Ted Grant

Labour Must Go Left or Go Under—Says Gallup Poll

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 1 no. 8 (September 1958)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Proofread: Fred 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

The Tories have held on to power for seven years in the face of a series of setbacks for the working class and the people of Britain. The Tory Party has shown itself clearly as the party of the landlords, the bankers and Big Business. And yet Tory rule drags on.

The dispirited ranks of the professional Tories have been encouraged by a regaining, not of support, but of toleration of the Tory Government among the people. Labour has not seemed to offer any alternative. In the eyes of the masses, to the strong Tory policy they have counterposed—a weak Tory policy.

For the last few years the argument of the trade-union and Labour leadership, under the inspiration of Gaitskell, has been that only a “sound and realistic” policy could win the uncommitted voters. Nothing must be done to offend the middle class or the people who vacillate between the parties. “Extremes” would frighten the voters away. Respectability was the thing: they tried to look more liberal than the Liberals and more staid and solid than the Tories.

From a long term point of view, even if successful such policies would have been disastrous for the Party and for socialism. With the developing slump, capitalist policies cannot serve the needs of the people or promote the development of the British economy.

But, as the Left Wing warned, even from a short-term point of view, such a policy is shortsighted. The ostensible reason for failing to put forward socialist policies—the gaining of a majority at a General Election—would result in exactly the opposite. All this is not a question of “theory,” which these “practical” politicians just wave aside, but of the realities of the class struggle itself. All the warnings of the “impractical dreamers” have been shown to be realistic, and the “realists” have been shown to be impractical dreamers.

Labour voters dismayed

The Tory voters have been alienated, the Liberals have turned away, and the wavering middle-class and non-committed voters so beloved of Gaitskell (remember his justification of the watering down of policy at the last Labour Conference by the “need to win the non-committed voter”?), have been driven into the arms of the Tories.

Meanwhile the Labour voters have been disgusted, demoralised and rendered completely apathetic. In the last issue of Socialist Fight we wrote:

“The policy of the Gaitskell leadership, which gives the impression of the Labour Party as a second-class Tory Party, or at best a more sober version of the Liberal Party, has obviously failed utterly in its ostensible purpose. Those who are satisfied with Tory policy will vote Tory. Those who are dissatisfied will look for something different. The mythical middle of the road voter, given a choice between two types of Conservative policy, will obviously plump for the firmer and more reliable one. Hence the policy of watering down Labour’s programme alienates all those in the working-class movement who want to fight capitalism. At the same time, it does not provide a point of attraction to those awakening for the first time to disgust with the policies of the Tory Government.

“If Labour continues along this road, it will bring disaster upon itself.”

The latest Gallup Poll has vindicated this standpoint completely (News Chronicle, August 25th). From the questions put to a cross-section of the electorate, the following conclusions are drawn.

“This lack of enthusiasm, if it continues into the General Election, must mean that a high proportion of Labour supporters will stay at home on polling day.” It was this which was the main factor in gaining the victory for the Tories in the last General Election, when more than two million former Labour voters did not vote.

Labour ranks critical

The survey goes on:

“Critics within Labour’s ranks are overwhelmingly of the opinion that Labour policy needs to become ‘a more definite Labour policy.’

“For every one Labour supporter who says that the Labour Party would be less attractive if the Labour Party moved to the Left, there are six who say that such a movement, would make the Party more attractive to them. Even among those who say that they approve of present Labour policy, there would be very little resistance (8 percent) to a Leftward movement.

“To sum up: the amazing recovery of Government fortunes lays bare the weakness of the Labour Party…The Poll shows that if Labour is to win the election, by virtue of a positive appeal, the Party has to turn to the Left and establish an image that is distinct from that of the Conservative Party.”

What excuse can the leadership offer now for not giving a clear socialist lead? The advanced elements of Labour must rouse themselves before it is too late. In every ward, in every Constituency Party and trade union branch, resolutions must pour in demanding that the leadership wage a campaign against the Tory Government on a clear socialist programme.

Bold leadership wanted

A General Election cannot be delayed for very much longer. The Gallup Poll proves what the members want, what the workers want, what the voters want.

It is fashionable in top trade union and Labour circles to blame the members and the workers for not going out on the knocker and conducting a campaign. The same argument on the industrial front has been annihilatingly refuted by the London bus and dock strikes. The workers will respond to a fighting lead. This will be even more true of the political front. What is wanted is bold socialist leadership bashing capitalism all along the line.

The atmosphere of disillusionment, of apathy, of despair and of indifference is the entire responsibility of the leadership. Let Labour give a fighting lead and the situation in Britain would be transformed.

However, advanced workers must ask themselves the question: how is it that the leadership has been able to get away with such disastrous policies for so long? It is because of lack of a conscious Left Wing in every trade union and Constituency Party, around a programme such as that put forward by Socialist Fight, which can act as a spearhead to the whole Labour Movement and the whole working-class.