Newsnotes 029 – May 1992

Notes on the News

by Madawc Williams

McLunatic polls

It was fitting that Kinnock’s leadership should come to an end with a complaint about the media. He had spent his whole time in power trying to make Labour what the media said it ought to be, even when this was quite unlike what Labour’s actual supporters wanted it to be. When it came to the election, what he was offering was very little different from what John Major was already providing. Since the Daily Beasts then turned on him, doing as their masters were telling them to do, his defeat was not at all surprising.

If Labour is ever to get elected, it has to forget the dogmas of Marshall McLuhan, the man who first said “the medium is the message”. It’s just not true – and who even remembers what medium McLuhan used to deliver that particular message? Labour was much too timid about saying the things the media didn’t want to hear.

The fact that the Tories have increased taxes, and dumped more of them on poor and middle-income groups was just not said often enough. People should have been told time and time again that it was their VAT that was paying for tax cuts. They should have been told time and again that the rich get the lions’ s share of cuts in income tax.

The Tory campaign concentrated on conning people – convincing them that they were about to be loaded with huge taxes. Labour should not have stuck to polite protests when the media started telling lies. They should have pointed out that top presenters and journalists get very large salaries and have been doing very nicely out of the Tories. They should have called some of those people liars, and pointed out who their owners were. An aggressive anti-media campaign would probably have made all the difference.

Above all, the polls should not have been trusted. The Tory campaign went out to play on selfishness and fear. The gap between the exit polls and the actual votes prove that a fair chunk of the population voted Tory in a rather shame-faced spirit, knowing that good causes like the NHS were being hurt, but imagining that the profits would go into their own pockets.

The media flatter people, kid them into thinking that they are much closer to the ‘top people’ than they actually are. Most people will rate themselves as well above average, given half a chance.

Most people are also very willing to believe that the media are out to con them. But the Labour leadership was never able to convince themselves that there was indeed a real world of independent-minded people, out there beyond the confines of the media picture. Even Kinnock, with very little left to lose, chose to go with a whimper rather than a bang.


A working-class section?

The new “dream ticket” is being talked about, to balance north and south, left and right, even perhaps male and female. On this basis, perhaps the deputy’s job should go to Dianne Abbott. As a black female Londoner, she’d fill three quotas at once. (Considered just as a person, she might actually do a good job- better than some of the names being put up, certainly.)

But what’s remarkable is that no one is talking about class or social origin. Smith and Gould are both very obviously middle class. Indeed, John Prescott is the one and only serious candidate who isn’t middle class. Labour used to be a mix of ‘workers by hand and brain. But since the 1960s, it has become increasingly dominated by middle-class public sector workers, especially teachers and lecturers. This one group accounted for no less than 113 of Labour’s candidates. (The Independent, 27th March.) This contrasts with a mere 25 who were political officers or trade union officials, and a mere 22 lawyers. No figures were given for industrial workers, or even for ordinary office workers – these are presumably so few as not to be worth recording.

Is it any wonder that skilled manual workers switched over to the Tories under Thatcher, and mostly failed to switch back at the last election.

[Sadly, this has not yet been fixed.  Even the recent move left under Corbyn has ignored the inequalities of work and class background.]


Liberal-Democrats – a remnant once again

Back in the late 19th century, when the working class began to get the vote, some of the Tories decided that they would make that vote their own, leaving the Liberals with just the middle classes. Lord Randolph Churchill (father of Winston) was a pioneer of this policy, but it became part of the general Tory understanding of politics.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Liberals had a brief burst of reforming glory in the 1900s, and then went into decline. It was a complex process – Winston Churchill went from Tory to Liberal to Tory as part of it But it ended with the Liberals reduced to a remnant, always hoping for great things but never achieving them.

The SDP split from Labour seemed to have changed all that Surely the Liberals could not waste such an opportunity and go back to being a nice fringe party? It seemed impossible – and yet the Liberals managed it They wrecked the SDP after the previous election, and this one has put them right back where they started from.


The life-blood of industry

You may remember the recent news that British scientists had developed a practical form of artificial blood. With the menace of AIDS and other blood-born diseases, this is not just an important development, but also likely to be profitable.

But not for British industry. The scientists in question searched in vain for a British backer. Their discovery will be developed by a US firm instead. This is a typical pattern, well-known even in the 19th century. British businessmen are not just ignorant – they don’t want to know what science has to offer.

Mrs Thatcher was a defector from Industrial Chemistry. She was getting nowhere until she managed to marry a rich businessman, whereupon she began retraining as a barrister, and then suddenly achieved success in politics. Given this background, and her smug aggressive silly self-righteous attitude, it is hardly surprising that she bashed British science, weakening many of the areas in which Britain was still world-class. She gave huge subsidies to the businessmen, but these remain second-rate, true to the traditions that lost us our lead as the world’s first industrial nation.

It’s lucky we’re in the Common Market.  If it was left to home-grown ‘entrepreneurs’, we’d soon be falling behind Latin America.


Dead canaries

During the 1980s we saw ordinary British youngsters sleeping on the streets, while huge resources were pushed into building clumps of luxury office blocks. The ‘miracle of the market’ led developers to do this, and this same miracle is now dumping a vast surplus of unwanted office space onto a saturated market.

Canary Wharf is a splendid monument to Thatcherism. Enormous and enormously dull, it stands in the middle of the chaos of Docklands, a ‘development’ area blighted by its lack of good public transport Its owners, Olympia and York, are looking for some 100 million to complete it. They may get it, too, despite being fully 20 thousand million dollars in debt.

Banks crack down on ordinary debtors, but have to be tolerant of those who are too rich to be allowed to crash, those whose crash might cause a financial panic. Ordinary band depositors and creditors will bear the ultimate burned of bailing out the very rich.

Why was such speculative folly ever allowed in the first place? Ask Thatcher.


These newsnotes appeared in May 1992, in Issue 29 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. For more, see