Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book learning #41

Never Again. Britain 1945-51 by Peter Hennessy.

Ah, the gentle aroma of Clement Atlee's pipe permeates every page of this engaging history of the immediate postwar period.
The account of Britain's struggle for survival , economic, diplomatic and imperial makes you realise how close the country came to collapse during those years and puts a perspective on the Labour landslide election of 1945 (such a victory but such a massive job to do!)
It's jammed with details and anecdotes about the problems and solutions of the period and it should be pointed out that the Sterling crisis left me cold (despite placing the current credit crunch in perspective- there were no homes to mortgage in 1945, thanks to the Luftwaffe!)
I loved the stuff about India, it would have bankrupted Britain to keep it on and the job was to persuade the still Imperial minded public that India should gain independence without letting it slip the real reasons why. Indeed, the book is full of the arguments, economic and political about the deeds of the Atlee government.
The attempts to join a fledgling European Economic grouping which was stymied by the French and Germans who didn't want the Brits involved, spoiling their ideas.
The situation over the first West Indian immigrants aboard the SS Empire Windrush "Don't worry, they'll never last the English winter" said one Cabinet minister!
The first scirmishes of a new Cold War, negotiations with America over the reconstruction of Europe. You get the impression alot of the freeflowing goodwill of WW2 was due to the bonhomie of the Roosevelt-Churchill friendship, there's a great bit when Truman gets his hands on the chequebook and the money dries up almost on the spot causing the British to hastily renegotiate a series of loans at decidely unlendleasy rates!
And of course, the National Health Service.
Nye Bevan's proudest achievement, the jewel in the crown and still standing today. The marvel is that amidst the finacial carnage of the late 1940s that it happened at all! Oh I could go on, really I could. The Beveridge report, George Orwell, The BBC, improved schools for all. Just thinking about what the Atlee government did in those years makes my brain ache and my heart grateful.
There was also a very good analysis of the 1950 election and the strategies employed by the parties in the pre television age.


tillerman said...

I'm with you. As one of the first babies born under the NHS (one day after it started) and a beneficiary of many of the educational reforms of those immediate post-war years, I am eternally grateful to Atlee, Bevan and their colleagues.

Mondale said...

Good on you sir! And you have now unwittingly let slip your "rapidly approaching 60" birthday!

On another note, my mum (a nurse since the 60's) has a cool NHS mug celebrating it's 50th anniversary in '98. The mug geek in me (yes, he is there) is looking forward to some cool porcelain related fun when July rolls around.