Charles Van Gelderen   |   ETOL Main Page

Charlie van Gelderen

Postmortem on Blackpool

(November 1968)

From International, Vol. 1 No. 7, November 1968, p. 7.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There was a time, in the hey-day of Bevin, Williamson and Deakin, when the platform at Labour’s Annual Conference could always rely on the block votes of the trade unions to save it from the wrath of the constituency parties. Those were the days when Harold Wilson used to top the polls in the constituency section, followed closely by Barbara Castle. Those were the days when even the redoubtable Herbert Morrison was defeated in the NEC elections and the special post of Deputy Leader had to be created to get him back on.

All that has changed. Under the impact of the anti-working class legislation introduced by Harold Wilson’s Government, and with a new generation of leaders more responsive to the demands of the rank-and-file, the unions have shifted to the left. This same dismal record of the Labour Government has driven many active socialists either out of the Labour Party or into inactivity. As a result the delegates to conference from the constituency parties represent a more right-ward trend than of recent years. Disillusionment among former activists is another of the achievements of Harold Wilson and his fellow ministers.

The capitalist press has not hesitated to hail Blackpool 1968 as a triumph for Wilson. Did not Frank Cousins himself lead the standing ovation? But a triumph for what? The so-called Mid-term Manifesto was not only an apology for the Government’s shortcomings it was also a pledge that it would continue to under-pin the capitalist system for as far as can be seen into the future.

This same determination to link Labour Britain with the capitalist west was revealed in the NEC’s determination to link condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia with a call for strengthening NATO. It is encouraging that nearly half the votes were against this.

Although the unions showed their determination to defeat the incomes policy, they did not show the same socialist zeal when it came to dealing with other social issues. The resolution on housing, calling for the nationalisation of building land and the building industry; which condemned rent rebate schemes (so beloved by many Labour controlled local authorities); urged the use of empty office blocks for housing and which rejected the Prices and Incomes Board report on council rents, should never have been defeated. Thia brings home the point that many of the union leaders oppose the Government’s incomes legislation only because it threatens their own bureaucratic positions.

On the National Health services there now appears to be an open conflict between the Labour Party and the Labour Government. The platform accepted the resolution from the Socialist Medical Association affirming support for a free and democratic National Health Service. How will the Government square this with its introduction of prescription charges?

It won’t of course. As far as Wilson is concerned, Annual Conference is now just an occasion when he can exercise his oratorical skills. Anti-Government resolutions help, in their way, to create a happy atmosphere and show how “democratic” we are. They don’t have much effect on Government policy.

Wilson showed his real and utter contempt for Conference by flying, off to meet Ian Smith in Gibraltar, almost immediately after he left Blackpool, despite the fact that a resolution was carried by 5,124,000 votes to 2,661,000 that the pledge of No Independence BEFORE Majority Rule (NIBMAR) was not negotiable. On board the Fearless, Wilson showed that not only was he prepared to sell the 4 million black Rhodesians down the line but also his much ventilated principles to say nothing of the rank-and-file of the party he is supposed to lead. There can be no doubt that the so-called “entrenchment clauses” in the proposed Rhodesian constitution will have as little effect to safeguard the interests of the African majority as they did in the “South Africa Act” which handed power to the white minority in what is now the apartheid state of South Africa.

The false air of euphoria with which conference ended will evaporate and the few active members still left in the constituencies will have to grapple with the consequences as they prepare for the next elections. This Government and the present leadership of the party can only prepare the ground for a devastating defeat at the polls. It is all very well talking about the “virus of Powellism”, but failing a militant, socialist lead from Labour, the dangerous demagogy of Enoch Powell will undoubtedly attract many working class votes. It is time to wake up.

Charles Van Gelderen Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 9 December 2020