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Nigel Harris

Tory Trends

(Winter 1961)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.7, Winter 1961, pp.29-30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Pressure Group
H.H. Wilson
Secker and Warburg. 18s.

The Political Quarterly: The Conservative Party
Stevens. 8s 6d.

The two classic examples of Tory nationalization, straight public ownership under the control of ministerial nominations, date from the inter-war period: Airways and the BBC. Both have had commercial competitors put alongside them in the 1960. What this small historical detail implies is important – objectively, the terrorized twenties and thirties, when capitalism sheltered more and more behind State power, have disappeared, and private ownership has emerged to stand on its own feet without public crutches; subjectively, as Ralph Samuels has shown (Out of Apathy), the public service ethic is in decay, business supersedes State in attraction as a ruling-class career and the ‘Americanization’ of Britain speeds on its way. The trend is not altogether as clear as this yet – Cunard and Thomas-Baldwin still need heavy public grants, but the opposition shown to these measures in the Conservative Party indicates how difficult such action is getting. Professor Wilson has excellently documented one aspect of the trend – the long, bitter and powerful fight waged by the new young Conservatives to achieve commercial television in the face of fairly solid opposition from the old style Tories. It is an object lesson both in the collapse of an attitude and in the unseen growth of new forms of business power. Given the secrecy of the whole conflict, Mr Wilson has succeeded enormously well in piecing together the story. With the minimum comment, he traces the formation of the rival lobbies, the massive volume of publicity and articles turned out by the commercial side, the direct operation of advertizing and radio interests on Conservative MPs, all against the back-cloth of the preceding capture of the Conservative Research Centre by the commercial side. The issue was one of principle – although neither side argued as if it was. The party political content of the conflict was minimal, but the victory for business set precedents which will last until again capitalism needs a State frontage to survive.

The Political Quarterly’s spotlight on Conservatism is foggy and for the most part conventional and uninteresting. Conservatives operate under the curious assumption that it is their own merit which is the secret of their success – which leads to endless and tedious discussions of what Conservatism is. However, two pieces in the journal have some interest, for the same reasons as are suggested above in relationship to Wilson’s book – an article on the formation of policy by Hennessey and one on the relationship of Conference to the Party. For the rest, it is dull, pious and muddled.

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