At the end of World War II, Britain should have been riding high. They had defeated the Axis, led to victory by Winston Churchill.
And yet when an election was held in 1945, they did not choose Churchill to continue to lead the way. Instead a social worker named Clement Attlee was elected prime minister.
The people had grown weary of war and tired of bluster. They were looking for compassion and a return to some form of normalcy.
My mom was a nurse in England during the Blitz and I asked her once how she felt when the war was over. She described a brief feeling of elation, not because they had won, but just that they could finally put it all behind them.
She had seen so much and that she rarely talked about.
Attlee offered something different.
Britain was no longer to be led by this extraordinary figure [Churchill], once called "the greatest adventurer of modern political history" descendant of the duke of Marlborough, cavalry officer and Boer War hero, swashbuckler and master prose stylist, liberal reformer-turned-defender of Empire. Instead, he was replaced by Clement Attlee, moved by the poverty and despair ... and inspired by what he called "Christian ethics". (1)Yes, believe it or not there was a day when "Christian ethics" and "Christian values" meant caring about poverty and despair. Now the only Christians we hear from, as represented by the Religious Right, are those motivated by greed and hatred, while judging the rest of us who don't think as they do.
Like Tommy Douglas, Attlee was a socialist. Not animated like Douglas, but quiet and reserved. And he was just what Britain needed at the time, creating an intellectual movement that focused on ideas.
[and] established free medical care under a newly constituted National Health Service, created new systems of pensions, promoted better education and housing, and sought to deliver on the explicit commitment to "full employment." (1)In the 1930s unemployment was at 12%. By the late 1940s it had been reduced to 1.3%.
And while the state of Britain's finances, due to the enormous cost of the war, prevented him from doing everything he would have liked, he accomplished something miraculous. He put people first, and in 2004, was voted the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century, in a poll of 139 professors.
He had presided over the start of the Welfare State, that focused on the well being of the nation's citizens.
We need a return to that kind of thinking.
Our occupation of Afghanistan has now outlasted that of the Soviet Union. Canadians are weary of war and tired of bluster.
In the U.S., Obama supporters are angry over his extending the ridiculous Bush Tax Cuts. They should be. Not that he really had a choice. Today's conventional thinking is so twisted, that somehow giving the rich more money is supposed to make sense.
I mean they've done so much for us, haven't they? Led us into a recession and while crying "Free Markets", came running to us with their hands out when things went bust.
And like idiots we gave them more money.
One of the accomplishments of Attlee that I found inspiring was the replacing of the gold standard, with a "full employment standard."
The economy was to be judged not by how many troy ounces there were to the British pound but by the number of jobs it could deliver to a population willing to work. (1)Imagine that.
1. The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, By Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, Touchstone, 2002, ISBN: 0-684-82975-4