Signposts for the Sixties is the first of the two documents which, in the words of Labour in the Sixties, “will . . . survey the major foreign and domestic problems now facing the British people”. This document, concerned with the “domestic problems”, is not intended to be a “detailed blueprint”, but rather “a clear statement both of our distinctive attitude to postwar capitalism and of the new direction we would give the nation’s affairs”. As such, it is the first important clue to the way the leadership has been thinking since the Clause 4 dispute. The word “clue” is used advisedly. The Right traditionally avoids detailing policy because it fears commitment at the Conference; this document, in its many obscurities, is merely following the pattern of its predecessors. The Left, without prospects of direct power and therefore always anxious to commit a recalcitrant leadership to a shopping list of commanding heights, is once again reduced to a search for clues. The question this time is: does this document remain within the Crosland framework or has the unexpected fight over Clause 4 caused the leadership to revise its thinking in accordance with the Left’s analysis of contemporary capitalism?
The use of “postwar capitalism” terminology suggests the former. On the other hand, the analysis (the document falls roughly into two parts, analysis and policy) seems to indicate a significant move towards the “private affluence and public squalor” thesis, to the extent even of quoting that famous phrase. There is, for instance, a new tone of aggression about private ownership. The main danger, we are told, lies in piecemeal deterioration and gradual political decline, rather than the “sudden catastrophe of slump and mass unemployment”. Two major symptoms of decline are the starvation of essential services and the “growth of new forms of privilege and the rapid concentration of economic power which has taken place since 1951”. There are other instances of this shift in emphasis. The sources are obvious—the Titmuss contributions, the Tribune pamphlet, Conviction, The Insiders and Crossman’s Socialism and the Affluent Society can all be seen staring somewhat bemusedly between the lines.
The anslysis is, in fact, largely a discussion of the growth of private power in terms which are, superficially, very different from those employed in Industry and Society. The latter, with its emphasis on the irrelevance of share-holding to control, followed the managerial revolution thesis to the letter. The present document acknowledges the domination of the economy by “a small ruling caste”, by the “top one per cent of the population” who “own nearly half the nation’s private wealth”. Furthermore, “these men are not only wealthy: they are also powerful—a small and compact oligarchy”. The description of the social interconnections of the Bank of England and bank directors, Government Ministers and company directors is dealing with the same material as The Insiders, though there is a significant omission of a cross-reference to membership of the Nationalised Boards.
But the analysis has another face, one which accords much more with the benign Crosland image of postwar capitalism and completely contradicts the radical phraseology. Take, for instance, the paragraph on the social interconnections of directors. It is immediately followed by this:
“Too many directors owe their position to family, school or political connections. If the dead wood were cut out of Britain’s boardrooms and replaced by the keen young executives, production engineers and scientists who are at present denied their legitimate prospects of promotion, our production and export problems would be much more manageable.”