Sunday 13 January 2013

A poignant letter.

The following letter appeared in yesterday's paper. In my view it says it all, and deserves a much wider readership than that of the Guardian.  If anyone knows how to put it on facebook or something else widely read, it would be a service to civilisation to do so.

   A lifetime's journey from postwar hope to impotent rage

As a middle-class, white, half-Welsh woman of 92, I was in on the birth of the social contract (Suzanne Moore, G2, 10 January). I am already struggling with impotent rage as I witness its bland destruction. I was a civil servant in London in 1942 when the Beveridge report came out. We read it all avidly as a heartening message of hope for a better future. Bombs had been falling mainly on docks, railways, industrial areas and the poorer parts of many towns. The blitz had revealed dramatically the appalling inequalities in British life. The wartime coalition government laid out the practical ways we should go forward in peace. We all voted in the landslide Labour government of 1945. Admittedly, many people assumed that Churchill would still be prime minister and were surprised that meek Mr Attlee was leading us into our brave new world. But he did.
My husband had survived years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, so the continuing food rationing seemed a feast to him. We had our first baby the year the wonderful new National Health Service began. I am told by an elderly doctor that we never could have afforded the NHS, we were more bankrupt then than we are now. It always had to be supported strongly by the government and wanted by the people.
I watched Frank Skinner recently on TV say that he thought the NHS was Britain's greatest invention and that was confirmed last summer with Danny Boyle's moving pageant. It seems a wicked irony that our bunch of ignorant millionaires, in two years, have sold off large parts of our dear NHS, not just to Americans, but to those very same rightwing insurance millionaires who fought so hard to prevent Obama's attempts to improve their own health service.
I've spent the last 50 years futilely protesting against nuclear weapons (starting with a small women's march in the rain in May 1957), assuming that our basic social contract was secure under any government, and voting Lib Dem at elections. I was so heartened by Danny Boyle and the 70,000 happy volunteers that I stupidly thought there might be some change of heart in central policies. So, still remembering those hopeful 1950s, where am I to put my failing energies now?
Anne Piper
Wytham, Oxfordshire

Well, I shall continue to put my energies, also failing, into the Liberal Democrats, but with a heavy heart and a fervent wish that those now leading us would listen to the party, remember our roots, and take note of public opinion outside the Westminster bubble


  1. You're not alone, Peter. The Liberal Democrats will continue to exist whatever happens between now and 2015 and in the general election and we will still need a Liberal Party, perhaps more than ever. I'm not giving up either.

  2. Happy New Year Peter and to be a bit provocative, I cannot go along with the sentimentalism about the NHS being Britain's greatest invention etc. The health system in Belgium where I live works pretty well and in some respects better than my experience of the NHS (we still have the old doctor-patient relationship for instance). It is based on mutualist foundations reminiscent of the pre-NHS which was scrapped by Anuerin Bevan's nationalised model in 1948. Bevan did not follow Beveridge's recommendations - Beveridge wrote a book explaining his disappointment at the loss of mutualist and voluntary elements in the new system. Many Liberals of the time - especially of the Yorkshire Radical type - had (valid) reservations about Bevan's model even if most supported the overall aims of the reform. The NHS has many merits but it faces a totally different level of expectations about health entitlements compared with 50 years ago. I don't see a 'breach of contract' in Lib Dems addressing this issue especially now that they are in government.

    1. Happy New Year to you too Jaime. I take your point:exaggerated claims for the NHS are just another example of we British spluttering about our institutions being "the best in the world and the envy of the world" and thus refusing to learn from the way others do things.

      In my recent "year abroad" as part of my French course I spent a year in France and learned to respect the many advantages of their health service. For example, it was possible to approach a consultant without first going through a GP, and on two occasions I was able to receive specialist treatment within 24 hours.

      Admittedly they do have a curious method of financing the system, by which you pay "up front" and in a few weeks' time approximately two thirds of what you paid mysteriously appears in your bank account. I presume they have alternative procedures for those who need urgent treatment and haven't any money.

      Whatever the faults of the system, they do have spare capacity, of which the over-burdened and under-resourced NHS now makes use.

      I too have reservations about the Bevan model, and rather than a national service, which is over-centralised, I would prefer a regional service subject to more democratic control via regional governments.

      I know this would lead to the so-called "post code lottery" but I find that acceptable. If Yorkshire decides democratically to give a high priority to treating heart diseases and the West Country regards maternity services as more important, that's a reasonable decision to make in a democracy.

      I remember reading that Cecil Rhodes claimed: "To be born British is to have won first prize in the lottery of life." In that sense, compared with most, but not all, of the rest of the world, all we British have won first prize in terms of health services, and shouldn't make a fuss about minor differences between our regions.

  3. It is easy to forget that, as in education, our health service is by no means 'democratic'.
    We still allow 'private' medical care so that one can still buy privilege in hospitals as well as schools.
    What else would you expect from a cabinet of millionaires and posh public schoolboys? Or a House of Commons which refuses to abandon its crooked expenses regime despite pious promises?
    Until Liberals become truly radical they will have very little impact on a government still tied to nineteenth century attitudes to unemployment and social reform.