Ted Grant

Behind the Bye-Election Results

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 4 no. 3 (April 1962)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

The government has suffered its worst electoral blow since 1951 in the bye-election results. The Tory vote has been falling everywhere. In Orpington it dropped from 24,303 to 14,991. The Liberals rose from 9,092 to 22,846, and Labour’s poll fell from 9,543 to 5,350. In the other bye-elections Labour held its seats, but with a lower poll, while the government poll dropped as well.

The significance of the election is the swing by the lower middle and middle class against the vicious measures of the government, which have hit this section of the population hard. Only big business has benefited from the economic measures of the government.

But the outstanding significance of the elections has been the failure of the Gaitskell policy to attract the middle class or even to keep the enthusiasm of the Labour voters. Big sections of the white collar workers have been abandoning their traditional attitudes. The revolt of the teachers and civil service unions was an indication of this process. But they have not been attracted to the policy of the Labour Party which has painted itself as “respectable” as the Tories. They have voted for the “radicalism” of the Liberals. Many industrial workers too have been attracted to the banner of the Liberals. In the industrial strongholds of Labour the Liberals have succeeded in hardly making a dent in the Labour ranks. But nevertheless the Labour poll has dropped.

After 11 years of Tory rule and systematic Tory legislation in the interests of the rich and privileged, the Labour Party has failed to make an impact on the workers and middle class disillusioned with the Tories, and not even a crusading spirit among its own supporters.

The theory of Gaitskell and the right wing that a watering down of the socialist programme of the Labour Party would succeed in winning over the middle class can be seen to be falsified by events.

The way to win the middle class is first to win the working class! With a vigorous uninhibited programme of socialism the organised industrial workers could be aroused and mobilised for a fighting campaign. A programme which exposes the exploitation of the banks, insurance companies and great industrial combines. The demonstration of the results of so-called “free enterprise” have been admitted by the Tories in their lip-service to the idea of “planning”.

Surely all this should have provided a splendid opportunity to carry the fight against the capitalist enemy. It is the way to mobilise the youth, the trade union workers and of course the workers in the constituency parties. With an aroused labour movement it would be possible to mount a campaign for the resignation of the government and for new elections.

The middle class in times of difficulty such as today tends to swing from one side to the other. They are looking for a solution to their problems: high rents, high taxes, high mortgage payments, the freezing of their wages and so on. Labour should have a programme to cater for their needs and interests. But above all the middle class can be won to a programme of socialism by explaining that only thus can their problems be solved.

The middle class and white collar workers would follow the lead of the industrial workers if they were actively campaigning on the issues sketched above.

The policy of the right wing has led from one retreat to another, from one disaster to the next. At a time when the ranks of Labour should be growing by leaps and bounds there is a feeling of apathy within the ranks. Give the ranks a fighting appeal and they would carry the message of socialism from Lands End to John O’Groats!

To support Liberalism, it should be explained, is to move from the Tweedledum of capitalism to its Tweedledee. Despite the radical demands put forward by the Liberals, in reality they are as strong supporters of capitalism as the Tories. The bottom dropped out of the Liberal Party when Labour put forward a working class alternative to capitalism. The revival of this discredited party is an indictment of the policies pursued by the leadership for the last 10 years.

What is worse, the failure to develop a militant campaign now can lead to a Tory revival once the economic situation improves. Workers and middle class people not attracted to Labour’s banner now will certainly not be attracted then. If the labour movement is not crusading now, how [can it] invoke the spirit of sacrifice and work among the rank and file then?

Thus present tendencies and future perspectives imperatively demand that the policy and programme worked out by the last two conferences on the question of nationalisation and planning must be implemented and not allowed to remain paper resolutions. A serious attempt to carry this programme to the people would arouse such a wave of enthusiasm and struggle as to drive the Tories from power.