ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, Summer 1966


Ian Taylor

The Notebook

[The Left on the General Election]


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 25, Summer 1966, pp. 4–5.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ian Taylor writes: Reactions to the Election result among various quarters of the Left were anything but uniform. Militant saw the vote as ‘an indication of a pre-revolutionary period in British society’ (April issue); Tribune, significantly enough, would hardly differ with this conclusion – ‘socialism back on the agenda’ (7 April). For most, though, the election was a sobering experience. For those who see the Communist Party as the vanguard of socialist principle, the loss of 46,000 in the constituencies contested in 1964 and 1966 put The British Road to Socialism in its real perspective. Journalistic ‘experts’ could pinpoint only a handful of the new influx of MPs as ‘extreme left-wingers’, including people like Cambridge’s Robert Davies, who is pledged to support anti-trade-union legislation. A swing in the middle class was the common interpretation of the result – a vote for rationalisation by the Party of the Nation rather than for massive social change. Leftists could draw comfortable conclusions as they pleased – in the shape of a Third Party or a Hegemonic Party or an Alternative Leadership leading a working-class disillusioned with social democracy to socialist revolution.

The only way of avoiding optimistic platitudes or pseudo-psephological generalisations is an analysis of the vote in greater depth. Take the constituency of Sheffield Heeley. Typical of many of the northern urban constituencies, building on the 1964 result and achieving a large swing of over six per cent in going Labour, Heeley does not bear out the general interpretations. Helped by a strong organisation using the Reading system for the first time, though certainly not helped by the grey orthodoxy of the candidate, the Labour Party pulled out vast numbers of supporters in predominately working-class polling districts. The constituency turnout of 77.5 per cent was higher than most, and a comparison of the turnout figures for the polling districts shows:

Polling District



Labour Vote as
Percentage of
Total (Estimated
on 1966 Canvass)

Firbeck (A)



Gleadless Valley (B)



Dalewood (C)






  1. that there was a bigger Labour vote in the old working-class areas (A) and on the new council estates (B) than in 1964;
  2. that the Labour vote in the socially aspirant middle-class areas (C) remained very static while the Tory vote was as high as ever; and
  3. that in the areas where any middle-class swing should conceivably have occurred, a low turnout tends only to reveal a certain amount of middle-class abstention. These polling districts (D), bordering on Sheffield’s Green Belt, are the habitat of the public relations men and the laboratory workers of the steelworks, plus the bright young men of a technocratically-influenced university – all of them, we are told, the best voting fodder for the New Britain ideology.

Evidence, then, of a vast working-class vote for Harold Wilson is by no amount of extension a vote for the overthrow of capitalism. This evidence is also relevant to the low turnout in strong Labour seats elsewhere, interpreted by some as a demonstration of a fundamental ambivalence towards Wilsonism, or even as a kind of protest abstention by politically conscious workers. The organisation in Heeley was strengthened by a contingent of canvassers from the NE Derbyshire Labour Party – with the result that there was a decreased turnout in their own constituency. So, in the seats like Islington, Salford East and West, and Stepney, where the turnout was below or around 50 per cent, the weakness of the party organisation and turnout can be attributed at least in part to the involvement of party workers in nearby marginals.

Bernard Crick, Professor of Politics at Sheffield University and right-wing Labour ideologue, wrote that the election had seen the Labour Party in government (pragmatic and all that) gain the deferential vote. In seeing this section of the working-class vote as a function of strong government rather than of a trust in the ‘moneyed party,’ he no doubt had Sheffield Heeley, adjacent to his own (safe Tory) seat, very much in mind. The new Tory candidate in Heeley had none of the charisma of the 1964 candidate – a big local capitalist with over 20 directorships – and the Tory Party was no longer led in an aristocratic way. This fact should not blind the Left to the determined mandate the working-class as a whole has given to Harold Wilson and his clearly-expressed ‘classless’ politics.

It would be surprising at the very least if the British working class, 18 months after the election of the first Labour government in conditions of prosperity, with a precarious majority as an excuse for its shortcomings, did not give ‘their’ representatives another chance. The Left would have grounds for real negativism if they had returned the Tories again. The lesson of the election was predictable. The insertion of revolutionary ideas into the Labour movement must be continued at greater intensity, but easy generalisations are no sure basis for this. We are still at square one – the task is the insertion of class-based politics at rank-and-file level, with the clear knowledge of the potential of that class. To suggest that the potential is yet achieved would be to indulge in the lack of realism, or the impressionistic analysis this examination has attempted to discredit.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 13 June 2018