Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Deviation Posting – Recession and 1945

Apologies for quick deviation into British history and politics today but I got a bit narked listening to the radio. The newspapers, radio and TV have quickly latched on to this idea that the recession is now the worst since World War Two in Britain. Maybe, maybe not. Politicians in the UK have decided that this means they can say that the economy (and by extension they claim life in general) is as bad as it was in 1945. This is of course nonsense and one of those arguments only possible in a world where people don’t read enough history.

Indeed to argue that anything now is like 1945 is so daft that any politician you hear mentioning this comparison should immediately have ensured you’ll never vote for them again. Just consider the picture of the Gorbals in Glasgow (which appears in David Kynaston’s excellent book noted below) above – now while the Gorbals is still far from paradise, whatever it is it isn’t anything like this anymore, the people who live there are different, the jobs they do (or don’t do) completely changed etc. In 1945 Britain was victorious but bombed out and knackered, rationing was in place, shortage widespread, the Treasury bust in a way it isn't now – to compare 2009 to 1945 is bizarre – sound bite politics I guess. Below I’ve noted a couple of books that describe that time excellently from David Kynaston and Maureen Waller that are well worth a read.

However, one thing about 1945 is instructive and we could learn from it. Right now it seems that we’re just going to let the same politicians and bankers that broke their own system put it back together way they like and that suits them best. This would be a tragedy. In 1945 Britain rejected the Tories as a party of the past (they were then, they are now) and elected a government that launched a programme of broadly socialist egalitarian ideas – the NHS, extensive nationalisation, education and housing. Politicians can try and score points by evoking images of 1945 and ruin; they might want to remember what arose from those ruins based on the idea of taking control of an economic system for the good of the many rather than just a financial elite. And, oh yeah, while I'm on a rant, bring back imperial measurements.

Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 - David Kynaston

London 1945 – Maureen Waller


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