No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied aid because of lack of meansNye Bevan
Today is the 69th anniversary of “The Appointed Day”. On July 5th 1948, the Labour government under Prime Minister Clement Attlee, launched their revolutionary National Health Service. In the 69 years since the service, though regularly undermined and underfunded by Tory and New Labour governments, has saved millions of people’s lives, and provided vital support for injured, disabled and chronically ill people who – in any other era of human civilization – would have been forced to live in ruin or die in the gutter.
The importance of this achievement cannot be understated. Built out of a bombed-out and shell-shocked nation after the World War II, what Winston Churchill referred to as “a bankrupt nation”, where food rationing would continue until 1952. It was the product of the wave traumatized altruism that so often sweeps through the population in the wake of calamity and suffering.
If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people!” Tony Benn
It’s easy to look back with hindsight and see the creation of the NHS as somehow inevitable, such is the temptation with history. Obviously it was always going to happen…because it did.
After all, we’re not talking about extreme far-left ultra-statism, but rather common sense and sympathy. By removing the profit motive you reduce costs, and the money can be found by increasing the top rate of tax on the very wealthy. Thus, society as a whole benefits.
But the birth of the NHS was not an easy one, rather it was subject to resistance from the bureaucratic establishment, and a strong propaganda campaign set on frightening the public via comparisons to the recently defeated enemy: Nazi Germany.
It met fierce resistance from the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Tory party, who voted against the bill 21 times before it passed. Polls were published claiming 90% of doctors opposed the new system, with one former BMA chairman describing the NHS proposal in the following terms in 1946:
I have examined the Bill and it looks to me uncommonly like the first step, and a big one, to national socialism as practised in Germany.
The medical service there was early put under the dictatorship of a “medical fuhrer” The Bill will establish the minister for health in that capacity.
The driving force behind the NHS, Aneurin Bevan MP – a former miner and trade union official – had to fight tooth and nail to get the bill passed. He described the fight thus, in a speech made on “The Appointed Day”, July 5th 1948 (full speech available here):
During the last six months to a year there has been a sustained propaganda in the newspapers supporting the party opposite, which has resulted in grave misrepresentation of the nature of the Health Service and of the conditions under which the medical profession are asked to enter the Health Service.
There has been even worse misrepresentation, sustained by a campaign of personal abuse, from a small body of spokesmen who have consistently misled the great profession to which they are supposed to belong.
From the very beginning, this small body of politically poisoned people have decided to fight the Health Act itself and to stir up as much emotion as they can in the profession.
Today, the NHS is under the greatest threat it has faced since its inception.
In America millions of people suffer, die and are rendered bankrupt – every year – thanks to a capitalist system of medicine that seeks to squeeze money from the most vulnerable in society. Decades of corporate-funded propaganda keep this system in place.
This is the way the Conservative party, and their corporate backers, want the British system to work. Theresa May et al are the sharp-end of a slow plan to bloat the NHS with semi-privatisation, cut budgets, decrease efficiency and undermine public faith in the system until the people become turkeys voting for Christmas and demand “change”.
The resistance which Bevan faced – both media-based and political – has not gone away, indeed it has only gotten stronger. Nurtured by the fall of the Berlin Wall and a decade-plus of Reaganism and Thatcherism, the public mind has been poisoned against the very idea of socialist policies. Large parts of the Western world think that the fight between free market capitalism and socialism is over. Believing Thatcher’s assertion that “There is no alternative.”
The NHS stands as a reminder that this is not true.
The popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, and the simple common sense of the most left-wing Labour manifesto in decades, will bring the “socialism scare tactics” back to the front pages of newspapers and websites all over the UK, and the world.
We should remember, amid all the negativity that will flow, that the NHS still stands, and still works. A perfect silent riposte to those who seek to undermine the idea of socialist infrastructure out of selfishness and greed.
I am proud about the National Health Service it’s a piece of real Socialism. It’s a piece of real Christianity. We had to wait a long time for it…and there is nowhere, in any nation in the world, communist or capitalist, any health service to compare with it. Nye Bevan