‘vote Labour’ until doomsday?

(20 June 1970)

From Socialist Worker, 20 June 1970, p.5. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IT WAS probably inevitable that the revolutionary left would decide to vote Labour as the lesser evil against Powellism – even though they have had ample time to mount an alternative socialist campaign to the capitalist parties.

But do they have to use, in support of their position, such bloody daft arguments as appeared in your editorial before polling day?

1. ‘A Tory defeat would be a blow to the self-confidence of the ruling class’, we are told, and ‘a Tory defeat (i.e. a Labour victory) will divide and demoralise the establishment’. What world are your editorialists living in?

The Tory weekly press like the Economist accepts that Harold will win, without showing the slightest anxiety, let alone demoralisation. Why should British capitalism be demoralised by the prospect of the wage freeze which labour will impose?

The Tories themselves of course discredit Heath as leader. Their division will strengthen Powell and Powellism against the inglorious Heath. (So if you are using the argument that we should vote Labour to weaken. Powell, the answer is: no, reduce the Labour majority to the smallest possible – by abstaining and spoiling ballot papers.)

Big business has not been in the least worried by the chances of a Labour victory, for at least four elections now,, Labour has a number of prominent industrialist supporters like Kearton and the technocrat weekly New Scientist has recommended support for Labour on the pounds that it is rationalising industry and commercialising science.

2. ‘A Tory victory would give Labour leaders a new lease of life’ by enabling them to pose as lefts in opposition. This sounds fine until you realise that it commits us to permanent support for Labour for the next century at least, no matter what they do when in office.

You have to keep them in office because they will talk left in opposition: that danger is going to be present in 1975, 1986, 1985, etc. etc. Equally, the ogre of the ‘Left MP alternative’ is going to always be present. The argument (common on the marxist left) that we have to vote labour so that Heffer and Foot will not rally the Labour Party in opposition means: in order to stop another Wilson, vote for the Wilson we have got.

3. ‘A credible mass revolutionary alternative’ is absent. Yes, and it is not going to be there as a political monopoly in 1975, 1980, etc, either. The small revolutionary forces will, we hope, be somewhat stronger by the time the next election comes.

Even if they could attract a quarter of the working class (an optimistic estimate), we should still have to argue ‘Vote Labour to keep the Tories Out’ because of the danger of a Tory victory with a split working-class electorate, and the likelihood of the left being blamed for it.

Your position amounts to this. Either we have hundreds of socialist candidates standing with a practically certain chance of defeating both Labour and Tory – or we have to vote Labour despite the capitalist nature of the Labour Party. Yet this argument ensures that the building of a real alternative to fight elections can never be begun.

Keep your editorial safely on file comrades. You will he bringing it out again at the next election, and the next, and the next after that, You might change the headline, though to ‘LABOUR UNTIL DOMESDAY’.


Peter Sedgwick, York


Last updated on 5.12.2004