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Henry Judd

LP Seeks Middle-Class Vote;
Tories Fighting for Existence

(13 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 7, 13 February 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On February 23, over 30 million people in England will vote in one of that nation’s most historic elections. In the past there have been perhaps more dramatic elections, revolving around a particular issue, but none of greater significance. No matter how unclearly they may be expressed, fundamental issues of ideology and sociology are at stake.

The present British Labor government was elected early in the post-war period on the basis that the sufferings and sacrifices of the British masses during the war years had earned them a victory which could only be expressed in terms of a profound social change in the structure and operation of British society as a whole. However one may criticize and attempt to deepen the changes which have occurred in England since 1945, the fact remains that the Labor government has directed the nation in a certain direction and has set into motion an economy and system of social reforms which push the .country in the general direction of socialism.

The question at issue in the elections therefore is: Shall this tendency towards socialism, as interpreted in terms of the Labor Party’s program, policy and the national characteristics of England, continue, grow stronger and more powerful – or shall the trend be brought to an abrupt halt, and every possible effort be made to turn it in an opposite direction?

Bitter Fight Ahead

Two great parties – the Labor Party representing the great working-class masses of England, and the Conservative (Tory) Party, the party of the British bourgeois, aristocrat, landlord and upper middle class – confront each other. The traditional right-conservative party, the Liberal Party, ceased to exist for. all practical purposes at the last elections and no one expects it to return. Now that the king has dissolved Parliament, with all the necessary pomp and circumstances, the campaign (in reality, it has been on for a year at least) can begin in earnest.

Everything indicates that the remaining weeks before the voting will be weeks of bitter attack and counterattack on the part of the contenders. They both know well what is at stake! Up to this point, it is clear that the Tory party,, headed by that masterly political scoundrel and reactionary, Winston Churchill, is on the most determined offensive of its history. It may not be true, but it is fighting as if its very existence is in the balance. If only the same thing could be said for the Labor Party ...

The latter’s campaign, up to this point a purely defensive one, would appear to be based exclusively on an appeal to the middle-class vote, that vote which assured “ their victory In 1945. With a rather bureaucratic smugness, their spokesmen (Attlee, Morrison, etc.) take the working-class vote for granted, and direct their propaganda to that dubious entity called the “woman’s vote,” and the professional sections of the middle class.

The emphasis is upon the various social services, equitable rationing system, etc., which the Labor government has built up, with practically nothing said about a further socialist advance, even in terms of the reformist conceptions of the Labor Party. It is possible that under the aggressive blows of the Tory attack, the Labor leaders will be compelled to state their perspective more precisely, but at this point it is clear they hope to win the election by a narrow margin, to slip through to victory without the obligation of too many social and economic commitments.

By contrast with the election for a new socialist Britain which they waged in 1945, their campaign to this point is a model of bureaucratic conservatism and routinism. We can only hope for a livening up and a clearer posing of the issues. It is noteworthy that the more left-wing members of the Labor Party leadership, such as Aneurin Bevan of the Tribune group, arc playing little part so far.

Will Labor Play It Safe?

Despite the emphasis on machine politics, there can be no question who represents the side of social and political progress in this campaign. If Labor loses votes, it will have only itself to blame for its unwillingness to press its program forward, and to emphasize the social and revolutionary implications of that program. On the side of Churchill stands not only British reaction (the bourgeoisie, landowners, and upper middle class), but general world reaction, with America in the first place.

A Labor victory will not, to be sure, overwhelm the Tory cheerleaders in America who have shown their ability to work with the Labor conservatives for over five years, but it will be a blow at their hopes for a continuation of the rightist swing noticeable in European elections and in Australia recently. A Churchill victory will encourage American imperialism’s war plans and preparations, as well as the entire reactionary set of doctrinaires gathered around Dewey, Taft, the right wing of the Democratic Party, etc.

If Labor continues to play the campaign “safe,” the possibility of defeat – or a victory of such narrow proportions as to constitute a moral defeat – may well be the result. We ask in amazement what these men are afraid of? Churchill, whose victory everyone understands brings war that much closer? The Tory leadership, a bankrupt clique of aristocratic politicians without any program except to “denationalize” whatever they can, and cut down social-reform measures to the bone?

Only disillusionment with the practice of the Labor Party will deprive it of its vast support among the middle classes. As for the British working class, its desire for bold and aggressive leadership against the Tories is clear enough. In 1945, the Labor Party polled nearly 12 million votes of which 7 million were working-class, trade-union votes. The 5 million middle-class vote is of utmost importance, but timidity and conservative assurance will not guarantee its continued support to the Labor regime.

As the campaign warms up, we shall return to this subject. Let us hope that the Labor Party’s rank-and-file membership begin to turn on the heat and say what their leaders apparently are unwilling to say, namely, that something vital is really at issue.

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