Posts Tagged ‘National Government’

The Press and Accusations of Communist Influence/Infiltration in the Labour Party

June 5, 2016

Mark Hollingworth’s book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also does an excellent job of showing how the press, at just about every general election since the 1920s, repeats the lie that the Labour party has been infiltrated by Communists and others from the hard left, or that their policies hardly differ from those of the Communist party. He writes

Ever since the Labour Party have been in a position to form a government – by themselves or in coalition – Britain’s press have tried to portray them as being Communist wolves in sheep’s clothing. In their polling day edition for the 1923 general election, the Daily Mail produced the headline: ‘Moscow Funds For Rowdies – Labour Candidates Subsidized’. The paper alleged that Labour’s parliamentary candidates ‘received £300 apiece’ from Bolshevik sources. Two years later, on 25 October 1925, the Daily mail produced – ‘Civil War Plot by Socialist Masters-Moscow’s Orders To Our Reds’. the basis for this story was a letter supposedly written by Zinoviev, president of the Third Communist International in Moscow, to the British Communist Party which the Mail described as ‘the masters of Mr Ramsey MacDonald’s [minority Labour] government’. Despite clear indications that the Zinoviev letter was a forgery, the story was given uncritical coverage by all the popular papers. Six years later, in 1931, MacDonald and his supporters deserted the Labour Party and formed a National Government with the Conservative Party.

Very little has changed. At almost every election various lists of Labour candidates with alleged Communist or Marxist sympathies are displayed with great prominence on the front page of the popular papers. The 1983 campaign was no exception. In fact, Fleet Street tried harder than usual to show that the Labour Party was, as the Sun put, ‘penetrated at all levels by sinister Marxist forces’. This section of the chapter describes how the press repeated the claims of Douglas Eden, a member of the Council for Social Democracy, that 55 members of the Labour party, later expanded by the Daily Express to 70, had extreme left-wing, Marxist-Leninist sympathies.

The chapter also discusses the way the press decided that there were marked similarities between Labour’s manifesto and that of the Communists at the 1983 election.

That same day, 19 may, the Communist Party manifesto was published. The next morning ‘Red Shadows’ headlined the Daily Express editorial:

Pick up the Communist Manifesto and it might be Labour’s. The two have chilling similarities. From unilateral nuclear disarmament to withdrawal from Europe, from economic controls to nationalisation. The difference is that the Communists will not win a seat… The voters rumbled them long ago. That is why the clever Marxists have gone into the Labour party. Mr Foot is no Communist. Doubtless he finds their support thoroughly distasteful. But his policies have made him a tool of those who are foes of the democratic freedom he upholds.

This was not a sudden discovery by the Express. The paper produced an identical response to the Labour and Communist manifestoes in the previous general election in 1979. ‘The Red Face of Labour-Communists Pick Same Policies’, was the headline to a front-page news report by John Warden on 11 April 1979. ‘The Communist Manifesto made an astonishing appearance yesterday as the Red Face of Labour. This “carbon copy” of policies is embarrassing for Mr Jim Callaghan.

One of those smeared as a Communist was Robert Hughes, who was the MP for Aberdeen North, and a member of the left-wing Tribune group. The evidence for his supposed Communist sympathies was that he had written for the Morning Star, Marxism Today, and Labour Monthly and Straight Left, the last two pro-Soviet magazines. The Express also claimed he was a member of three other pro-Soviet organisations, the World Peace Council, British-Soviet Friendship Society and Friends of Afghanistan. In fact, the World Peace Council had made him a member unilaterally, without consulting him or even telling him. Hughes didn’t know anything about the two other organisations, nobody he asked knew either, and he concluded they didn’t exist. When Hughes contacted the Express, they claimed that he had also been a member of Liberation and Voice of the Unions, which they also stated were Communist front organisations. Hughes had indeed been a member of them, but they weren’t fronts for the Communist party. The only evidence that they were was the fact that some of the leadership were former members of the Communist party. Hughes took the Express to the Press Complaints Council, which issued an adjudication in his favour, ruling that it had published inaccurate information.

Under Tony Blair, the Labour party managed to avoid being smeared as being infiltrated by Communists, as Murdoch had switched sides and was backing the Neoliberal future warmonger. But they were back on course with the gibes at ‘Red’ Ed Miliband, and they’re repeating the smears against Jeremy Corbyn. Well, it’s nonsense – nasty, pernicious nonsense intended to scare the public, but still nonsense. And once you find that it’s been more or less tried against the Labour party at just about every general election the party has fought, the allegation soon loses its force.

The War and Socialist Demands for a National Health Service before the Beveridge Report

February 18, 2016

This is following a debate I’ve recently had with a critic, who stated that the National Health Service had its origins in the Beveridge Report of 1942, and was endorsed by Winston Churchill and the Conservatives. This is true, up to a point, though Churchill was initially very cautious about the foundation of a National Health Service. After the War he made a radio speech denouncing the Labour party’s plans for a complete reconstruction of Britain as ‘a Gestapo for England’. However, Michael Sullivan in his book, The Development of the British Welfare State (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf 1996) also points out that before the publication of the Beveridge, there had been a long process of negotiation and demand for some kind of comprehensive, free healthcare for working people, and that this had become official Labour party policy in the 1934. He writes

Discussions about the reform of British health care had, in fact, occurred between the National Government and interested parties during the 1930s (Abel-Smith, 1984, pp. 424-7). The starting point for these discussions was the extension of health insurance rather than the position adopted by the Socialist Medical Association in the early 1930s. These latter proposals, which became Labour party policy in 1934, included the provision of free services to patients, the establishment of a corps of full-time salaried doctors and the introduction of local health centres which would be the hubs of the health care system. The discussions between doctors and government had emphasised the need to cater for the British Medical Association’s preference for the retention of a large private sector in health and the extension of health insurance to cover hitherto uninsured groups. (Leathard, 1991, p. 24).

During the early war years the departmental civil service encouraged the continuation of these discussions and received deputations from the medical profession and the Trades Union Congress. Events, however, overtook these discussions. The formation of the Emergency Hospital Service had, as we have noted earlier, the effect of providing a planned health service, albeit in the conditions of war.

By 1941, civil servants in the ministry of health, perhaps influenced by the running of the EHS, suggested a comprehensive national health system in which general practitioners would be grouped in health centres associated with local hospitals. In October of the same year, the Minister of Health, the Liberal, Ernest Brown, announced that some sort of comprehensive service would be introduced after the war. The organisational and funding arrangements of the service remained unclear, though the minister did suggest that patients ‘would be called on to make a reasonable payment towards cost, whether through contributory schemes or otherwise (Hansard, 10 October 1941). At this time, a survey of hospital provision was also set under way.

At the same time, professional interests were attempting to influence the shape of any future national health system. First, the voluntary hospitals, which had been in financial difficulties before the war, started to plan to avoid the return of financial ill-health after the war. Their suggested framework for a national health system included a closer co-operation between the two existing hospital systems in which local authority hospitals might buy service from the voluntary sector, a call echoed of course in the 1980s, if in a slightly different form and from a different source!

The British Medical Association and the Royall Colleges were also active. Charles Hill, better Known to a generation earlier than that of the author’s as ‘the radio doctor’, and later to become a Conservative Minister of Health, argued that those who planned first would be more likely to influence the final form [of the health service].’ That planning initially included an acceptance of the ideas emerging about General Practitioner (GP) health centres, as well as those of central planning and of a universal and free service. (Pp. 40-1)

He then describes how the BMA later changed its opinion, and became resolutely opposed to the idea of socialised medicine.

Of the contribution of the Conservative Health Minister, Henry Willink, he says

The White Paper, introduced by the then (Conservative) health minister, Henry Willink, conceded very little to the doctors and the voluntary hospitals. Indeed it was, at first sight, almost as radical in intent as the National Health Service came to be seen. Under this plan, a national health service was to be comprehensive and free and financed out of general taxation and local rates. A closer look at the White Paper reveals acknowledgement of some of the doctors’ concerns, however. The planned service would, as far as the ministry was concerned, be free and comprehensive. There would, nonetheless, be no compulsion for doctors or patients to use the planned public service but doctors who opted into the system would be offered the opportunity to become salaried employees of the central or local state. This latter offer, of course, flew in the face of the formal position adopted by the BMA. (p. 41).

He also points out that Willink appears to have retreated from several of his initial positions due to lobbying from the BMA:

In the succeeding months, political lobbying was intense. BMA leaders engaged in secret negotiations with Willink and appeared to have achieved a large degree of success. It seems that the minister colluded with the BMA in dismembering the proposals contained in the White Paper. First the idea of Central Medical Board was dropped to be followed by the demise of plans for a salaried service organised around health centres. Local authorities, it was now decided, would build health centres, but not control them. Instead GPs would rent the buildings, would be remunerated by capitation fee and be entirely free to engage in private practice. (p. 42).

He also argues against the view that the War was ultimately responsible for the creation of the NHS, and that it was the result of an overall consensus in which there was little left for Labour to do but decide the final details. He writes

The war cannot sensibly be regarded as the midwife of the NHS. Some account must also be taken of pressure for change in health policy during the inter-war years.

As we have already seen, the SMA were successful in placing these recommendations for a national health service on the political agenda during the 1930s. These proposals for a free and comprehensive service with a salaried staff formed the basis of Labour party policy as early as 1934. The proposals put forward during this decade by the BMA were, of course, less radical but acknowledged that there were fundamental weaknesses in available medical cover. On two occasions in the 1930s, it published reports which recommended that each citizen should have access to a family doctor and to the services of appropriate specialists. These recommendation, like later proposals from the BMA, fell far short of a national, or nationalised, health service; the financing of the service was seen as best achieved through a system of health insurance. The BMA were even unwilling to accept the recommendations of its own Medical Planning Commission about the scope of a health insurance scheme (Sullivan, 1992). Nonetheless, the BMA during the 1930sa was ready to concede that co-ordination of any post-war service was most satisfactorily located at the national level. (pp. 42-3).

He also notes that even in the 1920s there were calls for some kind of national health service.

There had, of course, been an even earlier call for a national health service. In fact in 1926 the Report of the Royal Commission on National Health Insurance was published. It acknowledged that the insurance system established in 1911 by a reforming Liberal government had become an accepted part of national life. It suggested, however, that ‘… the ultimate solution will lie we think in the direction of divorcing the medical service entirely from the insurance system and recognising it, along with all other public health activities, as a service to be supplied from the general public funds (HMSO, 1926). (p. 43).

Of the supposed consensus produced by the War in favour of an NHS, he says

While it is undoubtedly the case that the experience of war played some part in promoting ideas about changes in the principles and practices of health care (ultimately represented in the 1944 White Paper), it is far from clear that this process represented a new beginning. War may simply have achieved the acceleration of an already established process of policy movement.

Nor should we fall into the trap of seeing the development of war-time health policy as consensual, leaving a Labour government only to decide on the best way to implement agreed policy frameworks. Though many doctors, even in war time, supported the idea of a health system funded from general funds and including a salaried service, there was critical resistance to some of the measures outlined in Willink’s White Paper. that resistance, from the BMA leaderships and, it must be said, from a small majority of doctors responding to the BMA survey, included resistance to the idea of doctors as public servants and, sometimes, to the idea of comprehensive health system itself.

Even among those medical and other interests favouring the establishment of a comprehensives system, there were conflicts about other issues. While the SMA and the Labour Party and Service doctors supported the idea of financing the service from the national Exchequer, most other doctors and certain elements in the Conservative Party favoured a system of health insurance, either publicly or privately administered. While the former grouping favoured control of the health service by central or local government, many doctors opposed government activity that went beyond central planning functions. While the SMA, Service doctors and local medical officers, the Labour Party and some ministers in the Coalition government favoured a salaried service, this found very little support in the wider ranks of the medical profession.

By the end of the war there was agreement of only a limited nature, which masked a wide divergence of opinion amongst interested parties in the health field and in the wider social politics of health. (P. 44).

He concludes

War-time health policy seems, then, to be of less significance than some claim in defining post-war health policy. Though limited agreement on the need for a comprehensive system had emerged, conflict remained over the nature of that system. More than this, inter-war factors seem to be not insignificant in the growth of pressure for a comprehensive health system. War undoubtedly accelerated the acceptance as orthodoxy hitherto contested arguments. Nevertheless, as Aneurin Bevan was to find out, that orthodoxy was still some way short of a national health service.

It’s therefore clear then that sections of the civil service was aware of the defects in existing health provision in the 1920s, and that the Labour Party was demanding something like an NHS from 1934 onwards. The proximate cause of the emergence of the NHS was indeed the emergency health care system set up in the war to treat victims of bombing and evacuees. I concede to my critic the fact that Churchill was, at times, cautiously in favour of an NHS, and that Henry Willink did advocate a free health care system, although his was not ultimately as radical as that set by Bevan.

Nevertheless, ultimately it was Bevan and the Labour party that set up the NHS in 1946. Furthermore, even though there were elements in the Tory party that certainly supported the creation of the NHS and welfare state, there were still many others that opposed it.

Furthermore, the origins of the National Health Service in a fragile war-time and post-war consensus does not, unfortunately, alter the situation today. The Tory party is determined to privatise the NHS by stealth. Jeremy Hunt has said that he wants the NHS broken up and replaced with private health care. Another Tory apparatchik stated that by 2020, if his party had its way, the NHS wouldn’t exist except as a clearing house for health insurance. This was later denied by the Tory spin machine, would claimed that he instead said that the Tories would succeeded in removing unnecessary health regulations and bureaucracy. In the last government, there were 95 Tory and Lib Dem MPs with interests in private health firms, hoping to profit from the NHS’ privatisation.

The only remaining clear champions of the National Health Service as national, free, universal system are the anti-Blairite wing of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn.

And that’s my last word on this issue. At least for now.