Going for Gould
- Apocalypse 2000: Economic Breakdown and the Suicide of Democracy 1989-2000 by Peter Jay and Michael Stewart
Sidgwick, 254 pp, £12.95, June 1987, ISBN 0 293 99440 4
Election post-mortems concentrate, reasonably enough, on how the electorate actually behaved – which class, which region or which sex swung most. In 1987 the most striking finding was surely the highly differential way in which the sexes behaved. Among men the pro-Labour swing from the Tories was a mere 0.5 per cent, but among women it was nine times greater, at 4.5 per cent. (All figures here are based on the vast MORI sample of 23,396 voters interviewed in the course of the campaign, weighted to the actual outcome.) Further analysis of that swing shows a peculiar age distribution among women: among the 35-54 age-group women moved only 2 per cent towards Labour; the 25-34s swung 6.5 per cent; and the 18-24s a massive 11 per cent. (The shift among men aged 18-24 was only 1.5 per cent to Labour.) The real peculiarity is that women aged 55-65 also moved 4.5 per cent to Labour and women over 65 showed a 7 per cent Labour swing. That is to say, it was the middle-aged who were the odd women out: not only did far more younger women swing to Labour, but so did many more older women. Without doubt, most of these middle-aged women who stuck with the Tories lived in the South: Southern women showed a pro-Labour swing only one-third as great as that of Northern women. Even so, women in the South did show a pro-Labour swing, while the men swung clearly towards the Tories.
Vol. 9 No. 18 · 15 October 1987
SIR: R.W. Johnson (LRB, 23 July) calls for Labour to start selecting Oxford graduates as Parliamentary candidates, as a way of increasing its intellectual status. As a mature student at Oxford, with a trade-union background, may I state that I do not really believe Mr Johnson fully understands the reasons why Labour no longer draws its intellectuals from Oxford. He correctly points out that the greatest period of Oxford influence was in the Fifties and Sixties. That was a period of consensus, compromise and agreement, with Oxford reflecting this mood. Political discussions took place in the comfort of the common rooms, and student politicians received their training in the elegant surroundings of the Oxford Union. It was also a time when higher education was largely confined to those people coming straight from school, with only the most brilliant scholars from the working class being accepted. Public schools and the upper middle class held sway. Unfortunately, that is an atmosphere which still prevails in modern Oxford, and which has led to its decreasing influence in Labour affairs. Oxford politics are still about consensus, and therefore of course the party of consensus, the SDP, dominates Oxford’s political circles. Outside of Oxford, the streets are burning but dons still hanker for the golden era of detached intellectual debate. Mrs Thatcher has shattered the ideals of compromise and has polarised the country, but still Oxford cries out for a middle way. Mr Kinnock may not be an intellectual giant but he does represent and symbolise the anger and frustration of people who have seen their lives destroyed by this government.
Wadham College, Oxford
Vol. 9 No. 20 · 12 November 1987
SIR: Mr Xavier asserts that I ‘call for Labour to start selecting Oxford graduates as Parliamentary candidates’ (Letters, 15 October). I’m afraid this is quite untrue. The trends in Labour élite recruitment are a sociological phenomenon one could hardly influence by issuing ‘calls’ of any kind, and personally I have no ambition to change the way in which either the Labour Party or Oxford graduates behave. Mr Xavier also seems to have invented his own picture of Oxford in the Sixties, when, he says, the place was all civilised elegance, public schoolboys and moderate politics confined to common rooms. Mr Xavier was not here in the Sixties. I was. When I came up, there had just been major street violence when an anti-apartheid demonstration against the South African Ambassador had got out of control. The Oxford Union was in the hands of the far Left – first Eric Abrahams, then Tariq Ali. Most Oxford economists seemed to be off working for the Labour Government. Very large numbers of students were on the far Left and a student Tory was an unusual thing. Sit-ins and occupations were fairly common. The whole era was the most wonderful fun, enjoyed by large numbers of students who were not English public school products. Mr Xavier wishes to attack Oxford for its present-day SDP-ish cosiness. Well and good – that’s his business. But his criticism might carry more weight if he did not combine it with distortions of what I wrote and of the facts of past history.
Magdalen College, Oxford
Vol. 9 No. 22 · 10 December 1987
SIR: Now that he is settling down to over-fed middle age as a fellow of Oxford’s most desirable college, R.W. Johnson seems to be under some sort of compulsion to create the myth of a revolutionary Oxford in the Sixties (Letters, 12 November). He says that sit-ins and occupations were fairly common: he does not mention that much the largest such manifestation, the storming of the Clarendon Building, involved less than 5 per cent of the undergraduates then in residence. He talks of a Union dominated by left-wingers like Tariq Ali but does not mention the Union’s declining prestige and increasingly marginal role in undergraduate life, or the even greater weight people like William Waldegrave and Gyles Brandreth had in Union affairs. He says, ‘The whole era was the most wonderful fun, enjoyed by large numbers of students who were not English public school products,’ but he does not mention the even larger number – including practically everyone I met while an undergraduate 1966-1969 – who were bored, frustrated and above all disillusioned by an Oxford that was so much more mundane than their school daydreams. He no doubt recalls the political graffiti covering the walls of Balliol but ignores the predominantly right-wing tone of colleges like St John’s, Keble, Teddy Hall etc, or the snobbishness and social polarisation. All this is brilliantly evoked in Leo Bellingham’s Oxford, The Novel which has a particularly savage chapter dealing with the undergraduate Left. Even in those days they thought Oxford was the English university counterpart of Paris ’68. Perhaps one should be grateful that the naive fantasies of nearly twenty years ago have not lost their magic, but one would like to know what it is that R.W. Johnson is teaching to his predominantly public-school-educated pupils at Magdalen: is it History and Politics or is it the Art of the Fairy Story?
Vol. 10 No. 5 · 3 March 1988
SIR: I can’t decide whether R.W. Johnson (Letters, 4 February) is offering himself as a knight come from the people to rescue me from the evil influence of Wicked Barons Scargill and Livingstone; or whether he is a bully hurling himself, rugby style, at me, the besotted little woman, as an easy substitute for doing battle with the Great Leaders themselves. If it is the former, I’m afraid I would have to turn him down. I do not find his populism convincing. He appeals to me in the name of the ‘once-Labour working class of Brent’. But only a few months ago he was arguing that one of Labour’s problems is that it no longer has Oxbridge graduates at its helm (LRB, 23 July 1987). Johnson speaks with a forked tongue: he’s with the working class as voters, potential supporters and when generally behaving as ‘the masses’, but when they have the cheek to take on leading positions, challenge the Government, run London – well, no wonder the Labour Party is in the mess it is.
Anyway, I don’t need rescuing. I supported striking miners and their families and worked for the GLC without believing that their leaders walked on water. Anyone who has read the critical essays I co-edited about the GLC – A Taste of Power: The Politics of Local Economics, reviewed in the London Review (LRB, 17 September 1987) – will know that talk of my ‘devotion to Great Leaders’ is twaddle. Misogynist twaddle, judging by its tone!
The evidence for the bully thesis is more convincing. First, a bully smears the character of his victim so that his ruthlessness appears heroic. In the school playground the taunt is ‘softy’. In the pages of the LRB, too, Johnson’s innuendo is that I am a softy, soft on Scargill, soft on Livingstone – a softness leading to Stalinism. By contrast, Johnson poses as the tough, hard-nosed inside-dopester, prepared to reveal the facts, however unpalatable. But who are the insiders that our sleuth consorts with? If the rumours they pass on to him are based on fact, why didn’t they make their accusations during the election for the NUM President, when every move of the number one national bogeyman was being followed by a pack of hungry industrial reporters? In accusing me of Stalinism, isn’t Johnson relying on exactly the sort of people who enable Stalinist – and Labourist – authoritarianism to flourish: cowardly people who smear their enemies by innuendo rather than risk their own position by engaging in open debate?
My book was not about the NUM, or the miners’ strike; I discussed aspects of the strike to illustrate Labour’s bewildered, unbelieving reaction to the breakdown of the old corporatism on which it so depended. So I do not intend to answer all Johnson’s remarks about the NUM’s finances. But it has to be said that there are certain elementary points on which he misleads LRB readers.
First, on the legal position of donations to striking miners and their families. He complains that there is ‘no trace’ of the money from the Soviet miners in the NUM’s accounts. In doing so, he overlooks the fact that for most of the strike the NUM was not in control of its finances: they were in the hands of the Sequestrator or Official Receiver. Consequently all donations went either into the independent Solidarity Fund, to Women Against Pit Closures or directly to paying the NUM’s creditors. Anything paid to the NUM – and appearing in its accounts – would have gone straight into the hands of the Receiver. People and organisations made their donations through necessarily unofficial channels. If any of these did not reach their intended destination, I would like to see the evidence. None of the arguments in my book or underlying my support for the miners or their families depend on a cover-up.
The most important clue to understanding the finances of the NUM, and just about everything else about the NUM, is its federal character. Johnson discusses its finances as if it was like any other national union, moving from ‘the NUM’ to ‘the leadership’ as if they were one and the same thing. He states that in spite of the NUM’s great wealth, its leadership paid nothing to striking miners and their families. But the NUM’s accounts indicate that Johnson cannot have it both ways: the only basis on which the NUM could be said to be wealthy before the strike was by including the assets of the financially-independent NUM Areas. But the majority of these Area Unions gave millions of pounds to striking miners and their families. They liquidated nearly a quarter of their assets for the purpose. If, on the other hand, Johnson is referring to the national organisation of the NUM, he is right: it did not pay anything to the strikers and their families – for the simple reason that without its normal income from subscriptions, it barely had enough to cover the costs of running the union. The NUM’s accounts are available from the Certification Office, 15-17 Ormond Yard SW1, and are discussed in The Finances of British Trade Unions 1975-85 by Paul Willman and T.J. Morris.
Perhaps the final proof of Johnson’s bullying methods is that by transferring to me his evident hostility to Scargill and accusing me of Stalinism, he tries, with a sideways swipe, to obliterate the purpose of my book: to bring the issue of democracy and the undemocratic character of the British state to the top of the Left’s agenda. I won’t be bullied and I am not in need of rescue, but if R.W. Johnson would like to debate the central arguments of Labour: A Tale of Two Parties, I would be delighted if he took up my publisher’s suggestion of a public debate – at his place or mine?