On a grey and soggy/ bright and sunny (exchange every five minutes or so) St Patrick’s Day afternoon, I eschewed the traditional pastimes of parades, public celebrations and public houses and went to the cinema to watch a black and white documentary. (I’ve always been a bit more radical than you’d think to look at me)
The Spirit of 45 contains archive footage and contemporary interviews with those who remember life in the 1920s and 1930s, and the urge to carry on the collective action that had won the war into winning a peace for the working people. Oh, it was heartwarming. I sat up straighter in my comfy seat and admired the vision. The sheer gall of nationalising, for the good of the people, the public services- housing, utilities, transport, education and health. The excitement of ‘socialism’ not being seen as a dirty word.
Of course, it didn’t quite work out like they’d hoped. Changing the headed paper is rarely enough to form genuine revolution. Nonetheless, there appeared to be some sort of a consensus that the state had a responsibility to look after its citizens- to provide a decent house with an indoor bathroom and a garden rather than slums, to share the intellectual wealth through libraries and arts facilities, to plan at a national level for power and transport, to ensure than the working environment was safe, to provide free health care for all (including spectatcles and dentures). Social security.
There were actual out loud grumbles, maybe even boos, in the cinema when the film took its great leap forward to 1979. Mrs Thatcher. No such thing as society. The big bad wolf. I accept that Thatcher is not the root of all evil, but she’s a handy cipher.
The film isn’t just a nostalgia piece. It’s a call to action. A rallying cry to save the remaining stumps of the National Health Service. It’s a party political broadcast for a nascent movement- a leftish grouping, the People’s Assembly.
It will be a network that embraces supporters of different groups and parties, as well as those with no affiliations. And it will bring together enough people eager to participate, who would rather do something than nothing, who would rather find themselves alongside others who agree than remain on their own.
The evidence suggests that wherever a community unites and campaigns to defend its hospitals, its libraries, it parks and its people, it succeeds at least in part. The aim of the People’s Assembly will be simply to tap into the vast amount of humanity, imagination and wit of those who wish to curtail the injustices swirling around us, and create a place that we all feel better for being in, and all feel better for having helped to create.
Mark Steel, the Independent.
A call for collective action, a reimagining of the values of ‘supprting the working man’.
Made to half full independent cinemas throughout the UK, mostly populated by middle aged middle class people. There, because they already have warm fuzzy feelings about the NHS and public services. There to boo at Thatcher on a big screen rather than Cameron/ Osborne/ Clegg on the tv.
There’s a long way to go yet.