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Where has the the Common Good gone now?

Director Ken Loach's new film revisits the year that Britons turned to socialism – and ushered in the NHS, public ownership and the concept of public (not private) good.

“Loach says he was motivated to make the documentary because the achievements of the Attlee generation were at risk of being reduced to a footnote to Thatcherism. "People talk about Thatcherism all the time," he says. "I felt it was important to record the memories of those almost written out of history who upheld the spirit of '45. Today, the market penetrates everywhere. It's time to put back on the agenda the importance of public ownership and public good, the value of working together collaboratively, not in competition."

The American philosopher Michael Sandel, in the Reith Lectures in 2009, warned that the priorities of the shareholder and the "values" of the marketplace were brutally damaging the civic pulse. "A politics of the common good invites us to think of ourselves less as consumers and more as citizens," he said. It is these themes of citizenship and the common good that run through The Spirit of '45 like an electric charge, underlining the absence of these values from so much of public discussion and culture now.”…

Ray Davies, robust, articulate and dignified, aged 83, veteran campaigner, a Labour councillor in Caerphilly for 50 years, sits in a Spanish civil war beret and recalls the time, in 1945, when he was 15 and had already worked two years underground in Welsh mines.

” "In those days, it wasn't safety that came first, it was coal," he says. "We were in the pit and the message came down – 'Labour's won by a landslide!' Tough, hard miners had tears streaking down their faces, black with dust. They said, 'Ray, this is what we've dreamed about all our lives. Public control of the railways and mines and banks, jobs and housing. We are going to have a health service!' " Ray's voice still resonates with the thrill of it all. "We owed trillions to the Americans at the end of the war, we had nothing, but we said, 'Knickers to the debt. We are going to put this country back on its feet.' And we did! The average life expectancy of a miner was 42 years. Then that began to creep up. It was wonderful to see how things improved for the ordinary man and woman."

Ray Davies is one of a number of octogenarian "stars" of The Spirit of '45, an uplifting documentary by the film-maker and master chronicler of ordinary lives, Ken Loach. It celebrates 1945, a pivotal year, and its brief aftermath, during which socialism was proudly endorsed and openly promoted by a Labour leader, Clement Attlee. On the stump, Winston Churchill had failed to convince when he attempted to link socialism and "the gestapo". Booed and heckled, he was then trounced by the electorate.

“June Hautot, 76, another of the film's stars, still lives in the house in south London where her mother died when June was 11. Her father, a railway worker, had been wounded in the war but before the NHS was set up couldn't afford to be properly treated, or to take time off work. June's mother, in her 40s, developed breast cancer that spread to her spine. The family belonged to one of several thousand private insurance schemes that only partially met the cost of sickness.

"You had to pay the doctor five shillings before he'd even put his foot over the threshold," June recalls. "My older sister and I used to care for my mother but then the NHS arrived, overnight, and we didn't have to do it any more. A district nurse arrived. It was absolutely wonderful." In 2012, Hautot famously confronted the then health secretary Andrew Lansley in Downing Street, shouting "Shame!" and accusing him of privatising the NHS. "Tony Benn says 'People change things not politics.' I believe that," she says. "Nobody is taking the NHS away from us. Nobody."…

Lest We Forget: Read the rest of this must-to-read article and remain accountable to history whilst cherishing what we have. Stop the march of privatisation of our essential services. Let us learn from the lies of Thatcherism

The Spirit of '45: where did it go?


The Spirit of '45 opens in cinemas on 15 March. There will be a nationwide screening with a live Q&A with Ken Loach and special guests at 3pm on Sunday 17 March. See thespiritof45.com for more details and participating cinemas.

On 3 June 2011 I wrote a blog under the title of “The Broken Model”. Due to its relevance to the above, I wish to note it once again:

“Do you remember that Margaret Thatcher, the so-called Iron Lady!! She told the Brits that she was going to put the “Great” back into the “Great” Britain. Do you remember? Then, she told us this can only happen if we accept and implement the “Washington Consensus”, the so-called dreaded neo-liberalism. She told us that there was no alternative. She told us we will all prosper and develop more fairly and equitably. She won election after elections. Everything was privatised, deregulated, self-regulated. Industry, manufacturing, (the real economy) was destroyed. Instead, the banks and the bankers were encouraged to rule the world. The economists with no principles and values were “bought” and the business schools, such as Harvard and Columbia were showered with money to act as “Cheer Leaders” for the dreaded neo-liberalism (see the Inside Job for evidence). Communities were dis-mantled and dis-organised. We were told that there is nothing as a society and community. We are all in it just for ourselves, we were told. Destructive competition at the expense of life-enhancing cooperation, collaboration and dialogue was greatly prompted. We were told to say no to love, kindness, generosity, sympathy and empathy and say yes to selfishness, individualism and narcissism, as these values will fire the engine of capitalism and wealth creation! In short, the hell with the common good, we were encouraged to believe.

We were brained-washed. Our other Prime Ministers repeated her nonsense and have carried on her footsteps. It is now over 30 years since the neo-liberalism experiment in Britain. Are we any “Greater” than we were in 1979? Are we any fairer or more equitable? The country is nearly bankrupt, with public and private debt at unprecedented levels, with greatest levels of poverty and wealth disparity ever. The house of neo-liberal capitalism is now at its nadir of decadence.”

Read MorePeople’s Tragedy: Neoliberal Legacy of Thatcher and Reagan

Further Readings:

How shaming the poor became our new bloodsport

Politicians have taken the lead in blaming poverty on the poor


We cap benefits but not bonuses. How on earth are we 'all in this together'?

The 'big society' has become rhetorical window-dressing for an massive and unprecedented assault on the most vulnerable


Why we are occupying Sussex University

Plans to sell off nearly all non-teaching services will mean the university splits along producer-consumer lines