Posts Tagged ‘Gestapo’

Nye Bevan and Nostalgia for the Era Before the NHS: My Response to a Critic

February 15, 2016

Last week I received a comment from Billellson criticising me for stating that Aneurin Bevan was the architect of the NHS. He also stated that we did not have a private healthcare system before the NHS, and although some charges were made, they were in his words, not so much that people would lose their house.

Here’s what he wrote.

“Nye Bevan, the architect of the NHS, was also acutely aware of the way ordinary women suffered under the private health care system that put medicine out of the reach of the poor.”
Aneurin Bevan was not the architect of the National Health Service. The NHS was a wartime coalition policy, for the end of hostilities, agreed across parties. The concept was set out in the Beveridge Report published in December 1942, endorsed by Winston Churchill in a national broadcast in 1943 and practical proposals, including those the things the public value re the NHS today, set out in a white paper by Minister of Health Conservative Henry Willink in March 1944. It would have been established whoever was Minister of Health after the war / whichever party won the 1945 general election. The UK did not have a ‘private health care system’ before the NHS. Most hospitals in England and Wales were local government owned and run, the remainder voluntary (charitable). Those who could afford to pay for treatment were required to do so, or at least make a contribution, but nobody was expected to sell their house. The poor were treated in hospitals free of charge. c11 million workers were covered for GP consultations by the National Health Insurance Scheme which had been established in 1911. In many places, particularly mining areas, there were mutual aid societies that established health facilities including dispensaries. Scotland had a greater degree of state health provision and Northern Ireland had greater faith based provision before their NHSs were established, starting on the same day as Bevan’s English and Welsh service, but always separate established under separate legislation.

So I checked this with what Pauline Gregg says about the creation of the NHS in her The Welfare State: An Economic and Social History of Great Britain from 1945 to the Present Day (London: George G. Harrap & Co 1967).

She states

In 1942, during the War, the scope of health insurance had been considerably widened by the raising of the income limit for participation to £420 a year. But it still covered only about half the population and included neither specialist nor hospital service, neither dental, optical, nor hearing aid. Mental deficiency was isolated from other forms of illness. Medical practitioners were unevenly spread over the country – they had been before the War, but now their war-time service had too often disrupted their practices and left their surgeries to run down or suffer bomb damage.

Hospitals were at all stages of development. There were more than a thousand voluntary hospitals in England and Wales, varying from large general or specialist hospitals with first-class modern equipment and with medical schools attended by distinguished consultants, down to small local cottage hospitals. There were some 2000 more which had been founded by the local authorities or had developed from the sick ward of the old workhouse, ranging again through all types and degrees of excellence. Waiting-lists were long; most hospitals came out of the War under-equipped with staff and resources of all kinds; all needed painting, repairing, reorganising; some were cleaning up after bomb damage; most needed to reorient themselves before they turned from war casualties to peace-time commitments; all needed new equipment and new buildings. Other medical services were only too clearly the result of haphazard development. There were Medical Officers of Health employed by the local authorities, sanitary inspectors concerned with environmental health, medical inspectors of factories, nearly 2000 doctors on call to industry, as well as doctors privately appointed by firms to treat their staff. A school medical service provided for regular inspection of all children in public elementary and secondary schools; local authorities provided maternity and child care, health visiting, tuberculosis treatment, and other services for the poor, which varied widely from district to district. How many people there were of all ages and classes who were needing treatment but not getting it could only be guessed at.

Since it was clear that ad hoc improvement would no longer serve, a complete reshaping of the health and medical service marked the only line of advance. The general pattern it would take was indicated by Sir William Beveridge, who laid down his Report in 1942 the axiom that a health service must be universal, that the needs of the rich and poor are alike and should be met by the same means: ” restoration of a sick person to health is a duty of the state … prior to any other,” a “comprehensive national health service will ensure that for every citizen there is available whatever medical treatment he requires, in whatever form he requires it, domiciliary or institutional, general, specialist or consultant, and will ensure also the provision of dental, ophthalmic and surgical appliances, nursing and midwifery and rehabilitation after accidents.”

The Coalition Government accepted the Health Service Proposals of the Beveridge Report and prepared a White Paper, which it presented to Parliament in February 1944, saying the same thing as Beveridge in different words: “The government .. intend to establish a comprehensive health service for everybody in this country. They want to ensure that in future every man and woman and child can rely on getting all the advice and treatment and care which they may need in matters of personal health; that what they get shall be the best medical and other facilities available; that their getting these shall not depend on whether they can pay for them, or any other factor irrelevant to the real need – the real need being to bring the country’s full resources to bear upon reducing ill-health and promoting good health in all its citizens.” The Health Service, it said, should be a water, as the highways, available to all and all should pay through rates, taxes and social insurance.

Ernest Brown, a Liberal National, Minister of Health in the Coalition Government, was responsible for a first plan for a National Health Service which subordinated the general practitioner to the Medical Officer of Health and the local authorities, It was abandoned amid a professional storm. The scheme of Henry Willink, a later Minister of Health, was modelled on the White Paper, but was set aside with the defeat of Churchill’s Government in the 1945 Election. In the Labour Government the role of Minister of Health fell to Aneurin Bevan, who produced a scheme within a few months of Labour’s victory.

Pp. 39-51.

Churchill’s own attitude to the nascent NHS and the emergence of the later welfare state was ambivalent. In March 1943, for example, he gave a speech endorsing it. Gregg again says

He was “very much attracted to the idea” of a Four Year Plan of his own which included “national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave”, a national health service, a policy for full employment in which private and public enterprise both had a part to play, the rebuilding of towns and a housing programme, and a new Education Act. He envisaged “five or six large measures of a practical character”, but did not specify them, … (p. 25).

However, two years later after the Beveridge Report had become the official policy of the Labour party, Churchill’s tone was markedly hostile.

Coming to the microphone on June 4, 1945, he said: “My friends, I must tell you that a Socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas of freedom … Socialism is in its essence an attack not only upon British enterprise, but upon the right of an ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils. A free Parliament – look at that – a free Parliament is odious to the Socialist doctrinaire.” The Daily Express followed the next day with banner headlines: “Gestapo in Britain if Socialists Win”. (pp. 32-3)

So Mr Ellson is partly right, but only partly. There was some state and municipal healthcare provision, but it was a patchy and did not cover about half the population. It was a Coalition policy, which was sort of endorse by Churchill. However, its wholehearted embrace and execution was by the Labour party under Aneurin Bevan.

And its immense benefit and desirability was recognised by many traditionally staunch Tories at the time. One of my mother’s friends was herself a pillar of the local Conservative party, and the daughter of a pharmacist. She told my mother that at the 1945 elections her father gather his family together and told them that he had always voted Tory, but this time he was going to vote Labour, because the country needed the NHS. He explained that he served too many people, giving them their drugs on credit, because they couldn’t pay, not to vote for Labour and the NHS.

Now I think the Tories would like to roll state healthcare provision back to that of the pre-NHS level, where there is some minimal state provision, but much is carried out by private industry. The Daily Heil a few years ago was moaning about how the friendly societies were excluded from a role in the NHS. Like them, I think Mr Ellson has far too rosy a view of the situation before the NHS. I’ve blogged on here already accounts from doctors of that period on how badly much of the population were served before the NHS, especially those without health insurance.

Britain needed the NHS, and the party that was most passionately in favour of it was Labour. That some Tories were in favour of it, including Churchill on occasions, is true. But there were others in the party that were very firmly against, and it was ultimately Rab Butler in the Tories who reconciled them to the NHS. But that reconciliation is breaking down, and they are determined to privatise it anyway they can.

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BBC 2 On Why Britain Voted Against Churchill after WW II

May 25, 2015

BBC 2 at 9.00 O’clock tonight is showing a documentary on how Britain rejected Churchill for the Labour party in the 1945 general election.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Surprise election results are nothing new. As this documentary explores, a few weeks after celebrating VE Day in 1945, Britons went to the polls for the first general election in a decade. The Conservatives were widely expected to win, a grateful nation rewarding Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership. Instead, Labour won by a landslide and set about creating the Socialist welfare system Churchill had warned against.

As historians relate, there were good reasons the electorate delivered a humiliating snub to their wartime hero. And we’ve forgotten how unpopular he was with sections of the public: striking footage shows crowds jeering a perplexed Churchill at Walthamstow stadium. “Most people saw him as a Boris Johnson-type figure,” claims one contributor. “A buffoon.”

And

Just weeks after VE Day, Winston Churchill went to the polls confident that the nation would reward him for his leadership through the dark days of the Second World War and re-elect him prime minister. In the event, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Labour under Clement Atlee. Historians including Max Hastings, Juliet Gardiner and Antony Beevor explore what prompted the nation to reject its great war leader in such vehement fashion.

This will no doubt annoy the Churchill family, who have been effectively living off the great man’s legacy since the War. They got very stroppy a few months ago with Paxo, for daring to state that Churchill was not some kind omniscient, super competent superman.

In fact, Churchill was and still is bitterly despised by certain sections of the working class, despite his status as the great hero of World War II. His own career in the armed forces effectively ended with the debacles of the battle of Jutland and he was widely blamed for Gallipolli. He fervently hated the trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism and the welfare state. Originally a Liberal, he crossed the floor to join the Tories when Balfour’s government introduced pensions and state medical insurance based on the model of contemporary Germany. ‘It was Socialism by the backdoor’, he spluttered.

This continued after the War, when he fiercely attacked Labour’s plan to set up the NHS and unemployment benefit. Because the latter meant that the state become involved in the payment of NI contributions by the employer, he denounced it as a ‘Gestapo for England.’

He is widely credited with sending in the army to shoot down striking miners in Newport. According to the historians I’ve read, he didn’t. Nevertheless, this is still widely believed. It’s credible, because Churchill did have an extremely aggressive and intolerant attitude towards strikes. During the 1924 General Strike he embarrassed the Tory administration by stating that the armed forces would stand ready to assist the civil authorities, if they were called to do so. This effectively meant that he was ready to send the troops in. When it was suggested that he could be found a position in the Post Office, the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, readily agreed on the grounds that it would keep him out of the way. The hope was that without Churchill’s militant intransigence, the Strike could be settled peacefully.

And despite the mythology of the country uniting under a common foe during the War years, there was still considerable working class disaffection. Indeed, according to one programme, there were more strikes during the War than hitherto. I don’t find this remotely surprising, given that the sheer requirements of running a war economy meant rationing, shortages and, I’ve no doubt, the introduction of strict labour discipline.

Nor was Churchill a particularly staunch supporter of democracy and opponent of Fascism. Orwell wrote in one of his newspaper pieces that the spectre of war was doing strange things, like making Churchill run around pretending to be a democrat. According to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, Churchill was an authoritarian, who actually quite liked Franco and his brutal suppression of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His opposition to the Nazis came not from a desire to defend democracy from tyranny – in that respect, Eden was a far better and more convinced anti-Fascist – but from the fear that a re-armed and militarised Germany would be a danger to British power and commercial shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. He did, however, have the decency to consider privately that Mussolini was ‘a swine’, and was not impressed when the Duce declared that his Black Shirts were ‘like your Black and Tans’ when he visited Fascist Italy.

The British working class therefore had every reason to reject Churchill and his reactionary views after the War. And scepticism towards Churchill and his legacy was not confined merely to the working class. Nearly two decades later in the 1960s Private Eye satirised him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’, and attacked him for betraying every cause he joined. Churchill was all for a united Europe, for example, a fact that might surprise some supporters of UKIP. He just didn’t want Britain to join it.

Even now there are those on the Right, who still resent him. Peter Hitchens, the arch-Tory columnist for the Daily Mail, has frequently attacked Churchill for bringing Britain into the War. His reason for this seems to be his belief that if we hadn’t gone to War against the Axis, we’d still have an Empire by now. This is moot, at best. Writing in the 1930s about a review of Black soldiers in Algiers or Morocco, Orwell stated that what was on the mind of every one of the White officers observing them was the thought ‘How long can we go on fooling these people?’ Orwell came to Socialism through his anti-imperialism, and so represents a particularly radical point of view. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one. When the British authorities set up the various commercial and industrial structures to exploit Uganda and the mineral wealth of east Africa, Lord Lugard cynically stated that they now had all the infrastructure in place to pillage the country for a few decades before independence. Despite Hitchens’ nostalgia and wishful thinking for the glories of a vanished empire, my guess is that many, perhaps most of the imperial administrators and bureaucrats out there knew it was only a matter of time before the British Empire went the way of Rome and Tyre.

In his book attacking atheism, The Rage Against God, Hitchens also attacks the veneration of Churchill as a kind of ersatz, state-sponsored secular religious cult. It’s an extreme view, but he’s got a point. Sociologists of religion, like Clifford Geertz, have a identified the existence of a ‘civil religion’, alongside more normal, obvious forms of religion, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. This civil religion is the complex of beliefs and values that shapes civil society as a whole. In America, this is a belief in democracy, centred around a veneration of the Constitution. In Britain, you can see this complex of beliefs centring around parliament, the Crown, and also the complex of ceremonies commemorating the First and Second World Wars. Including Churchill.

The programme looks like it could be an interesting counterargument to the myth of Churchill as the consummate politician, the great champion of British freedom and democracy. He deserves every respect for his staunch opposition to the Nazis, regardless of the precise reason for doing so, and his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is one of the main texts that have created the belief that the British are uniquely freedom-loving. Nevertheless, he was also deeply flawed with some deeply despicable authoritarian attitudes. AS the blurbs for the programme point out, the British were quite right to vote him out at the post-War elections.

RIPA and the Further Erosion of Free Speech and Democracy

November 27, 2014

The Coalition’s ‘Secret Courts’

Mike, Tom Pride, the Angry Yorkshireman, Johnny Void and other left-wing bloggers too numerous to name have all raised the serious concerns presented by the Coalition’s legislation expanding Britain’s surveillance state. These have included secret courts, a Kafkaesque travesty of justice waiting to happen, where the defendant may not even know the charges against them if this is deemed a threat to ‘national security’.

Internet Censorship

Under the pretext of trying to protect vulnerable children from online pornography and paedophiles, the Coalition has also tried to introduce censorship onto the internet with measures so loose and ill-worded that it threatened to stifle mature political discussion and contemporary pagan religion and alternative spirituality and occultism. Tom Pride suffered censorship at the hands of the Net because his blog had ‘adult content’. It has, but not quite in the way the term’s used by censors and the media, where it’s become a euphemism for nudity and sex. Pride’s ‘adult content’ is more in the way of dealing with adult issues using satire and scorn.

This has been waaaay too much for the forces of the Right. More recently he’s had Daily Mail journalists harassing his friends and trying to out him as a Conservative Brit living in Poland. This shows, if nothing else, how desperate they are to smear him.

Police Harassment of Greens and Film-Makers for UKIP and the Frackers

And then there was the case of the local Green activist, who had his collar felt by the rozzers on the behest of the local branch of UKIP. And last week NetPol, the campaign against police surveillance, reported the case of a documentary film-maker, who was interviewed by the police because she had been filming an anti-fracking demonstration, and was therefore considered a dangerous terrorist.

Derby Council’s Surveillance of Workers Talking to Journos

This fortnight’s issue of Private Eye (28th November – 11th December 2014) carries another sobering story about the way RIPA, the new legislation introduced by the government to allow the authorities to snoop on ‘terrorists, fly-tippers’ and people, who don’t clean up the mess when their dogs foul the pavement, has been used in Derby to spy on a local journalist doing her job. According to a speech to the House of Lords by Lord Black of Brentwood, the disgraced former head of the Telegraph group, Derby city council tried to use the new powers to spy on a group of serving and former council employees, who met Kirsty Green, a reporter from the Derby Evening Telegraph, in Starbucks. A senior council employee apparently stumbled on the meeting when he went in there. He reported it to the council, and then invoked the act to have two ‘investigators’ come to engage in ‘direct surveillance’ as part of ‘an internal personnel investigation’. The spies were, however, recognised by the group when they entered the shop, and Green and the employees left.

The Eye’s piece concludes that this episode is ‘more Clouseau than Ceaucescu, perhaps, but sinister nonetheless.

Local Councils and the Campaign against Free Speech

In fact, this has been only one of a number of case where local authorities have wasted time and tax-payers money clamping down on local dissidents, like some jumped-up petty Gestapo. The more infamous cases include how one northern city spent hundreds of pounds of council tax trying to find out who the ‘Mr Monkey’ was posting critical pieces on the internet so they could sue him and close him down. Private citizens and shopkeepers have been threatened when they put up posters criticising the local authorities on the windows of their own homes or businesses. Ten years or so ago, one of the councils in Kent got very stroppy with one individual who dared to put up posters denouncing a technology deal between the council and Richard Branson.

Hitler is Alive and Well and Living in Compton Dando

One of the most ludicrous and petty attempts to stifle free speech in a very local area was reported by the Eye a few years ago. A Conservative member of the parish council for Compton Dando had been infuriated by anonymous posters put up around the village portraying him as Hitler. He therefore demanded the police find arrest the culprit. Such is the vanity and totalitarian need to control of even some of the most minor politicos. Of course, it goes without saying that by demanding the police act to arrest a political opponent, the Conservative councillor therefore proved his opponent’s case: he was like Adolf.

There’s thus the real danger that RIPA will lead to more attempts by the authorities to stop the free discussion and criticism of their rule. It’s another step in the gradual erosion of free speech in the UK.