Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION REVIEW: THE PM WHO TRANSFORMED BRITAIN

In John Wilmot, Reviews, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 10:10 pm

Citizen Clem: a biography of Clement Attlee, by John Bew (2017 “riverrun” paperback)
(a review by J.Wilmot)

It’s instructive to look back to the world and the achievements of Clement Attlee.  He was the man who led the first majority Labour Government, and helped to change the face of a war-battered Britain.

Much to the surprise of the Tories (at least) was the scale of Labour’s victory. It was a clear rejection of Churchill’s vision of a post-war Britain. Constituencies that had never voted Labour before helped to swell Attlee’s majority – as did the “forces’ vote”, still scattered through war zones in different parts of the world.

THE WELFARE STATE:

Looking back, commentators tend to judge Attlee’s major achievement as being the establishment of the Welfare State.  It was the central focus of Ken Loach’s documentary film, “The Spirit of ‘45” which was reviewed in the Clarion when it was released on DVD. He was able to track down a fair number of those who were able to experience those heady days when the Beveridge Report was adopted by Attlee’s government and transformed into our Welfare State.

Of course there was more to Clement Attlee than that – and he had plenty of other problems to grapple with in post-war Britain. And in many ways he was an unlikely figure to transform our society.

As John Bew, the author, points out Clement Attlee was born into a conservative (with a small “c”) family and this conservatism marked his early student years, when he studied Modern History at Oxford. But it was a developing social conscience that opened his eyes and led him into the Labour Party.

By the ‘thirties he had become leader of the party, travelling to Spain to give his support to the Republican cause in the bitter civil war (where he was photographed giving the “clenched fist” salute). When the coalition government was formed following the outbreak of war with Germany, he became deputy Prime Minister – and famously became Prime Minister when Labour trounced the Tories at the polls in 1945.

John Bew makes the point that Labour effectively put Churchill in power in the first place, by backing a vote of no confidence in Neville Chamberlain’s premiership.  As for Attlee’s role as Deputy Prime Minister, there were complaints within his own party that he was too subservient to Churchill.  Certainly, says Bew, Churchill wanted to keep Attlee as close as possible – and Attlee believed that co-operation was essential for the successful conduct of the war – particularly at those times when it seemed that our backs were against the wall.

Attlee’s reputation, even today, rests on the adoption of the Welfare State, with its crowning glory, the National Health Service, under the stewardship of Nye Bevan.  Incidentally, Churchill’s response to it all was to declare that it might seem good on paper, but “we can’t afford it.”

“FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE”:

To enable the state to pay for it all, a period of austerity was imposed, including rationing which lasted through the Attlee years. But we did gain a society in which the state looked after its people “from the cradle to the grave”.  And a mass housing drive was launched to replace those homes destroyed during the blitz, not to mention slum dwellings that were just not fit for purpose. In this, council homes were given top priority, including the mass construction of “prefabs” which became a familiar sight throughout the country.

“THE COLD WAR”:

But there were other points of policy which at the time (and perhaps even today) were more debatable. This was the era of the “Cold War”. Stalin had ceased to be our ally, “Uncle Joe”, in the fight against Nazism and had become instead the leader of a new threatening empire in eastern Europe. Those in the west were forced to take sides. In Britain, conscription (“National Service” as it was called) remained, and new frightening nuclear weapons were developed.

This, of course, caused new divisions on the Left, and fractured the unity created by the adoption of the Welfare State.  Another point of contention that bubbled vaguely below the surface was Britain’s imperial past. In the post-war period, whole swathes of any world map would be below the surface was Britain’s imperial past. In the post-war period, whole swathes of any world map would be coloured in red, to mark out territories that were still part of the “British Empire”. Those of us still at school during those years just took it for granted.  Others of course didn’t.

John Bew covers the controversy in his book, and suggests that any moves for Britain to divest itself from the trappings of empire moved very slowly. A case in point was that of India (once described as “the jewel in the empire’s crown”). Here some degree of independence had been promised as early as the 1930s – at least for “dominion status”.

DISILLUSION AMONGST THE MIDDLE CLASSES:

Of course, Attlee’s Government didn’t get whole hearted support – and Bew discusses the reaction of the middle classes (living in the fictional county of Barsetshire, popularised by the novelist Trollop).

It was the continuation of austerity that alienated them from Attlee’s Government.  They rebelled against the controls and rationing (particularly when bread was rationed in 1946). Apart from the rationing, it was the loss of that elusive quality in life we call “choice”.

Of course in any class-based society there’s always a difference between the amount of choice that different strata of society may have (never truer than the situation we have today!). Certain elements fail to appreciate the old saying that “we’re all in the same boat” however much it may be true. As far as the Attlee government was concerned, the middle classes targeted three of his ministers in particular – Stafford Cripps (president of the Board of Trade), Hugh Dalton (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and John Strachey (Minister for Food). Those, in fact who were seen as presiding over the “Red Tape and Sealing Wax Office” and the “Ministry of General Interference”.  No doubt the Daily Mail (not to mention the Express) had a field day. And it inspired the American poet, Orville Prescott, to pen the following poem which appeared in the New York Times:

“In Barchester all is not well,
The county people pine and sigh.
They wish the Government in Hell
And long for happier days gone by
When the gloom did not obscure the sky.1”

Only one verse is quoted here, but it does clearly express the sentiments involved!

One point that needs to be made is that the “austerity” imposed under Attlee’s Government was very different indeed from that many of us have to endure under our latter-day Tory regimes. Back then it was imposed to allow our Government to install a Welfare State that benefited all, and endured right through until Thatcher came to power.

All in all, whatever the criticisms that may be made of Attlee’s Government, he emerges in my opinion as one of our greatest Labour Prime Ministers (the other one being Harold Wilson).

As for Attlee, he served one full term of office, before winning the ensuing election by such a narrow margin that he was forced to the polls again in 1951 when the Tories were once again returned.  But the Welfare State remained firmly rooted (and, no doubt, was accepted by the middle classes of Barsetshire).

JOHN WILMOT.

Advertisements

LOOKING BACK: Beveridge and the Birth of the NHS

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:49 pm

In the 1945 general election the Labour Party swept in to power, shocking the Tories (under the leadership of our wartime PM, Winston Churchill). But Labour had managed to chime with the mood of the electorate, who, after a grueling war, were yearning for change.

It was, after all, the first opportunity for many in the electorate to vote since before the war. All elections had been suspended for the duration of “hostilities” – and a lot had changed since the 1930s when Britain had faced up to depression and hard times.

The new Labour Government, under Clement Attlee, set about providing the change that was yearned for. Amongst many changes that were planned, a report was commissioned from a committee headed by William Beveridge, to provide a new welfare deal that would not be discriminatory but would embrace the entire population.

Beveridge was by no means a raving left-winger. Indeed, he was a progressive Liberal (with a capital L). But his Committee produced a report which was both thorough and comprehensive. And, for its time, it was revolutionary.

The legislation based on his report made its way through Parliament, and was introduced in the summer of 1948. The Daily Mail (not with any enthusiasm!) described it to its readers thus:

“… You will wake in a New Britain, in a State which ‘takes over’ its citizens six months before they are born. Providing care and free services for their birth, for their early years, their schooling, workless days, widowhood and retirement. Finally it helps defray the cost of their departure.”

It was all to be paid for by a new scheme of “National Insurance” (at that time fixed at 4 shillings and eleven pence a week).

There were, of course, some teething troubles, including the cobbling together of a National Health Service that could provide a unified level of care in all parts of the country (it had in too many ways been decidedly patchy, with the best services concentrated in large urban centres – particularly of course in London). Many doctors and surgeons just didn’t want to face the challenge of moving from a settled practice. Another problem was that existing hospitals and health centres were run by a disparate collection of bodies. Many came under the control of local authorities, others were run by health insurance schemes whilst many were wholly private. On top of that, a large number of GP’s were responsible for their own surgeries.

abevan2It was Aneurin Bevan who was given the responsibility of Health Care (which he combined with the equally challenging role of Minister for Housing). He tackled the problems with energy and finally won over the majority of doctors and a pattern of a new unified Health Service began to emerge.

By 1951, when the Conservatives were once again returned to power, most of the Tory critics of the new “welfare state” had been won over. There would be little or no change to the structure of the “Welfare State”, and the NHS continued with the task of modernising and improving the health care of the people. One example I remember as a youngster was the mass drive to inoculate the population against diphtheria.

Other elements of the “Beveridge Plan” continued to flourish, even though rising responsibilities meant that the concept of a regular “National Insurance” payment had to be modified to cope with rising costs and responsibilities.

And despite its technical, often heavy, nature the Beveridge Report was a best seller. No government report, before or since, sold as many copies.


CLOSURE OF FOREST  HOSPITALS CONFIRMED

On January 26th (as this issue of the Clarion was going to press) the news  was confirmed.  Gloucestershire Health bosses confirmed that it had decided unanimously to close the Forest’s two hospitals – Lydney and the Dilke, near Cinderford.

The public were told that they were “no longer fit for purpose”.  In their place a single hospital would be built  (no time scale was given), with facilities and services falling far short of what Forest people wanted. This number of beds remained a bone of contention,/ but in the final announcement it was suggested that it could be open to amendment.

As we go to press, no proposed site has been announced for the new hospital, but it’s more than likely that most patients will have to travel further for treatment. Just as likely, many may be sent outside the Forest altogether, perhaps even to Gloucester or Cheltenham.

QUESTIONS:

The news of the decision had been broken in the Review the day before the meeting took place, and a crowd of demonstrators assembled at Forest Hill Golf Club, Coleford (where the news was confirmed) to protest.  Many wanted to know why on earth if money was available, wasn’t it  being invested in the two existing hospitals rather a new build where there’s likely to be less beds available, no extra facilities available.

“CONSULTATION”:

A consultation exercise preceded the confirmation  of closure – but this was effectively a  whitewash. Questions were loaded, or so glib as to be meaningless. It declared that the aim of the changes was to achieve “Health and Wellbeing for all”, without explaining how this was to be achieved.

This was back in November last year. Time enough for opposition to mount (it emerged at a public meeting held in Lydney Town Hall) – and indeed time enough for the administration at  Gloucestershire Health to listen.  But instead the bosses voted unanimously to go ahead with plans. It seemed that they were all suffering from an attack of the Andrew Lansleys!

At present, Gloucestershire Health Trust tells us on its website that it has responsibility for seven community hospitals in the county, plus the surgeries in the Dean and those further afield in the county.  Now, it seems, the Trust wants to  reduce the two hospitals in the Forest to one single unit with facilities that local people regard as inadequate for their needs.

There has been a singular lack of local democracy here – but that’s not surprising considering the top down structure imposed on our NHS today. There was a time when the concept of local democracy was built in to the system, but that was demolished,  to be replaced by a tier of bureaucrats and managers who act as though they are the ones who know best.

Another question arises. Would our new hospital be a “PFI” construction (now, since the collapse of Carillion, a discredited approach to providing public works such as new-build hospitals).
FIGHTING ON:
Meanwhile, opponents of these planned hospital changes have pledged themselves to fight on. Opposition to the plans for a single hospital solution to meet the needs of Forest folk has intensified, rather than waning.

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur, Uncategorized on May 5, 2018 at 9:35 pm

dinosaurNHS? Not Out of Our Pocket!

I’m sure that most folk accept the fact that when the National Health Service was first put before Parliament, (as a major component of Beveridge’s plan for a welfare state) the Tories were not in favour. The official line was “it may be a nice idea but we just can’t afford it.”

But in fact a large proportion of the Tory voting public, along with the leadership of the party, were bitterly opposed to the creation of what they saw as a “nanny state”. A recent letter in the Western Daily Press reminded me of some of the false rumours that were spread at the time in a vain attempt to discredit the NHS and the whole notion of the welfare state.

I remember some of the accusations myself, though I was only a fledgling dinosaur at the time. Attlee was accused of being a “Socialist thief” The right-wing press ran stories (such as the claim that NHS patients carried away car loads of cotton wool. Or one that I dimly remember, patients hoarding loads of false teeth supplied by NHS dentists. Such “fake news” was spread to indicate how profligate the new born Health Service was.

There was also the argument that “no-one values what he/she doesn’t pay for” (that was a favourite amongst comfortably well-off Tory voters). Indeed, the NHS, it was said, was “undermining the moral fibre of the nation”. The letter in the Western Daily Press goes on to suggest that such views reflect President Ronald Reagan’s famous words, “the poor deserve to be poor” (and also, perhaps, helps us to understand why those in the USA who vote Republican are so bitterly opposed to anything even approaching what could be seen as a national health service.

Adverts on the box

I’ve always had a somewhat mixed attitude towards the adverts shown on telly. Some just float over my head, or give me the opportunity to get up and make a cuppa tea – or maybe to check my emails on my new-fangled computer. But some really annoy me.

Take a couple, for example. One’s for some estate agent called “Purple Bricks” (why I don’t know). It consists of some hapless individual being shouted at and generally humiliated because he didn’t know that Purple Bricks was a “proper” estate agent – it just didn’t charge commission.

It’s really designed to show the nasty, bullying and humiliating side of people’s nature. I’d like to know why doesn’t the hapless victim respond with the question, “how do they make their money then?” That might shut up the bullies!

The other one is the government “information” ads. Particularly the one that calls on us to “switch” today (presumably they’re talking about our energy suppliers). But why should we? What if we’re reasonably happy with what we’ve already got? Or should we just get caught in an endless cycle of switching? It just doesn’t make sense.

What happened to the old adverts we used to snooze through? The jingles, about happy motoring? The vacuum cleaners that swept as they beat as they cleaned? Ah, happy, innocent days!

Footnote:

So Theresa May has decided that our new UK passports won’t be printed in in the UK – but in France where it’s cheaper. Quelle Horror! Naturally enough papers like the Mail and the Express are livid.But where, I’d like to know, are May’s principles? If she’s serious about leaving the EU, surely the jobs should go to a British firm? Or am I missing something? Personally I’m a “remainer” but having said that, what about the jobs in Britain that are being threatened?

Dinosaur. Grrrr.