Part 1 (of 2): The “Dunkirk” myth, and Andrew Marr’s facts about that

This is a two-article set; the first looking at the real “Dunkirk” mentality in 1940-’45 up to 1954; the second at Dutch and British present-day politics.

My first point is: no-one can use opinion polls in proving that the “Dunkirk Spirit” about “surviving without flinching” structural shortages, even: rationing, of daily necessities like fresh “fruit and veg”, medicine, etcetera, was as widespread or as solid in 1940-’44 as the postwar legend has it. Opinion polls were a new thing; the first big Gallup polls in British politics and society only started being conducted from 1944-’45 onwards (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_poll ). Moreover, 1944 was, after El Alamein, Stalingrad, Midway (Pacific War) and D Day, the optimistic phase of the Second World War. The end was finally in sight, and people started thinking of being able to implement the Beveridge Report and other ways of consolidating welfare and real equality for everyone.

BBC’s Andrew Marr writes in “The Making of Modern Britain” (about the period 1900-1945; Pan / Macmillan Books, London 2009) that the troops evacuated from Dunkirk weren’t proud and determined to fight on, but “demoralized, angry, near mutinous” (p. 373); and that criticism of the war was substantial in 1940-’42. You had the final phase of the Appeasement elite with Halifax and Rab Butler in the summer of 1940 (p. 369); and you had novelist Vera Brittain, Bishop Bell, and Peace Pledgers all criticise the bombing of cities in 1941-2 (Marr, p. 409 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Pledge_Union ). The government tolerated this debate, but its everyday material control and direction only exempted “poetry, sex and dreaming” (p. 417).

In his other book, “A History of Modern Britain” (about 1945-2010; Pan / Macmillan Books, 2008-‘09), Marr describes how the new Labour ministers in the Cabinet (Attlee and Greenwood) in May 1940 were essential in buttressing and clinching Churchill’s decision to fight on.

In his book about Britain up until ’45, Marr writes: “Britain’s {Second World} war was an exhausting one-off sprint by a scared creature, in late middle age, not (..) a freshly trained athlete in the world arena” (p. 419); and despite massive American and Allied aid (the substantial Dutch merchant navy joining in suffering the losses of the Atlantic convoys), England was bankrupt in 1945.

Despite the Marshall aid pouring in from 1947, rationing had to be continued much longer (until 1954 for meat) in Britain than on the continent, and the people resented its meagreness (Marr, History, p. 52-56).

In Britain, the escape hatches to rationing were a “vigorous black market”, and gentlemen’s clubs dishing out venison from hunts; both meaning not everyone sharing fairly. The black market and the “spiv” (fixer) even made it into the emblematic 1949 film “Passport to Pimlico”, and the TV comedy “Dad’s Army” from the 1970s (Marr, Making of, p. 393; and Marr, History, p. 55, 80-83).

I rest my case.

 

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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57 Comments

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 8:56am

    @ Bernard,

    “England was bankrupt in 1945.”

    Presumably you mean the UK? Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all played their very important part but aren’t part of England. Even some Cornish people would say the same about their part of the world.

    The post war Attlee Government not only set up the NHS in the post war period but also nationalised some 20% of the country’s (ie the UKs) economy. No doubt, even now, we’d be told we “couldn’t afford” to do anything remotely similar and on a similar scale.

    So how did we manage it then if we were ‘bankrupt’?

  • I was a child during those times in Islington. There was little Dunkirk spirit, (my family just said Dunkirk gave a breathing space), people just got on with it, I recall trudging through the snow when 5 with my father to get milk at the Co Op depot because the “milk” were on strike, the freezing cold of 1947, waiting in the queue for a bus that seemed to never come, and when it did it was full and did not stop. We played on old bomb sites, (think of health and safety these days), yet from 7 walked or bussed to school on our own. However come 1959, left school and there were loads of jobs. The late 50’s demonstrated the start of the Liberal Party come back, then came Mr Clegg!!!
    Nowadays many of us do not know we were born!

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '19 - 9:46am

    In his recent display of the ‘Dunkirk’ spirit, when he publicly obliterated the letter from the German CX of Airbus, Tory MP Mark Francois (without the cedilla – ç – I notice) informed us that his dad, Reginald, took part in D Day landings in 1944.

    Well, MY dad, one James Marriott of Leicester, was a member of the BEF that was evacuated at Dunkirk. He’s been dead for over fifty years but I recall that he was very reluctant to talk much about the experience in later life. I do remember his saying that he spent nearly eight hours chest deep in seawater waiting to be rescued and my cousin tells me that he once told her that it was a good job he had learned to shoot when he had been a member of the Leicestershire Yeomanry in the early 1930s.

    It would be very hard for us today to put ourselves in the shoes of our fellow countrymen facing what was a debacle, which, together with the unsuccessful Norwegian, made 1940 a very dark year for us on these islands. The big question is why Hitler ordered his Panzer divisions to pause, when they had the BEF trapped in Dunkirk at their mercy. Was he hoping to ‘do a deal’, as we say? All I know is that my dad returned and, following a bout of rheumatic fever, spent the rest of the war in the Royal Ordnance Corps at Kingston Barracks, plying his peacetime trade of surgical shoemaker for all those squaddies with dodgy feet. In fact, only two years ago I successfully applied for the war service medals he never bothered to collect in his lifetime. I often wonder why.

    I suppose that, despite everything, he must have been optimistic about the future as, three years after his arrival at Ramsgate, yours truly first saw the light of day. I am sure that some LDV contributors and readers, who have done the maths, might think that that’s something else to blame Hitler for!

  • John Marriot
    Probably because German troops would have come into the range of Naval guns and the fear that the French had pulled their own tanks back. French troops were fighting a very good rear-guard action and had better armour than Germany at this point in the war. The biggest myth about WWII is Germany was unstoppable and super advanced compared to the ” unprepared” British and French. The main reason they were able to take France was that the bulk of the French army was placed according to an expected repeat of the WWI front. I often suspect the temptation to boost the idea of German superiority during WWII is down to a mixture trying to downplay tactical mistakes mingling with some vey dodgy tendencies to glamourize Nazi militarism.

  • As far as I remember the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ was making the best of a bad job; something we all may have todo over the coming months/years.
    The ‘gentlemen’s clubs and spivs were a very, very small part of the UK war, and immediate post war, period; almost everyone just ‘got on with it’. I remember queues, ration books, etc. and they were just part of life.

    As for being broke? The UK received more in Marshall Aid than any other nation. What ‘buggered us up’ was the “We won the War” mentality and, instead of using the $$$$s to rebuild our tired manufacturing industries it was squandered, by both Labour and Tory post war governments, on remaining a ‘great world power’…

  • Expats
    I thought one of the main conditions of The Marshal Plan was the abandonment of the empire? Britain also owed a lot of money because of Lend Lease. The RAF and UK Armoured divisions became especially reliant on the very good mass produced Aircraft and Tanks coming from the US as the war went on. There was plenty of UK manufacturing going on after WWII.

  • Bernard concludes: “I rest my case.” And, pray tell, what exactly is that?
    What link(s) are you seeking to make between the so-called Dunkirk myth and contemporary Dutch/ British politics, Mr Aris? Is it some obtuse reference to Brexit – or have I entirely missed your point? Perhaps all will be revealed in Part 2 of this cliff-hanger?

  • Glen, if you look at where the bulk of the Marshall aid (and the extra $4billion the US loaned) was spent it wasn’t on modernising our aged industrial base…Keynes was scathing in his many writings.
    Of course “There was plenty of UK manufacturing going on after WWII” but it was neither efficient nor as effective as it could have been had home interests been as important as world interests to our politicians.
    BTW the Marshall plan was more beneficial to the USA, as the only great nation with an undamaged modern industrial base, than to any other nation.

  • Bernard Aris 30th Jan '19 - 11:51am

    The second part of my article will show why I talk about the “Dunkirk Spirit”.

    A for the “England” name, I plead guilty as charged; it’s a Hollandism because the Dutch have been talking for decades about the UK as “Engeland”. Sorry. Oops, I meant: it’s a Netherlandism.

    My impresssion is that the hardship, poverty and squallor many poor British inhabitants experienced in the Interbellum years (Orwells Road to Wigan Pier; J.B. Priestley’s columns and sketches) kept being their daily life experience. Surviving in slums, on poor smallholdings in the countryside, etcetera in the 1920’s and 1930’s demanded the same determination in “muddling through” and struggling to keep your head above the water (Dutch expression) as the years of the war (with the “Phony War” with washing on the Siegfried Line as a “business as usual”-interim, transition phase).
    Theakes’ response is in line with what I mean here.

    @ Peter Martin: and you forgot to mention the Festival of Britain with its futuristic sculptures and atchitecture.
    @ Glenn: you’re right; Holland was threatened by Truman to stop fighting the nationalists in Indonesia and start negotiating for real (I refer to my previous Lingadjati LDV column ). The UK decolonised the Raj and admitted it couldn’t maintain its role in Greece and Palestina; Washington liked that realism better. But Attlee started his atom bomb project.

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Jan '19 - 11:54am

    There are many Dunkirk realities. My mother used to tell me about the small ships going off to rescue our soldiers from Dunkirk and I think for her it was those West Country fishermen who showed true bravery. I expect some people were scared during the war, I know I would have been but I think there was a real feeling of fighting to prevent Hitler taking over the country. Propaganda is very important in wartime and I think the government and Churchill himself were very clever at turning defeat into victory.
    If Bernard is arguing that the population wasn’t totally united in standing alone against the Nazis then, of course, he is correct. Some people took advantage of war time conditions to feather their own nest but most people pulled together.
    I was born in 1946 but I learnt enough from adults chatting about the war to know that, despite a certain fondness for the wartime spirit, war was something dreadful and to be avoided.

  • Joseph Bourke 30th Jan '19 - 11:59am

    Dubkirk was a disaster, but part of the genius of Churchill was being able to turn such setbacks into a form of triumph. Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty had ben responsible for the catastrophic Gallipoli campaign in WW1 and repeated the folly with the botched laninds at Narvik in Norway. He still became Prime Minister and survived votes of no confidence in January and May 1942 after the fall of both Singapore and Tobruk.
    WW2 for servicemen and citizens alike was a hard grind and everyone was glad to be done with.
    Expats is right about Marshall aid and Keynes criticism of the use of the post-war loans from the US and Canada. They were not used to retool and invest in industry as happened with Europe and Japan but were mostly applied to maintain the deployment of British troops abroad including India, Hong Kong, Palestine , Aden, Malaysia, Kenya and other African colonies.
    Regarding rationing during WW2, the shortage of meat and confectionary actually increased the average health of the population. With obesity climbing the ranks of major threats to the health of the nation, a bit of rationing for a time might do us little harm in the great scheme of things.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Jan '19 - 12:20pm

    Perhaps it depends upon where you start?
    Would the Third Reich’s westwards blitzkrieg have been possible without the support of American industry and technical expertise?
    Did the Allies expect Hitler to attack Russia/Communism from the start and so were surprised by his westward moves?
    Was WW2 basically a commercial conflict?
    “The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War” by Jaques R Pauwels is a disturbingly interesting read!
    P.S. Bernard Aris can read it in its original language.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 12:41pm

    @ expats,

    “What ‘buggered us up’ was the “We won the War” mentality and, instead of using the $$$$s to rebuild our tired manufacturing industries it was squandered, by both Labour and Tory post war governments, on remaining a ‘great world power”

    The Americans had an ambivalent attitude towards the UK. They wanted the UK to support them militarily when it suited them -like in Korea for example. Also they wanted a strong NATO presence in Germany and the UK was always going to be a key part of that. So the USA didn’t want the UK to completely wind back its military capability. But, on the other hand, the USA didn’t want the UK to go off to do its own thing -like in Suez. I’m not sure that relationship has ever been resolved.

    If misusing US $$$ was the mistake in the immediate post war period it was an even bigger mistake to squander the proceeds of North Sea Oil. It’s too late to do anything about that now, but that was almost entirely Margaret Thatcher’s doing.

    Having said that we do need to avoid the temptation to think that because Germany is doing reasonably well, that we should be more like Germany and manufacture more. That’s the kind of thinking that is causing so many problems in the EU. Germany expects everyone to be like them. However, Germany works because there’s only one Germany. But we need the trade deficit countries too! We can’t all sell more than we buy.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 12:46pm

    @ Sean Hagan,

    “Perhaps all will be revealed in Part 2 of this cliff-hanger?”

    I think we all can guess where Bernard Aris is going with this! 🙂

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '19 - 1:42pm

    LDV ‘historians’ claim that J M Keynes was a critic of how Marshall Aid was dished out in the post war period. Considering that the great (Liberal) chap died in April 1946, I cannot work out how he would have known.

    Talking of Marshall Aid, any altruism it might have exhibited needs to be tempered by an admission of enlightened self interest. Had the US not invested large sums in Western Europe there was a fair chance that communism would have spread beyond the Iron Curtain.

    As far as how Marshall Plan monies were used, there is no doubt that, having to rebuild virtually from scratch, West Germany, in particular, was able to overtake the U.K. in terms of GDP by the early 1950s.

  • Laurence Cox 30th Jan '19 - 2:02pm

    “But Attlee started his atom bomb project.”

    But you fail to ask the obvious question, why? During the war and faced with the possibility of a Nazi atomic bomb, Britain had started its own nuclear bomb programme under the codename of “Tube Alloys”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_Alloys

    When the USA came into WW2 after Pearl Harbour, this project was run down and experts brought into the Manhattan Project under the Quebec Agreement where the USA and UK/Canada agreed to share nuclear weapons knowledge. The USA reneged on this after WW2 when they passed the McMahon Act: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_Energy_Act_of_1946

    Faced with this, the public knowledge of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the atom bomb made conventional bombs obsolete, and that Stalin already had access to Manhattan Projects secrets through his spies, it is difficult to see any British PM voluntarily choosing not to develop it.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 2:17pm

    @ John Marriott,

    I thought it was the early 60s? But maybe that was in terms of GDP per capita?

    In any case German recovery was rapid after WW2. We can all agree on that. But it need not have been but for a political decision taken by the Americans. Not all German debts had been written off in the post war period. The mistake the Allies had made after WW1 was to assume that debts could be repaid at the same time as high tariffs were applied to German exports. That was never going to work. I doubt if WW2 would have happened if a different economic viewpoint had prevailed. So it is worthwhile trying to understand just how economies have to function!

    Later the Americans had the good sense to appreciate that the Germans couldn’t repay their debts in dollars unless they could sell their exports freely in the USA in order to get those dollars. So the West German economy could, and was encouraged to, sell just about everything it made into the USA. At the same time the USA was building up W. Germany as an ally against the Soviet threat.

    Incidentally, this is a lesson Germany itself needs to learn. Italy, Greece and others can’t pay their debts in euros but they can sell their exports into Germany to get the euros to pay the debts. So if Germany wants its money back it will have to do whatever it takes, and German tax policy is a good place to start, to import more from these countries than it exports to them.

  • When someone thunders on about “We won the war” I can’t help asking them, which branch of the forces where they in and in which theatre of operations did they serve. You normally get back something about a relative who served, which is admirable for those that risked all, but doesn’t let you bask in their glory or to speak for them. We should be grateful for those that protected our futures but Lord we shouldn’t wrap ourselves in their sacrifices and claimed “We won the war”, they did, we didn’t.
    Before someone asks what do you know of that generation, I should point out that my dad could with a straight face say “D day was a cakewalk” but then he was in the first wave at Normandy and had been thorough the horror of Salerno, which was he said was “Much worse”.

    Just as an aside the motto of the unit he served was “Only the enemy in front” to which I believe they added “and every bugger else behind”. I found out about the motto after he died, like many others he didn’t shout about winning the war, he had lost far to many friends in the process; again something he never spoke about to his children but had to my aunt.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan ’19 – 1:42pm…….LDV ‘historians’ claim that J M Keynes was a critic of how Marshall Aid was dished out in the post war period. Considering that the great (Liberal) chap died in April 1946, I cannot work out how he would have known…….

    Considering that he was the chief financial advisor to the Labour Party at the time of the o the Marshall Plan and advised against Labour’s priorities; his “Britain’s world role was a burden which there is no reasonable expectation of our being able to carry ..” says much..It was he who negotiated the further low interest $5billion loan from the US/Canada so I assume he knew, even with the limited time he had left, what he was talking about.

  • Ed Shepherd 30th Jan '19 - 4:08pm

    Not sure that the Dunkirk Spirit was a myth. Fresh Allied units were being landed in France even as the Dunkirk evacuation was taking place. Nazi victories in Norway and France had a pyrrhic aspect of depleting their navy and air force. The Battle Of Britain was won shortly afterwards and millions volunteered for the military or industrial work throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. Convoys sailed, planes got built and flown, ships fought until the decks were awash and eventually battles were won on land as resources increased. Understandably angry soldiers after Dunkirk eventually were reformed into units and won the desert war. Reservations by intellectuals of the time and popular history by current journalists are not a sign that the spirit of the working class ever broke on a large scale. Mostly they fought on to the end and most took a pride in their achievements.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 4:16pm

    @ Ed Shepherd,

    “Reservations by intellectuals of the time and popular history by current journalists are not a sign that the spirit of the working class ever broke on a large scale.”

    Exactly right. I don’t even think it ever broke at all. If it had Britain would have lost.

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '19 - 4:42pm

    @expats
    Keynes was, I believe, our chief delegate at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference which laid the groundwork for the post war economic consensus that did us so well until people like Thatcher and Reagon put the boot in. Perhaps we could do with a Bretton Woods Mark Two today, given the mess the world’s economies appear to be in.

  • Ed Shepherd 30th Jan '19 - 5:25pm

    If there is a link between the Dunkirk spirit and current politics, it might be that the fact mainland UK was never suffered occupation has led to many British people having a different outlook on the subject of European wars than the people of countries that were occupied. Hence, many British people do not place so much value on the EU being a unifying structure that might prevent European conflicts.

  • nigel hunter 30th Jan '19 - 5:37pm

    History lessons are fine. However how will the population of today react to a ‘stiff upper lip’ and’ muddling thru’ scenario.. today? For 40 years we have prospered (agree or disagree). What,. how will we react today if rationing was introduced and we have a siege mentality due to Brexit.?

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 6:18pm

    @ John Marriott

    Much as it might pain me to do so, I have to correct you and acquit Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan of all responsibility for the demise of the Breton Woods agreement. That effectively ended in 1971 as the USA came off the gold standard.

    In other words well before they were in positions of sufficient responsibility !

  • John Marriott 30th Jan '19 - 6:29pm

    @Peter Martin
    Whenever Bretton Woods took a dive, I still reckon we could do with another. It’s time the governments of the world challenged multinationals, who continue to play the game in the knowledge that there’s always a safe haven for their profits.

    Whether Thatcher and Reagan started it off or not, they still have much to answer for, in my untutored opinion. By the way, my use of the expression ‘put the boot in’ refers to kicking someone when they are already down. What knocked them down initially is a different matter.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 6:53pm

    @ John Marriott,

    Bretton Woods was effectively an fixed exchange agreement as suggested by Keynes. Keynes also wanted to implement a mechanism by which countries would be compelled to keep their trade balanced within certain limits but that didn’t make it into the agreement. IF it had it would have been more durable. IMO.

    The pressure on the deficit countries like the UK was to devalue their currencies and on the surplus countries like Germany was to revalue. My interpretation is that the prevailing preference for Keynesian economics at the time, worked despite the fixed exchange regime rather than because of it. The UK would have been better having a floating currency rather than having all those painful balance of payments problems and subsequent devaluations.

    Fixed exchange rates have to be married to some mechanism to balance trade. We see again, in the present time, in the eurozone, just what happens when we try to have the former without any attempt at the latter.

    I would say don’t hold your breathe waiting for Bretton Woods 2.0
    It’s not going to happen any time soon.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '19 - 7:06pm

    @ Nigel Hunter

    “….. how will we react today if rationing was introduced and we have a siege mentality due to Brexit ? ”

    Do you think rationing is likely? Will we all have to go back to listening to the Radio on valve sets, do the washing using dolly tubs and mangles, and drive around in Ford Anglias?

  • Expats
    Britain out produced Germany at virtually every stage of WWII. Its industrial base was not destroyed by the conflict. German industry had been flattened by heavy bombing. It was an occupied and split country at the centre of The Cold War. There was simply not the same impetus.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jan '19 - 7:39pm

    Quick quiz: In what year did the Roman Empire go to war with the Chinese Empire?

  • bernard Aris 30th Jan '19 - 8:36pm

    @ Steve Treverthan
    Not the US but Stalin and the Molotov Ribbentrob pact helped make the Blitzkrieg effective: illegal sovjet air force & tank war training camps for the Reichswehr in the 1920’s (pilots like Udet, Goering); Stalin massively delivering food, steel and coal in 1938-1941. I never heard of any big US industrialist, even antisemite Henry Ford, investing substantially in 1930’s Germany; he dominated US carmaking and that satisfied him. The US was totally self-absorbed in its New Deal recovery.

    @Lawrence Cox:
    Attlee’s decision to start the A bomb development preceded the MacMahon US cutoff, see Chris Cook & Alan Sked, “Post War Britain”. Penguin Books, London, 4th. ed. 1993 p. 94. Foreign Secretary Bevin pressed Attlee to start it as the only way of maintaining/reclaiming a military big power position (Marr, History, p. 31-2); but Attlee couldn’t use the A Bomb in Korea, (ibidem, p. 101).
    So the British atom bomb project, on which spy Klaus Fuchs worked, was a vanity project of a diminishing Big Power Britain.

  • Andrew Sims
    I don’t know about the Dunkirk spirit. However, Germany drew up extensive plans to invade Britain and concluded that it would loos about 50% troops before breaching the second line of defences. This is why the battle of Britain was a conflict fought in the air. Troops trying to cross the channel would have been pounded by one largest most powerful navies in the world as well as being bombed by what was then the largest most advanced air-forces . Put it this way the allies with total air superiority didn’t dare invade Japan.
    The Luftwaffe were not destroying British aircraft 2 to I during the Battle of Britain. Germany lost 1700 aircraft with 2662 casualties. A total 1495 RAF aircrew were killed. These are the official historic figures.Both sides at various points claimed to have shot down more aircraft than their opponents had in their respective air forces. Over claiming was very common. There is no doubt that Germany lost more aircrew and aircraft during the battle of Britain which is why it ended. You can look this stuff up on any reputable history site.

  • Glenn 30th Jan ’19 – 10:22pm…………This is why the battle of Britain was a conflict fought in the air. Troops trying to cross the channel would have been pounded by one largest most powerful navies in the world as well as being bombed by what was then the largest most advanced air-forces…..

    The air battle was the prelude to an invasion. Without air support our navy would have been unable to operate in the Channel.. HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk in open water by Japanese air attack; in the channel it would have been suicide for any ship.

  • Expats
    Not entirely true. Unlike the Japanese Germany had not one single aircraft carrier. The in land British defences also very extensive . Blitzkrieg relied on fast movement combing ground troops, tanks and air support. They did not have the landing craft to land tanks or troops in significant numbers and the main tool of the air component, the JU 87, proved to be obsolete against the RAF (it was never used on the Western Front again). Crossing the channel would not have been easy and they would have been shot at and shelled every inch of the way. It’s very different to attack a well armed island by sea than to sweep across open land. This is nothing to do with a uniquely British spirit. It’s to do with geography and logistics. The battles in the islands off Japan involved huge numbers of troops, shelling by sea, vast amounts of equipment against and complete air superiority. This was against relatively small garrisons. It was not easy. Hence there were no serious plans to invade Japan.

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Jan '19 - 12:52am

    John Marriott,

    you write “Keynes was, I believe, our chief delegate at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference which laid the groundwork for the post war economic consensus that did us so well until people like Thatcher and Reagon put the boot in. ”

    Keynes on his way to the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 wrote a letter to Friedrich Hayek congratulatimg him on his “grand” book, “The Road to Serfdom”, which argued that economic planning posed an insidious threat to freedom. Keynes wrote “Morally and philosophically, I find myself in a deeply moved agreement.”

    This correspondence may come as a surprise to many who see Hayek as the intellectual godfather of free-market Thatcherism and Keynes as the patron saint of a heavily guided capitalism. It does, however, reinforce the basic premise that we need to consider economic arguments on their merits independently of political economy objectives that are driven by far more than narrow considerations of economic efficiency.

  • Ed Shepherd 31st Jan '19 - 6:53am

    More usually we would call that defiant attitude of 1940 the Spirit Of The Blitz rather than the Dunkirk Spirit. AJP Taylor saw this defiant attitude as very real, for instance one million people volunteered for the LDV that summer. But whatever we call it, it was related to a population who had undergone decades of war and hardship but there was a determination to protect their homeland against totalitarian threat. Historians now conclude that a seaborne invasion would have failed but the population did not know that at the time. Consider also that famous essay The Lion And The Unicorn.

  • John Marriott 31st Jan '19 - 9:24am

    @Joseph Bourke
    I’m sure that you are right about Keynes – far be it for me to argue with experts on such matters as you and Mr Martin. However, that’s not really what I was getting at. I was born a year before Bretton Woods and grew up in a world that, as far as I can see, was shaped by its deliberations, for example, the IMF and World Bank.

    What I was saying was that we could do not only with a Bretton Woods Mark Two, a sort of G?, where the countries of the world actually got together to combat tge insidious advance of tge multinationals and what tends to be called globalisation. I am sure that you might wish to lecture me on how economic theory makes this unlikely. But I can but dream.

    You see, it’s not JM Keynes I was lauding; but the ability of so many nations, at a time when the outcome of the conflict was still not entirely clear, to have the kind of ‘Dunkirk spirit’ to believe that a better way to peace and progress lay in cooperation and, dare I say, effective regulation.

  • There are of course as many versions of life in and after the war as there are people involved. I was born in 1940. As I learned to listen to people nor phrase which I heard again and again was “before the war” as in do you remember before the war when you could walk into the shop and buy a chocolate Father Christmas. I thought this was some strange fairy tale. Another common phrase was “don’t you know there’s a war on”. I failed to find the meaning of that too.
    The fact that the country was very seriously damaged after the war. It is a tribute to the Labour government that there was a determination to House people – prefabs built quickly ex army camps occupied, the national health service started. And of course there were power cuts, made worse by some very bad winters. In spite of all this there was not the acceptance of homelessness that we have now.
    We are much richer now of course according to the statistics. As far as the lives of many people are concerned it has been back to the 1930s.

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Jan '19 - 11:10am

    John Marriott,

    there are powerful voices that share the views you express on the need for a new International monetary system including the governor of China’s central bank in the wake of the financial crisis https://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=7168919&page=1

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Jan '19 - 11:30am

    Katerina,

    industrial relations was the crucial difference between the UK an Europe in the post-war years. Harold Wilson faced a strike by the Seamen’s union that broke the prices and income policy the government was trying to maintain in 1966 and led to the devaluation of 1967. Unofficial wildcat strikes proliferated during Wilson’s and the following Heath administration. Wilson appointed Barbara Castle to put in place legislation to force unions to call a ballot before a strike was held and establishment of an Industrial Board to enforce settlements in industrial disputes. The policy paper ‘In place of strife’ was never implemented, but it influenced the Trade Unions and Labour Relations Avt 1974. By then we had the mineworkers strike demanding a 45% wage increase in the wake of the Opec oil price rise that gave us the three day week. When Wilson took office again in 1974 poor Industrial relations has led to Britain being dubeed the ‘sick man of Europe’ . After Wilson, Jim Callaghan was unable to turn it around and the winter of discontent in 1978-79 was the last straw for much of the voting public, ushering in the Thatcher era to take on trade union militancy.
    Throughout this time, Germany and Japan were quietly picking up in the pieces in what had been traditional British industries in motorcycle and automotive production along with shipbuilding and many other areas.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '19 - 12:21pm

    @ John Marriott @ Joseph Burke

    I would agree that we ideally should have a better system than the one we have. Unfortunately I doubt we’ll get it. The most pressing need is to have a regulation of international trade which will require countries to keep their trade balanced withing certain limits – as Keynes argued for in 1944. But the big sinners -like Germany will never allow it! China is quite saintly by comparison.

    So failing that, we need to understand how to manage our own economy to survive. Our big mistake has been to think that we can float our currency, have a low debt economy, and a healthy economy.

    It’s a case of choosing any two from three.

  • Innocent Bystander 31st Jan '19 - 1:22pm

    Katerina,
    In 1945 Germany did not possess a trades union leadership who were nihilist and neo Marxist like ours were. They did not possess any at all, actually, all TU leaders er… disappeared after 1933.
    Mr Watson was quite correct. I joined the UK engineering industry in 1972 and there was not the slightest chance of cooperation with the TU. They took, as a given, that UK engineering was the eternal golden goose and would always be there. After the wholesale closures and job losses of the 70’s the “members” realised their leaders were Kamikaze maniacs and in the privacy of the polling booth voted in their millions for Margaret Thatcher to rescue them. They could not control the TU leaders themselves because those were the days of mass meetings and a bloody nose or black eye awaited anyone whose arm went up at the wrong time. Don’t tell me I’m wrong. I was there.
    By the mid 80’s Thatcher and reality had changed some (not all) minds but too late. Those lost decades were the ones of investment in computerisation and automation and UK manufacturing missed them. Their continental and Asian rivals didn’t.

  • John Marriott 31st Jan '19 - 3:25pm

    All this talk about why the Germans have been so successfull economically after WW2. No doubt, as far as West Germany was concerned, it started by starting from scratch. US dollars helped to make the West German State a bulwark against communism. In fact at the time the KPD (German Communist Party) was outlawed in the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz). Also, not only did East Germany get the worst hand in terms of population and natural resources, it also lost many of its skilled workers to the west via West Berlin. No wonder it built a wall. So, East Germany did the training and West Germany reaped the benefits. Add to that good relations via co determination (Mitbestimmung) between employers and Trades Unions, the success of medium size firms (Mittelstand), where manufacturing survived to an extent it never did over here and you can see why we are where we are.

    “Deutsche Wertarbeit” (German quality work) has always been the slogan for success, which predates both world wars. The late Bob Hope once asked; “Why did the Russians get into space before the US?” The answer was “Because their German scientists are better than ours.”

  • Innocent Bystander 31st Jan '19 - 7:13pm

    With respect David, you weren’t working in the engineering industry then, or you wouldn’t hold so romanticised a view of our TU. Please don’t contradict someone who was right in the middle of it.

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Feb '19 - 12:34am

    I wasn’t in the engineering industry in 1945 but I’ll take the following from Katarina’s post

    “Sam Watson, a trade union leader who was involved, said that unfortunately this would be impossible to
    get in Britain. Our system was/is adversarial”

    to cover the 1945 situation.

    As to the 70’s – you clearly didn’t experience life in a major engineering plant. But I did and I could give you story after story that might convince even you of how Trade Unionism was really practiced in the pre-Thatcher era and it is hard to exaggerate just how impossible it became to make any form of improvements despite how hard we tried to generate involvement and cooperation.
    I was still in engineering through the 90’s and 00’s and worked with some really great TU people to make real progress, because by then the penny had dropped and they welcomed new investment and ideas.
    But it was all too late to save the company I started with (long gone) and hundreds of others. Those years wiped out the base load of key know how, never to be restored.
    I know you can’t be swayed but those were crucial decades when not only computer controlled machines were arriving but computers that also controlled the scheduling and organisation of work (MRP for those in the know). So many companies couldn’t make these investments because these new techniques were both red rags to the TUs. These companies stuck to the old manual methods and they were quickly wiped out in the years that followed.

  • John Marriott 1st Feb '19 - 1:23pm

    This thread sure is meandering! I wonder where it will go when Part Two appears. It would appear that there’s not much ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ between David Raw and Mr ‘Bystander’ at the moment regarding Trades Unions. The latter is hardly standing by, nor is he clearly ‘innocent’, if you get what I mean. I know that David speaks from the heart although, on this occasion, I have to diverge from his sincerely held views.

    My take on Trades Unions comes from my experience of being a member of the NAS and later the NAS/UWT and serving in various official capacities in Notts., Calderdale and Lincolnshire. I often wonder whether my union activities in the late 60’s and the 70’s and early 80’s put paid to my teaching ambitions, which is one reason why I switched to politics when I failed to make it up the greasy ladder of promotion, ending my 34 years at the chalk face as a Head of Department.

    I have no doubt that stroppy unions and inadequate, even complacent management combined to make our country barely governable in the 1970’s. The scenes of those mass shows of hands in the Longbridge factory car park as ‘Red Robbo’ asked for the vote to strike live long in the memory. Restrictive practices and demarcation disputes crippled our automotive and shipbuilding industries. I can remember arguing for secret ballots in the NAS/UWT and being told by our regional rep that his answer was ‘ballots to that’. I reckoned that if even so called educated people were prepared to follow their leaders like sheep then we had reached a sad state of affairs. Back then, Trades Union leaders were as well known as many politicians. Their names roll of the tongue : Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon, Clive Jenkins, David Basnett and, of course, Arthur Scargill. I could name a few more. And then there are TUC giants such as Len Murray, George Woodcock, Vic Feather and Norman Willis. Today, besides Len McCluskey and TUC ‘s Frances O’Grady, I would be pushed to name any more.

    It is indeed sad because I still believe in Trades Unions. As a school union rep my answer to my teacher colleagues who wouldn’t join a union usually started with the statement “Well, if we had taken the government’s first offer every time, we wouldn’t be earning half what we are earning today.”

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Feb '19 - 2:06pm

    John,
    As I have said, I am not opposed to TUs and count some convenors and shop stewards as some of the finest colleagues with whom I worked. We argued and agreed then argued and agreed some more and made massive steps forward together. But that was in the 90’s when it was realised that even the very biggest British names could go to the wall.
    The reason I step up is to prevent history being rewritten. Mrs Thatcher did not arrive until 1979 but she is now blamed for the loss of our engineering industry. I recognise her many flaws but the damage was done before. It’s hard to remember but before the “computer” everything was manual. Machines were capstans and cam autos, loaded by unskilled operators but set by time served machinists. Work control was on paper cards and an army of clerks. Designers produced drawings which were turned into tooling on the shop floor but with computer design the machines could be programmed from the “office”. All this upheaval was bitterly fought against by the TU and most of our most damaging disputes were not the Tu fighting the management but the craft unions fighting encroachment (as they saw it) from the unskilled TUs.
    I’m old now, but while I live I will continue to provide eye witness testimony of what life was really like in response to the sanitised “it woz Thatcher wot dunnit” that gets repeated so often.

  • My only problem with guilty bystander was his historical accuracy in comparing Germany and the UK in 1945. When this was pointed out he shuffled off to the 1970’s. I just hope his engineering was more accurate.

    Facts are sacred, right wing rants 30 years later are not. End of.
    .

  • Simon Banks 23rd Jul '19 - 4:28pm

    Unfortunately history, particularly popular history, goes through cycles – pumping up, knocking down. Churchill, in his great speech just after Dunkirk, said very firmly that it was not a victory. Marr may catch the mood of some troops, but very few chose to surrender rather than trying to get home. It’s certainly true that there was a lot of manoevring for a peace up until 1942 at least and it’s correct that Labour ministers bolstered Churchill (as did the Liberals), but that counted for little with Tories and perhaps the crucial support for Churchill against Halifax came from – Chamberlain!

    There is a world of difference between Bishop Bell’s criticism of carpet bombing and a belief that Britain should make peace with Germany.

    Of course the resilient spirit of the British has been exaggerated. Where the bombing was worse, many people would have been happy with anything that ended it. But a more significan lesson is not specifically about Britain, but about humans. In the 1930s it was very common for people who understood what mass bombing could do, to assume that it would end civilisation and civilised behaviour. In fact that happened hardly anywhere, not in Berlin, nor London, nor Leningrad. Survivors went on with normal life as best they could. Social organisation, community self-help, if anything strengthened. Only where war exposed deep divides as in parts of Jugoslavia did anythign like a collapse of society occur.

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