Attlee in perspective

Attlee graphic corrected

Yesterday morning, to mark the anniversary of the post-war Labour government, a man called Matthew Ward published this “infographic”. He calls himself “Historian, edutainer & broadcaster”. He clearly is a Labour supporter. He clearly is no historian. Three of the claims on this infographic are bogus. Four of them are rather weak.

Let’s go through them.

Yes, the Attlee government “created the NHS”, if by that you mean nationalising the existing health infrastructure. The Atlee government built no new hospitals. It wasn’t until the sixties that the NHS commissioned new hospitals. The Labour government merely took existing local authority and charity hospitals into public ownership. The Conservative model put forward in their 1944 white paper was based on local authorities taking the lead – probably a more sustainable model and certainly a more accountable one. A free at the point of use national health service was settled Conservative policy by the end of the war – Labour rammed through a centralised model ignoring the 1944 model agreed by the wartime coalition and widely discussed in the country.

Did he build the welfare state? The modern welfare state took 200 years to build. Liberals, Tories and socialists all played their roles. A key component was Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act 1911. Vast progress on welfare was made by Tory hero Lord Shaftsbury in the 19th century. Yes, the Attlee government pushed forward the ideas of the coalition government as enunciated by Beveridge. To claim the welfare state for Attlee and Labour is way too much. See my next point for instance.

It is utter nonsense to say Atlee introduced child benefit. In those days it was called Family Allowance and it was introduced by the 1945 Conservative caretaker administration. The legislation passed on 16th June 1945, the operational date being set for August 1946, to be implemented by whichever party was then in power. The legislation was put forward by Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Conservative minister, of Belisha beacon fame. Atlee came to power on 26th July 1945. Sure he didn’t stop Child Allowance but the course was already set. At the very best, poor history from Mr Ward.

Legislation on womens’ property rights dates back to 1870. The idea that Atlee’s government played a large role won’t fly. The Married Women (Restraint upon Anticipation) Act 1949 was a fairly minor and technical addition to the law which removed a legal protection for married women which had become redundant. Putting this on a list of Attlee’s achievements does rather make you think it needs padding.

It is freaking outrageous to claim that Atlee “introduced free secondary education as a right”. This was put in place in the famous 1944 Education Act. Pushed through by Tory hero RA Butler. Ward is talking nonsense here.

The UN claim is preposterous too. The UN Charter was adopted unanimously on 25th June 1945. Again before Atlee came to power on 26th July 1945.

Given that the wartime coalition had already promised Indian self-rule the granting of Indian independence doesn’t seem like a great leap. Implemented by socialist hero Lord Mountbatten (not). I admire the patriots who fought for Indian independence. The idea that any post-war British government could have denied them is laughable.

Bought public services back into public ownership – this seems to be some kind of approbation for nationalisation. Yes, he nationalised the railways. The majority of the Attlee nationalisations were rolled back from the eighties and are unlikely to be ever repeated. Let’s give Attlee those two.

UK Unemployment

Achieved full employment? The war achieved full employment, a state that continued into the 1970s. The graph is clear.

Atlee’s record was nationalise like crazy. Most of it has been rolled back and very few serious people argue we should go back. His enduring achievement is the NHS which was the settled consensus of the time and clearly the child of the wartime coalition led by Conservative Winston Churchill.

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