At the end of the 1939/45 war a battered and bankrupt Britain took stock.
With the bleak war years now over, how could the future not be one of hope and promise? We had prevailed in a victory, won by working and suffering together, so why then should we not do likewise with peace, to create a new and fairer society where all could have a voice, a stake and shared prospects?
This was a vision, but not seen as such. More pragmatically, it was seen as one of those rare opportunities when an old order passes and it was up to our generation to build a new one. The war had brought us together as prewar peace never could have done; people from all regions and of all classes were able to discuss amongst themselves how they had lived and how they aspired to live with the coming of peace. The minutia of hard times became understood when even pride and self-sufficiency was not enough to get one through some conditions; the growing realisation that even independent people needed the lifting hand or the moderating presence of a protective society. Not articulated, this thinking was at one with the times just as surely it is becoming so to a generation emerging from the bankruptcy of 2008.
In 1945 the old order was chastened. The land-owners, the professional bodies, the bankers, the inner circle of the surviving Establishment; with some prepared to return to the old ways but these were unable to resist the changes brought about by popular will – universal education from the nursery to universities, a universal health care, public control of public utilities. All these achievements, and more were brought about in six years by a bankrupt country where many staples were still rationed, showed what can be done by an inspired leadership, determined people and clearly defined objectives.
But no great transformation of a society in so short a time can only have successes. The failures, either through commission or omission, can be said to have sown the seeds for our present condition
The first case in point was the usage of capital. The world’s capital had migrated to the new Super Power across the Atlantic. This resulted in the Marshall Plan whereby loans were offered by the USA to bankrupt European countries to help them to re-build their shattered economies.
There were conditions on how this money could be spent as the USA was not inclined to help create competition for their own burgeoning industries and it was as much a necessity as it was an ideology that the Labour Government took into State control such unlikely industries as steel making, ship building, airlines, even car manufacturing through the lack of private investment.
By so overstretching itself doing what is usually a function of the private sector the Government failed to address the reform of a vital institution. No previous Government had cared to comprehensively legislate on the Unions’ place in society. To do this would have been to confer a legitimacy on the Unions that would have undermined the laissez faire Capitalism that had existed in Great Britain up to the 1939/45 war. This lost opportunity would cost the UK dear in later years.
Another lost opportunity was to reform the private sector in the Educational system. Public schools had been established as deserving charities for poor and bright students but had changed in the 19th century to become exclusive fee paying schools used to ease the children of the wealthy to the privileges of the upper echelons of society. The failure, post war, to withdraw charitable status from these private schools and treat them as any other business would enable a deflated Establishment to re-group and consolidate their place in the National hierarchy. A result of this was to shatter the harmony and tolerance that had developed between the classes and an eventual polarisation between capital and labour.
The situation today with the collapse of the the experimental Market Capitalism which followed on from the collapse of the post-war experimental Social Contract due to the failures of both systems to reform anomalies or contain excesses within the two systems means that we have come full circle and, in some ways are now back to where we were in 1945. But there are more differences than there are similarities. Seventy years ago there was awareness, firmness and resolve in knowing what we needed to do whereas now we are divided, confused, deceived. We know though, that something has to be done to restore our pride and our prosperity and to balance the imbalances in our society.
In 1945, an experiment was attempted to harness capital and labour for the common good of the country. It succeeded in some aspects and failed in others. If we have learned anything in the seventy subsequent years it should be that neither one or the other can achieve any lasting results on its own and needs the support and partnership of each. In 2015 the UK will be given another chance to make an harmonious union of the two happen and, unless we do and do it well and convincingly, our future looks bleak indeed.

JANUARY 10 2014