J. Alan Smith offers some advice to the Leader of the Opposition
To be strictly accurate, Jeremy Corbyn has not actually requested any advice from me about the construction of a Labour Manifesto for the next General Election. Nevertheless, we all know what is likely to happen. He’ll probably leave the matter until the last moment and then ask me when I’m busy on something else. Just to be prepared, I’ve produced these notes in advance so that, when he does ask me for advice on the subject, I’ll be ready for him.
At a general election, the majority of the electorate cannot be bothered to study the minutiæ of the policies that the various parties have on offer. In this they are probably wise, since reality often prevents a successful party from implementing every small detail of its proposals. Instead, the electorate try and judge whether they can identify themselves with the image that a party projects, and whether they sympathize with the general theme behind the party’s policies. The long-term aim of a party in a parliamentary democracy is to establish its own world-view as a consensus held by all parties, rather than to claim exclusive ownership of its world-view; so that, when it loses power, the temporary success of its world-view is reversed.
The Labour Party came into existence at the start of the 20th century because the Conservative and Liberal
Parties had failed to secure the
support of the majority of manual workers and their families; this is a declining group because of the facts of industrial change. The Labour Party needs to expand its
natural constituency both to retain its existing position and to build on it. Labour’s past failure to expand is shown by its manifest lack of appeal to those social classes immediately adjacent to the manual workers: this is illustrated by the folk song in which the hero ceased to regard himself as working class after he had obtained the position of foreman. This lack of appeal was assisted by comments such as that of Manny Shinwell: ‘We know that the organized workers of the country are our friends. As for the rest, they don’t matter a tinker’s cuss.’
Such comments may be understandable in the light of the times in which they were uttered; but they stand in the way of today’s Labour Party. It must expand from its present base to become a truly One-Nation Party. For example, the rich ought to pay more in taxes than the poor; but the attitude of ‘Soak the Rich’ must be discarded, suggesting as it does a perverse preference for other people’s pain over one’s own pleasure.
Labour’s origin as the defenders of the weakest members of society raises the question of the abortion of the unwanted unborn, and the euthanasia of the unwanted
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old and sick. These questions are avoided by leaving them to the consciences of individual MPs; but how will parties’ reluctance to grasp the nettle look to future generations? Suppose Hitler had said: ‘The Nazi Party has no policy on the extermination of the Jews but leaves it to the free vote of members of the Reichstag.’
The Labour Party should retain much of the present political consensus within the United Kingdom. The monarchy is popular with Labour’s natural supporters, whose lot would hardly be improved by replacing it with a system like that of the USA in which any billionaire is free to run for the Presidency. Past preferences for a united Ireland should be put aside: in Northern Ireland, manual workers who vote for unionist parties are no less working class than those who vote for nationalist parties.
Defence of the realm is a major role for any government. When the post-war American government ‘forgot’ Britain’s wartime role in the development of the atomic bomb, the Labour government led by Clement Attlee introduced Britain’s atomic and hydrogen bombs. This policy was defended in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevan against strong opposition within the Labour Party. There is, of course, a moral argument against the possession of nuclear weapons; but it would be undermined by a decision to abandon our own and rely on our being defended by those of the USA.
The benefit system should enable everyone to have appropriate resources for their physical needs, while minimizing the disincentives
to work. Governments must check the marginal disincentives for all, looking at both those produced by high rates of direction taxation and those produced by the withdrawal of selective benefits.
Some readers may feel that, as I am not a supporter of the Labour Party, I have no right to suggest what their policies should be. This attitude would miss the point. It is in the national interest that any potential government has the best possible set of policies, and it is the duty of us all to help bring this about. ND