A few days ago at the Tory Party Spring Conference David Cameron said this: “Anyone in this party who’s in any doubt who we should be fighting, what we should be debating, where our energies should be focused, I tell you: our battle is with Labour,” he declared. “Let’s not mince our words: this is a bunch of self satisfied, Labour socialists who think they can spend your money better than you can, make decisions better than you can and tell you what to do and we should never, ever let that lot near government again. That’s who we’re fighting against.”
Two things. I’d suggest their focus, energy and direction for debate should be aimed elsewhere. The economy would be a start, as would listening to the groundswell of discontent amongst the people they govern. Secondly, Labour socialists? Excuse me? If only. The last hints of socialism died some time during the last century. Even in 1983 Tony Benn stated: “Now, the word socialism is spat out on the media as if it was a sort of disease…” Thatcher killed socialism, and Tony Blair buried it. Now, Ken Loach, through his ninety-something minute documentary The Spirit of ’45, urges his audience – the British public – to wake up and take action before we live in a society where it is forgotten forever.
Everyone watching The Spirit of ‘45 will, depending on their own political persuasion or social standing, have their own views on the movie’s clear political bias. The film is primarily a stark and unromantic view of immediate post-war Britain, put together with archive footage from newsreels and public information films and a mix of modern and latter day interviewees. The first half is a one-sided history lesson on the achievements of the 1945 Labour government, detailing its focus on providing quality housing, nationalising major industries and its greatest ever achievement – forming the NHS. It hardly painted a picture of governmental utopia, but let’s just say it focused on the political positives.
This political bias, whilst not portraying a truly balanced view of the times (although the film does clearly document the subsequent failings of many of Attlee’s implementations), is clearly intentional. Loach is championing Socialism. Now if the ‘S’ word was dirty in 1983, thirty years later it is rotten, stinking and nowhere to be seen in mainstream British politics. Few reviews I have read talk favourably of this Socialist bias. The Mail for example (who’d of thought…) fumes: “Taxpayers’ and lottery money has been squandered on a film that allows no alternative view to the doctrine that socialism is brilliant, and nationalisation the only efficient and humane way of organising industry… The comically parochial, dogmatically blinkered Mr Loach is uninterested in why socialism and state-directed enterprises really failed, and often led to the worst kinds of totalitarian repression… This is not so much a documentary as a barking mad Marxist fantasy.” No mention however of the current government’s meteoric failings. No hint of political balance. Besides, expecting balance from a Ken Loach film is like expecting subtlety from Stallone.
The Spirit of ’45 wins best when the likes of former Welsh miner Ray Davies and Liverpudlian docker Sam Watts recount personal memories from childhood and labour in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Sam Watts: “I was the third of eight children, living [in Liverpool] in the worst slums in Europe, sleeping five in a bed. The house was full of vermin – bed bugs, cockroaches, fleas, rats. We were alive with them… My dad worked in a timber yard. In 1933, when I was eight, he was taken away to the lunatic asylum … he couldn’t speak. He was in his 30s and he died there in 1943. It was post-traumatic stress from the trenches in the [first world] war… My mother deserved a medal: we had one cold tap and she did all the cooking and washing, with eight of us living in two rooms. Three brothers and three sisters died: we had to bury them in a paupers’ grave.” Show these interviews at school to every twelve year-old in the UK and ask for an essay in return, titled ‘What is Socialism?’ Oh, I can but dream.
If the film set out its stall as being a political journey from the 1930s to the present day it could be heavily criticized for not only its Socialist bias, but also for leaving out sizeable chunks of government history. The film leap-frogged from the 50s, via footage of an angry miner, demanding: “Who is it who tells the police to beat me – a working man?” to a perfectly placed clip of a grinning Margaret Thatcher raising her hand in the air as if to say “Me! Me!” But The Spirit of ’45 never sets out to be a history lesson; it is a wake-up call to the British public who, since Tony Blair (Thatcher’s greatest success story) rose to fame, do not have a left-wing political party who speak for the values upon which the Labour party was originally formed. Socialist values, those that saw the country rise from the depths of post-war depression and despair, into one of hope and prosperity, have, due to our current capitalist craze, all but vanished from the British psyche. More than ever we have a country of haves and have-nots. The rich are getting richer and the poor are being kicked in the bollocks, and like well-behaved citizens we are just taking it.
The Spirit of ’45 is a passionate plea to end our nation’s need for greed, calling for a return to the public unity and camaraderie of the post-war years. More than that, as was clearly evident by the Q&A session being broadcast live simultaneously across the thirty-something cinemas at the end of the film, Loach (pictured above) is clearly pushing for the dawning of a new political party. When several audience members were asking the panel of three – Ken Loach, contributor Dot Gibson and author Owen Jones their opinions on what could be done given the current political climate, Loach in particular was time and again talking about the formation of a new political party. Several times we heard the message – there’s plenty of anger in Britain, but anger without hope is despair – and that hope, as far as Loach is concerned comes in the form of movements such as the People’s Assembly (read these excellent articles by Mark Steel and Owen Jones), the Coalition of Resistance (President, Tony Benn) and Left Unity – a newly-formed community of people with a desire to see a united left in Britain and across the world. Loach urges discussion, action, and for the British public to embrace the camaraderie, grit and determination so inspirationally displayed in The Spirit of ’45.
Ninety minutes is nowhere near enough for this subject – a ten-part TV documentary would have been more favourable. But the film is out, and must now act as an inspiration, a rallying cry and a catalyst to the millions across the country who are demanding a fairer society. Go and see the film. Start spreading the word. The time for change is now.