Polly Toynbee: Labour Needs to Recapture the Spirit and Nerve of 1945

tags: Labour Party (UK), Clement Atlee, National Health Service, socialism



Polly Toynbee is a columnist for the Guardian. She was formerly BBC social affairs editor, columnist and associate editor of the Independent, co-editor of the Washington Monthly and a reporter and feature writer for the Observer

...Here we are in the worst crisis of our lifetime, in the depths a long slump with no end in sight – demand dead, companies hoarding cash, most cuts still to come and bound to depress future growth. The bottom half lose most as real wages fall, while rents, food and fuel prices rise. Nothing gets better as deficit and debt soar. What better time for Ken Loach's new documentary, Spirit of 45, a patchwork of old documentaries and memories of the coming to power of the postwar Labour government, full of hope. In a breathless few years, Labour implemented its remarkably radical programme, creating the NHS, nationalising coal, steel, rail, road transport and electricity, initiating a mighty house-building programme. Loach's film is a hymn to the Labour party manifesto of 1945 – the tone would make as good a text for 2015 as back then.

Calling for no more of the depression and slump that crippled the country after the first world war, the manifesto berates the "hard-faced men" who "controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which most of the people learned about the world outside … Great economic blizzards swept the world. The interwar slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of too much concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few" who "felt no responsibility to the nation". "The Labour party stands for freedom … but there are certain so-called freedoms that Labour will not tolerate: freedom to exploit other people, freedom to pay poor wages and push up prices for selfish profit, freedom to deprive people of the means of living full, happy, healthy lives." To read it again is to breathe in the spirit of optimism and dispel today's fatalism that says very little can ever change, whoever is in power. National debt then was more than 200% of GDP, dwarfing today's 73%, yet all this was done in a ravaged nation....



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