Monday, 26 July 2010

At the end of the 1914 - 45 war, a new government

Historians who neatly roll up both the first and second wars into a continuum, a thirty-years war for the twentieth century, are on to something. The Great War was the start of Total War, one fought not just by a professional army but by the whole population, and the Second War was its apogee. The Great War necessarily demolished social structures and the roles of the sexes, and by the second it was the players, and not the gentlemen, who led our soldiers in battle.

Over much of this period, Britain had been governed by the Conservatives, the party of the ruling class, and paradoxically it was the Conservatives who either oversaw, participated in or originated much of the restructuring of British society. Neither Churchill nor the Conservative Party objected to Beveridge in principle - war on the 'evils' of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness appealed to patrician old-school Tories who wanted to see their tenants as healthy and productive as their livestock.

But when Labour won its landslide on this day in 1945, it was not so much a revolution but a debt called-in. The whole nation had bled and died, gone hungry, been bombed to buggery, and the lessons learned from the '20s and '30s were that a settlement of this particular national debt was long overdue.

The price paid by the ruling class for the preservation of our nation was a permanent loss of power and status and inroads on accumulated wealth. And I for one don't regret this one little bit; I'm of the Yeoman breed, not the County set. They go to Eton, we go to local Grammars and obscure Independents languishing in the bottom half of the HMC league. They study Greats at Cambridge, we go to Cirencester and Camborne. They're on first-name terms with the Lord Chamberlain and still form part of the Court; we're the solicitors, land agents, small businessmen, farmers, vets and vicars who may ride with them on the hunt but depend on our fee income and P&L accounts rather than tenants' rents to pay for the broadcloth.

So (heresy) had I been around on 5th July 1945, I suspect I would have voted Labour. In doing so, I would have been putting one of my own Yeoman class into Parliament. This really was the end of Lord Tollemache, Lady Paul or Lord Rous having a say in whether I could hang my shingle in their bailiwick. No regrets, no looking back; on this day sixty-five years ago we completed the process that had started in August 1914, the making of modern Britain.

7 comments:

Rush-is-Right said...

Well... I see what you mean. But what a terrible price was paid. The industries that were nationalised contributed to our economic decline for the next 40 years. And all that Marshall Plan aid money (not many people realise that we got more of that than any other nation did) that went to waste.

Attlee does not get his fair share of the blame for Britain's decline in the 1950s.

nemesis said...

I rather imagine that it was during the wars that government acquired its taste for control and micro management of its people. Very hard to relinquish that kind of power even when it is no required.

Mike Spilligan said...

Your basic premise reminds me of what Marshal Foch said at Versailles (though the context was different) - This is not a peacec treaty, it is an armistice for twenty years.
.....and would Disraeli have found it a paradox?

Anonymous said...

The uppere classes did more than their share of dying in the war as they always had.
The vote after the war ws more likely tht people just resented obeying orders as they had during the war.
They surely didn't reckon on what happened when peace broke out.
Even the weather was aweful.

Anonymous said...

The uppere classes did more than their share of dying in the war as they always had.
The vote after the war ws more likely tht people just resented obeying orders as they had during the war.
They surely didn't reckon on what happened when peace broke out.
Even the weather was aweful.

Anonymous said...

Greats at Cambridge? I thought that was what they had at the fops' university. Serious people went to Cambridge to read mathematics or physics or engineering.

malpas said...

'the making of modern britain" - are you kidding?
Praqctically a police state running on bread and circuses. When all to many of the worthy are emigrating away as fast as they can.