The Spirit of ’45

Matt and I went to see Ken Loach’s documentary The Spirit of ’45 this evening. It is a series of excerpts from interviews with activists and trade unionists on different themes cut with photographs and footage of the post-war years of social democracy until Thatcher ended it. What I found convincing were the grievances of the interviewees, many of whom had watched loved ones die meaninglessly due to reckless profiteering in the mines or lack of adequate housing. Others had had brutal encounters with the police, who I thought were represented with restraint here but nevertheless as the enforcers of the rich and powerful that they have been and sometimes still are. Julian Tudor Hart, the GP who revolutionised blood pressure management (and on whose book I founded my PhD) was utterly convincing – it was great to see him. I wonder if David Widgery, the East End GP who wrote the very good memoir Some Lives would have been in it had he still been alive. I can probably tolerate John Rees if he sticks to the point – and he was well-edited here – didn’t seem at all malevolent.

Everybody in the film was white – reminding me of trade union support for the colour bar in the ’60s – and largely male. They were also practically all retired, but Loach successfully made a virtue of the fact that retired people carry the torch – they have stories to tell of how things used to be in the bad old days before the NHS. But it’s a real shame that Loach is not a reflective man because this film misses an opportunity. Others have observed with incredulity his omission to tackle the gap between the triumph of nationalisation and the rise of neo-Liberalism represented by Thatcher. That gap is precisely what the labour movement needs to get to grips with, because that is where the ground was lost. Loach prefers to point the finger at Thatcher. It is well known that Thatcher was voted in by disaffected Labour voters.

Personally it isn’t inspiration I lack – I’m entirely convinced by socialism. The film went too little into means or reasons. And it passed over how repellent the organisations in the backgrounds of some of the interviewees are. John Rees and the Socialist Workers Party, for example, and Ken Loach’s own anti-Jewish proclivities so common on the far left. These people don’t want me on their side, and I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. Nor do I trust these workers of the far left’s imagination – they are as deluded and venal as anybody else, and I dislike seeing workers glorified. If, as one of the interviewees suggested, older people were to begin to explain what happened during the period of nationalisation after World War 2 ended, most would probably say that nationalisation was ultimately stymied by the trades unions of the time. I’ve read enough of Kynaston’s Austerity Britain to grasp that the prospect of nationalism divided the workers – most notably the mine workers – before it was established, and once in place many observed new inefficiences. As Rees says, nationalisation simply replaced a private elite with a state one. Clearly socialism could not have got off the ground in the UK without the successive devastations of depression and war. So the sense of self-righteousness, natural goodness and entitlement of the masses inculcated by parts of the left can only erode our moral fibre, and is certainly no defence against a political right which would pit migrant workers against established ones, men against women, dark skinned against light skinned. Flattering the masses is silly.

But nobody else made a film about  this, and a film about this is necessary to keep the memory alive not so much of socialism, but of what socialism hopes to keep at bay. Does this mean that Loach is the best we have? If so the organised socialist left is destined to remain out in the cold for a good deal longer. And for all Loach’s anti-Labour message, they are the people I see in my own borough, quietly and unglamorously getting on with what they can, for their communities, far from Miliband etc. Meanwhile the further left eddies.

What to do if you encounter sexual segregation on your campus

I attended a sexually segregated event in the student union at a previous place of work in the not too distant past. Avoiding confrontation, my friend and I slunk to the back and dragged chairs to straddle the mid line between men and women. A pitiful gesture. Then as a bombastic cleric began to yell from the front we realised it was a scheduling error on the part of the student union – we were at a religious event by mistake, so we left. I often wish I had protested the ignominy of sexual segregation on a university campus. The chaplain of the time was there. He seemed unbothered.

If you encounter sexual segregation on your campus, chances are it’s against the university’s policies protecting staff, students and visitors against discrimination. So:

  1. Contact the organisers to verify what their policy is. It may be a misunderstanding. But if not, then proceed.
  2. Pinpoint the institutional policy to the effect that religious belief does not justify discriminatory behaviour. If your institution doesn’t have such policy, then lobby for it.
  3. Contact institutional senior management and copy in the people responsible for public or media relations. Insist that the organisers are obliged to make it clear that people can sit wherever they like regardless of sex or any other protected characteristic.
  4. Encourage any speakers or panellists to put pressure on the organisers to desegregate. Ask them to consider boycotting the event unless they have guarantees..
  5. If that fails, obtain a reliable eyewitness account.
  6. If you don’t get a prompt and decisive response, use social media. Ideally amplify your concerns by contacting a celebrated secularist, feminist or other principled public figure – if nobody else already has – and make an indignant scene.
  7. Hold the institution to account – they should ultimately appreciate this anti-discriminatory counter-pressure. Particularly if they have form.

I firmly believe that campuses should be secular spaces – not atheist, but secular. Not without rooms where worship can happen, but secular. I strongly object to the view that male-female proxmity constitutes sexual harassment on the one hand or enticement on the other. I reject the ‘three sections’ approach because it makes default of segregation and normalises segregation – we want to normalise mingling, exchange and diversity across society’s boundaries, and de-emphasise the role of sex in academic spaces. I will oppose any such elevation and institutionalisation of sex as a division between one human being and another.

Habeas corpus and legal representation for Mohammed Saba’aneh


Elsewhere has more on the detention of this cartoonist. I think little of his talent, less of his message, he may or may not be a danger to the citizens of the country next door.

None of this is relevant to the matter at hand – as always this is about the state whose agents have detained this young man, and their commitment to human rights. That is the point about human rights – they extend to all humans not matter how horrible they might be as people. So if somebody is arrested, they should be entitled to legal representation and a trial.

Operation sharpened pencil

Operation sharpened pencil