Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Spirit of ‘45.

I can honestly say that I’ve never sat in a cinema where a capacity audience booed in unison the moment a well-known ex-politician appeared on the screen! The cinema: The Glasgow Film Theatre. The event: Ken Loach’s new documentary The Spirit of ’45 (2012) followed by a live simulcast chaired by the comedian Jeremy Hardy, with Dot Gibson General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, Owen Jones British columnist, author and left wing commentator and of course filmmaker Ken Loach. The politician: you’ve probably guessed, the wicked witch herself ex Prime Minister and ex leader of the Conservative Party and the scourge of the working classes Mrs Margret Thatcher, it was truly a wonderful moment and part of a very emotional afternoon.

Labours 1945 landslide election which preceded change.
The best way to explain this documentary is to reprint a statement included in the press notes:

"The Second World War was a struggle, perhaps the most considerable collective struggle this country has ever experienced. While others made greater sacrifices, the people of Russia for example, the determination to build a better world was as strong here as anywhere. Never again, it was believed, would we allow poverty, unemployment and the rise of fascism to disfigure our lives.
We had won the war together; together we could win the peace. If we could plan to wage military campaigns, could we not plan to build houses, create a health service, transport system and to make goods that we needed for reconstruction.
The central idea was common ownership, where production and services were to benefit all. The few should not get rich to the detriment of everyone else. It was a noble idea, popular and acclaimed by the majority. It was the Spirit of 1945. Maybe it is time to remember it today"[1].

Have things really changed?

Ken Loach.
Loach is one of the most candid directors working in cinema today, a man that has never deviated from his own personnel beliefs and is never afraid to include them as part of his colossal body of work. From his days at the BBC starting in 1963 which launched a directorial career which included Up the Junction (1965) and the ground breaking Cathy Come Home (1966) which was instrumental in the formation of Shelter in 1966, a registered charity that is still campaigning to end homelessness and bad housing in England and Scotland. His work in the cinema includes such intelligent and affecting films as Hidden Agenda (1990) which dealt with the troubles in Northern Ireland, Ladybird Ladybird (1995) about a mothers dispute with Social Services over the care and custody of her four children, Land and Freedom (1995) set in the Spanish Civil War about the divisions on the republican side, The Navigators (2001) about the effects of the privatization of British Rail, The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) a film that deals with the Irish War of Independence, Route Irish (2010) the role of Private Security Contractors in the Iraq  war and many more that refuse to be intimidated by our privileged political masters.

This latest film is a sincere attempt to raise political awareness; a call to arms it’s neither a nostalgia trip nor a history lesson.  It also does not hide the fact that the years after WW2 were not a working class utopia, or a socialist revolution but a time in which an attempt was made to wrestle the control of social care and finance from people whose only motivation was profit and give it back to those who would benefit most. This lasted, in some form or another, until ever thing was shredded by Thatcher and her cohorts to this extent 1979 was a crossroad’s in the cause of social justice and fairness when the political consensus changed to favor individualism.

The Discussion

The power of the people is required for change.
Both the film and the discussion that followed advocated for a new political formation to pull the Labour Party more to the left in the same way that UKIP is pulling the Tory party further to the right. There was a lot of criticism about the modern day Labour Party, how they appear to be standing by and watching the atrocious austerity cuts that the coalition are imposing on ordinary people, the dilution of the last of the great state nationalised services that happened during the spirit of 1945: the National Health Service and how they no longer give honest working class families a voice and how they needed a wake up call suggesting that the Unions should stop subsidising a right wing Labour Party. The discussion raised many questions that were not particularly easy to answer: how do we organize when the Left in this country if so fragmented, were will the lead come from? Ken Loach told us that the film came out of a need at this crucial austere period in our political history, for change and how a collective strength is required where the people take charge and real democracy put in place and not a society that profits the privileged classes.

Perhaps there is hope!

After watching the film and sensing the feeling that came from the audiences around the country there must be hope through organizations like the Peoples Assemblies Network that provide a resource platform to support the ongoing democracy protests and open, democratic assemblies in the UK, Europe and throughout the world[2]. Also mentioned was the Left Unity Organisation who ask us to sign an appeal to discuss the formation of a new political party of the Left to bring together those who wish to defend the welfare state and present an economic alternative to austerity and in fact to defend the achievements shown in this must see documentary: The Spirit of ’45.

[1] Ken Loach. Press Notes 15 March 2012.

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