by Amanda Ramsay
On Sunday I had the pleasure of watching Ken Loach’s new film The Spirit of ’45. It’s still on at cinemas across the UK and the DVD comes out on 15 April. If you do one thing this Easter weekend, it should be to see this film.
Combining archive footage and interviews with current and historic figures, we hear first-hand what life was like back then, socially and politically. The grim living conditions of the slums and unaffordable health care, with medicine and doctors out of the question for many.
Focusing on the pre-war enemies of poverty and unemployment, this documentary also points to the social changes the second world war heralded, like the whole scale need for women in the work force.
This was the beginning of a change in the order of things. Before the war everything in Britain was ‘run by rich people for rich people’, as one interviewee points out but the general election of 1945 saw Labour win a landslide majority and used this electoral might to introduce the welfare state, nationalise key industries and guarantee full employment.
A confident and ambitious Labour party brought in our much loved NHS, an ambitious housing programme, nationalised the rail system, water and energy and delivered full employment to the nation.
With energy and water bills sky high now and rail travel in the UK usually more expensive than flying to foreign lands (nearly £200 to get to London from Bristol return) Labour’s next government needs to show a similar boldness and confidence to that of the spirit of ’45.
In the face of war torn and indebted post-world war Britain, Labour had the determination and vision to take on huge infrastructure projects that have become the cornerstones of our modern British society. This is a film about the triumph of optimism over cynicism, hope over greed, collectivism over the self-obsession of the individual, that erosive Thatcherite philosophy.
Resonating with current policy debates, attacks on the welfare state, mammoth cuts, the privatisation of healthcare and threats to the NHS, this documentary explores the creation and development of social welfare institutions in the UK by the Labour government after the second world war.
Being reminded of the bold housing programme it enacted back then, fast forward to 2013 and the bitter shortage of housing in cites north and south, from Nottingham to Bristol. The so called “bedroom tax” has further revealed the dire shortage of housing stock.
It is not inappropriate to link other contemporary themes, which have come to haunt us since; the implosion of unfettered capitalism, casino banking and sub-prime lending that led to the global financial crisis and more recently the devastating collapse of the economic and banking system in Cyprus and Greece.
Britain was in an almost impossible financial situation back then, owing millions to the US from the war effort whilst also facing a massive gap in our balance sheet from no longer needing vast munitions manufacturing.
The message being, if government could achieve so much then in the face of huge debt and bomb sites, it can be done again. Now.
Loach has documented an excellent piece of history which is very moving and beautifully made. The audience in Bristol booed and hissed when Margaret Thatcher appeared on the screen, after winning election as prime minister in 1979, with Loach using the insidious clip of her quoting St Francis of Assisi outside Downing street.
By the time the striking miners are shown being hit and beaten by the police I was in tears.
The Spirit of ’45 is a film about human welfare, our duty of care as citizens and of politicians and the importance of decent food and housing to wellness and how affordable fuel and full employment bring dignity, how social policy can end hunger and lessen misery.
The Spirit of ’45 shows the Labour party of the people, for the people.
Now in this time of austerity – savage cuts by any other name – there is an alternative to the UK’s housing crisis, unemployment and welfare cuts. These Labour pioneers in the post-war government show the way.
Amanda Ramsay is development officer for Bristol South CLP and a former Labour councillor