Wednesday 28 June 2017

Back To An Imagined Future

One of the knock about corners of the web is the Tim Worstall blog's running dislike of Richard Murphy's "Tax Research" blog. Timothy does not take to Richard's view of the economic financial world and is often unkind.

But Richard with his beliefs in magic money trees and how the world's financial problems can be solved by infinite credit creation and quantitative easing without limit does lead with the chin.

Today, under the heading of "If the 1945 Labour Government represents the threat of socialism it's obvious we need more socialism", taken from a Guardian Long Read, yes, well, Richard gives high praise to Attlee's time as Prime Minister between 1945 and 1951.

But I was there and a voter by the mid 1950's. Richard does not mention the food and clothes rationing, coal allocations, the horrors of travel, and a few other things. My special nightmare was the swimming trunks made of knitted wool from an expired pullover.

It really was as bad as that. But let us take Richards claims on the threat of socialism and Attlee and examine them.

RM: Was it the creation of the NHS?

By the late 1940's a century of work after The Poor Law Act had created extensive health provision with varying structures. It had been a matter of pride for the new local authorities to provide and nurture hospitals, clinics etc. and medical education. WW2 and after meant that money needed to be spent, for Bevan etc. this meant a centralised planning and a dictatorial approach.

RM: Or a massive expansion of free education?

The crucial legislation was the 1944 Education Act, the Butler Act from the Coalition Churchill Government. Free education was already in place up to 14. The Act said 15 plus a new system of schools organisation. This was slow to implement until the 1958 White Paper, "Secondary Education For All, A New Drive". Other reports, Crowther and Beloe in 1959 and 1960 dealt with examinations and the 1962 Education Act with student grants and fees.  This was the Tories led by MacMillan.

RM: Or the creation of the welfare state?

Obviously, Lloyd George did not know Richard's grandfather.

RM: Or the biggest modernisation of British industry in a short period in this country’s history?

Eh? What had been going on between 1939 and 1945? Richard is making the mistake here of assuming cut and shift at the top and in the head offices was the reality as opposed to what was actually going in the factories and workplaces, which was limited because of post war exhaustion and lack of private capital.

RM: Or council housing?

Municipal housing had been around for some time in many ways. In the early 1920's for example, Liverpool built huge estates and many others did the same.

RM: Heaven forbid that it was full employment.

How many casualties in WW2? How many were in the Armed Services at the time, also there was conscription? Because mechanisation and modernisation was slow, capital shortages again, and there was a good deal of "under employment" in some sectors, notably the docks.

RM And rising prosperity.

A lot of women were still working. But the rates of tax began to hit hard for working couples on decent wages. My father, in a good firm on the shop floor, was of the view that Attlee and friends were crooks and thieves given where some of the state money was going, and it wasn't to the poor.

RM: Plus a fairer society.

Like hell it was, we just had a new type of aristo' the Sons of The Raj at the head of the Labour Party. The "fairness" arose such as it was from the Churchill Government's propaganda that we were all in WW2 together.

In a reply to a comment, Richard added some more:

RM;What did Labour deliver?

RM: The biggest investment in rail and road ever

The "investment" in rail was badly needed repairs and maintenance etc. after WW2. As for major roads the Preston Bypass was 1958, although some local authorities did road works, but nothing like on the scale of the 1930's. As for "ever", what about The Turnpikes and The Railway Mania?

RM: It transformed energy supply

The 1926 Central Electricity Board gave us the National Grid. A great deal of electricity and gas came from municipal providers. There were a number of companies, but working under closely defined legislation. When the "nationalised" came along they had to come up with the propaganda while they were making a botch of the transition.

RM: And delivered mass telecommunication

Not if you wanted a telephone it didn't. It took a long while for that to get going apart from important (well connected) people. Again we had the propaganda. The BBC did get a limited one channel TV started but that took a long time to deliver. It was 1954 before commercial television became possible.

RM: It built more houses than ever before or since

Relative to population size the private and charitable builders of the 19th Century did rather better. Many of their houses, with exceptions, were better built as well, notably after legislation demanded drains.

RM: And set up a nationalised industry that delivered Concorde

Concorde? Can you be serious? Mind boggling that this is called an achievement, one of the biggest fattest turkeys in history and strictly for the rich elite at the price of a seat. And they opted out of satellite provision to pay for it. Meanwhile the world was buying Boeings.

RM: And, I admit the Austin Allegro:

The poor old Allegro was a decent design and could have been a basic family car. It was the build quality that was bad in factories dominated by socialist union leaders. I bought an Italian car.

RM: I am not wholly blinkered, of course. The NHS laid the foundations for our pharmaceutical industry.

So nobody took pills made in factories before 1945? It was all done by the local chemist in his back room? With the chemicals coming from Unilever and ICI and a few dozen others? Is it being said that we owe antibiotics to Attlee?

RM: And of course much of this was actually delivered in the 50 but it was Butskillism that did it – and none would have happened under Chutchill. It required Attlee.

Butskellism, as in Hugh Gaitskell. 1951 to 1964 was Tory time. But looking at what happened, it was as much Stanley Baldwin as RAB Butler and consistent with some of the ideas that Churchill held early in his career.

I did not see Churchill speak, but I did Attlee, Butler, Gaitskell, Macmillan and others, even Captain Charles Waterhouse, if only because he was President of a rugger club I played for a few times.

It is worth recalling that Churchill and Attlee served together between 1940 and 1945. They were also veterans of WWI where Major Attlee gave distinguished service for which he was held in high respect, the International Brigade in Spain had a company named for him. Their opposition in politics was modified by respect for their military service.

They also had a common cause in keeping their parties together, Attlee after the fall of Ramsay Macdonald, when Labour may have split. Churchill in the 1920's as Chancellor and 1940 when the Tories had divisions.

So they are not opposites and equally they are not the same. It is a great deal more complicated than that.


  1. And there was no global warming. In 1947 it was bloody cold.

  2. Those knitted swimming trunks were okay as long as you didn't get them wet.

  3. My special nightmare was the swimming trunks made of knitted wool from an expired pullover.

    Not brillo pads at least.