Socialist Worker

Labour in cartoons 5: 1969 - A nail in the coffin

Issue No. 2023

Cartoon by Arthur Horner, New Statesman, 1969 (Pic: From the book Did Cowards Flinch?)

Cartoon by Arthur Horner, New Statesman, 1969 (Pic: From the book Did Cowards Flinch?)

Harold Wilson’s Labour government was elected in 1964 and re-elected in 1966. Wilson had presented himself as a “moderniser”, but over the next four years his government turned away from socialist policies, held down wages and presided over rising unemployment.

The government sought to increase the profitability of British business, in alliance with big business and pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A key issue at the time was prescription charges in the NHS. Wilson had resigned from a previous Labour government in 1951 over the introduction of prescription charges. The incoming Wilson government abolished the charges in 1966.

But in 1969 the government restored prescription charges - at a higher rate than when they had abolished them. The money raised from this unpopular measure was relatively trivial, however.

The real reason for reimposing the charges was ideological - it demonstrated to the rich that the Labour government could be trusted to side with them against their supporters.

The cartoon from Arthur Horner of the New Statesman shows the cabinet led by Wilson overseeing the death of socialism. The health minister’s “pragmatism” is just one of a series of nails from the cabinet.

In 1969 the government issued “In Place Of Strife”, a White Paper that proposed compulsory strike ballots and fines for trade unionists who defied the law.

These proposals anticipated the anti-union legislation of the Tory governments of Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.

“In Place Of Strife” provoked a storm of protest from the top to the bottom of the trade union movement.

Huge marches and unofficial strikes led to a cabinet split, and Wilson was forced to back down.

In May 1970 Labour lost the general election to Heath.

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