Sir Keir Starmer's speech last week in which he attempted to set the agenda for a post-pandemic Britain, called for a "spirit of 1945." Others had made similar calls: we must learn the lessons of the pandemic, they teach us that the the UK as at present run is "not fit for purpose" and the public mood will not allow us to go back to the existing ways; there must be a change of direction.
Well, I was only eight in 1945 and so not in a position to say too much about the public mood then, but history tells us that memories of the horrors of the 1930s depression had not been obliterated by the war, armies and the home front had acted heroicly, lives had been lost, and there must be no going back to the days of "want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness" (the "Five Giants" which the Beveridge Reoprt identified as in need of slaying).
So the electorate firmly rejected government by the Conservatives, in spite of the heroic status they attributed to their then leader, Churchill, and installed a Labour government under Clement Attlee which improved the social security system, established the NHS, introduced free secondary education and raised the school leaving age to 15, organised the building of lots of houses, regulated the economy to achieve full employment, and much more besides.
And all of this while the government debt was 250% of GDP. Today, despite the expenses of the pandemic, it is just over 100%.
Sadly, I can see few signs of a similar spirit in the public mood. Our PR smart government is milking the success of the vaccine roll-out for all it's worth, memories of the long list of failures, hesitations, empty boasts and outright frauds are fading, and the public mood seems to be more interested in resuming the opportunities to go on holidays abroad, regardless of the damage travel does to the environment and the spread of disease .
Such an optimistic outlook is understandable, but it is up to Labour and the other opposition parties to hammer home how Conservative policies have created the inadequacies that the pandemic has revealed:
- the post-2010 obsession with "austerity" which has squeezed out the spare capacity which would have enabled the NHS to deal with both the pandemic and the normal demands on it;
- ditto the reduction in social security payments which means that the poorest, even some in employment, have to rely on food banks for the bare necessities;
- ditto the starving of the criminal justice system and prisons, leading to an unacceptable backlog of cases and inhumane conditions in the prisons;
- the virtually criminal shelving of the conclusions of the Cygnus simulation of 2016 which demonstrated that there were vast gaps in the country's ability to deal with a pandemic;
- the lax regulations which enabled flammable cladding to be used on Grenfell Tower and numerous other high rise buildings;
- the squandering of public money on expensive contracts to the private sector which failed to achieve their objectives
Somehow the sycophantic press has engineered the mood that attacking these and many other failures is somewhat unpatriotic. Does anyone really believe that, if an even marginally left of centre government were making one tenth of such a shambles the Tories would keep quite about it?
Not all all: the right-wing press would be screaming blue murder.
That Labour government of 1945 made one huge error. It financed a scheme to grow groundnuts (peanuts) in the then Tanganyika. It began in 1947 and was meant to alleviate the shortage of fats. It didn't work. The soil was wrong, the climate was wrong and it was abandoned in 1951 after a loss of £36.5 million
The Tories went on and on and on about "The Groundnut Scheme" for at least the next 30 years. In fact I shouldn't be surprised if it doesn't get the occasional mention today.
So it is necessary for the progressive forces, led by Labour, to expose relentless the inadequacy and unfairness of the Tory model and paint a picture of a future Britain with:
- public services we scan rely on;
- faith in the public sector;
- secure jobs with decent pay;
- adequate social services and payments;
- affordable houses fit to live in;
- effective action to combat global heating
- committed participation in international affairs, including emergency and development aid to the poorest;
- a constitution promoting fairness and maintaining the rule of law;
- fair taxation to finance an equitable society