The Spirit of ’45

The Spirit of ’45

A review published here, by CJStone.


I went to see the premiere of Ken Loach’s new film, The Spirit of ’45 at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury. Half of my town was there.

In case you haven’t heard about it, it’s a celebration of the achievements of the 1945 Labour government, done as a series of interviews with people who had seen the pre-war world and knew what the alternative would be. It has taken me a couple of weeks to absorb its message.

This was a very different Labour government than those we have seen in recent times. In six dizzying, triumphant years the Labour Party laid the foundations of the welfare state.

It nationalised the coal mining and the steel industries. It created the National Health Service and British Rail. It began the process of decolonisation. It oversaw the return to full employment – finding jobs for all those demobbed soldiers – while rebuilding and improving our national infrastructure, building tens of thousands of council homes, and reconstructing whole cities and whole industries in the process.

Talk about austerity. This was a nation completely exhausted by war. It was broke. It was in pieces. And yet we managed to achieve all this, by sheer will and determination, in the spirit of hope, that we could build a better world than the one that had existed before.

That was the world that I grew up in. It was an optimistic world. It was a world in which we truly believed that each new generation would be better off – more secure, better educated, in better health – than the one before.

This was what was known as the post-war consensus. So all-pervasive was it that even Tory governments participated. In those days governments vied with each other, not about how much to cut our public services, as they do today, but over how many houses they had built, about how many jobs they had created, about how much they had spent on improving the quality of life for all sectors of the population.

All of this was done by government intervention, not by private industry. The glorification of the market began in 1979, with Thatcher.

It was Thatcher who sold off our nationalised industries, who attacked the trade unions, who deregulated the finance industry, who privatised our utilities, who sold off our housing stock. After that successive governments have vied with each other over who was more ruthlessly neo-liberal than the next. As Peter Mandelson said in 2002, “We are all Thatcherites now.”

And now look. The post-war consensus is broken, and private enterprise rules. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Our bills are going up while our wages are going down. State funding is no longer used to build houses, or to improve the quality of life for the population, but to bail out the banks and make sure that bankers keep their bonuses. Even the NHS is being made subject to “marketisation”, which is a euphemism for privatisation: people’s health being thrown out onto the overblown lottery that is the world Capitalist system.

Thatcherites often characterise the welfare state as “The Nanny State.” And why not? Better that than the vampire state we have created to take its place.

The Spirit of ’45 has been criticised for being a propaganda film, for glorifying the 1945 Labour government, while demonising Thatcher. And it’s true: it leaps boldly from 1945 to 1979 as if there was nothing in between.

But this makes sense to me. These were two markers on the page of history: two turning points that defined what went before, and what happened after.

The world after 1945 was a better world than the one that went before. The world after 1979 started to get worse again.

I know which of the two I prefer.

The Spirit of ’45 links:

13 thoughts on “The Spirit of ’45

  1. Exactly – excellent analysis. After 34 years of Reago-thatcheromics, are we any better off? Of course not. Every aspect of the situation has been deteriorating for years. Personally I think reform starts with the banks.


  2. Forgive me for asking but where is the labour party today?
    Or its equivalent?
    Sick of hearing the bliarites provided with opportunity to mock miliband and the current labour set up – not that miliband is in any way the answer to our problems – the labour party is dead. those labour mps with any integrity (??) should have left years ago.meacher going on about atos is okay but he”s totally discredited by leaving it so late and by still being in the labour party.
    The future looks bleak for the mass of the population


    • You’re forgiven for asking. The legacy of Blair continues to compromise the LP with the PLP being considerably to the right of the grassroots. However, Meacher is not alone. 44 MPs rebelled against Liam Byrne’s whip to abstain and as I understand it many more, including some of the whips, were profoundly unhappy with the policy.

      Your view seems to be that the only way forward is to leave the LP whereas I (and those Labour MPs with integrity) believe that the only way is to change from inside. Obviously, the left leaving the LP will inevitably make the policies adopted even more right wing. But without a revolution, the options facing the electorate in 2015 are another 5y of the Tories or an, as yet, ill-defined LP. I know which I prefer .. in fact I think another 5y of the Tories must be opposed no matter what!


      • Agreed, it won’t be easy, but why do we need a new party, when all the resources and work has already been put in to form the Labour Movement and Labour Party. I know there are many like minded people in the Labour Party – the vast majority of grassroots, though we have lost some comrades along the way. Reclaiming Labour is the way forward, as I see it. We have at least got to try. Giving up easily will be tragic for the young, the old, the sick and the unemployed.


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  4. The problem here is that the labour party of 2013 is dead. It has no relevance or input of meaning to the crisis this country is in. Disabled people are dying and labour says nothing. The poor are increasing in numbers and labour says nothing. Miliband having his imp wrist operated on is very metaphorical. But it won’t make any difference. Thos eMPs of difference should leave the labour party to have any credibility. The Trades Unions should stop funding the labour party – it needs to be allowed to die an appropriate death. Not one lauded over by Tony Bliar.

    A new movement is needed to reclaim the heritage of the people of this country – so what are you going to do about it?


  5. Pingback: Milk Snatching, Free School Meals and an Artful Dodger. | Think Left

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