The Spirit of ‘15


Last year’s commemorations of the First World War were a good excuse to re-open old wounds and close our eyes to modern Europe.  Now consider that 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of Waterloo and the 600th anniversary of Agincourt.  In 2014 the French were our glorious allies against the Hun.  This year, it will be their turn to feel the cold shoulder, if not exactly the cold steel.  Better still, we shall be marking the 750th anniversary of Simon de Montfort’s first Parliament and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.  That will be a splendid opportunity to overlook historical niceties.  Like the European context in which the first English Parliament arose.  Or the inconvenient fact that while the English (in 1215) and the Irish (in 1216) each had a Magna Carta to defend their threatened liberties the Scots never did (they still manage well enough without one).

London’s Lefties will be all frothing uncontrollably about the need for the modern UK to have a written constitution.  There will be conferences and seminars, websites and book launches.  No-one will ask whether ‘modern UK’ isn’t a bit of an oxymoron, or why for 800 years we’ve obsessed over keeping our rulers in check instead of challenging their assumed right to rule.
This time in 2013 we predicted that that would be the Year of the Wyvern.  We were a year out.  In 2014, the Wyvern made its mark, with local councils endorsing the flag, flying it proudly for St Ealdhelm’s Day, and our Secretary-General unfurling it for the BBC as part of their debate on devolution.  So what of 2015?
If last year remembered the start of the First World War, this will recall the end of the Second (as well as the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death).  It sounds like an opportunity for Labour to put Blairism behind it and rediscover the spirit of ’45.  Last month saw the death of John Freeman, the last man alive to serve as a minister in Attlee’s government.  That was the death not just of a man but of the memory of an idea.  There is no way that Labour can rediscover its past, because its front bench is corrupted beyond redemption by the Blair and Brown years.  Labour in 1945 offered a different world.  Labour in 2015 will struggle even to cobble together a markedly different vision.  When it’s seriously suggested that they might prefer a coalition with the Tories to working with nationalists you know the game’s well and truly up for them.
Common Wealth, the wartime socialist party to which we owe much of our thinking, was sceptical even at the time that Labour would deliver.  John Freeman resigned as a minister in 1951 over the introduction of NHS prescription charges.  Under Blair and Brown, Labour went on to set the NHS up for privatisation.  When David Cameron promised that ‘the NHS will be safe in my hands’, it was a claim he needed to make, even if he didn’t believe it and few believed him.  But is the NHS safe in Ed Miliband’s hands?  In Labour’s case it might be thought that past actions speak louder than present words.  Voters in at least one Wessex constituency this May can expect to have an alternative they can rely on.

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