Next time some left-wing labour supporter or MP tells you it was Labour that bought in our NHS and tells you that without Labour there would be no NHS tell them to go and dunk their head in a bucket of water for a good ten minutes. Failing that tell them to read a bit of history
History shows us that without Winston Churchill’s foresight in 1943 there would not be an NHS.
In 1943, on March 21st Winston Churchill broadcast his Plan for Post-
war Britain,” echoing his own previous goals of 1908 and 1924, and drawing, as he had done in 1908, on the ideas of William Beveridge who he had asked to look into what became known as the NHS, it was a report by Beveridge that now served as a blueprint for the new scheme.”
“In his broadcast, Churchill spoke of the need to establish a National
Health Service on ‘broad and solid foundations, to provide national
compulsory insurance ‘from cradle to grave’, and to ensure far wider
educational opportunities and ‘fair competition’ so extended that Britain
would draw its leaders from every type of school and wearing every kind of tie’.
In a subsequent broadcast on June 13th, 1945, Churchill stressed the
constructive aspects and aims of Conservatism, and elaborated on the
Coalition Government’s Four-Year Plan prepared by Beveridge and made
public two years earlier, for social insurance, industrial injuries
insurance, and a National Health Service ‘to be shaped by Parliament and made to play a dynamic part in the life and security of every family and home’
Aneurin Bevan’s was appointed Minister of Health in the subsequent
Labour Government and then introduced Winston Churchill’s National Health Service Bill
Despite the apparent consensus, opposition to the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) existed. Many groups, including charities, churches and local authorities didn’t want the government taking control of hospitals. Furthermore, even more, serious was the opposition of doctors who disliked the idea of becoming employees of the state. Doctors were in an extremely powerful position. as without them, the National Health Service (NHS) could not operate, and the government was forced to make a number of compromises. It was to the backdrop of this that the Conservatives voted down the bill 22 times as Labour was making compromises. Some of the compromises were these. General Practitioner (GP) surgeries would remain private businesses that could be bought and sold, and that the NHS would effectively give these practices contracts to provide health care. Only the most senior doctors in hospitals (consultants) were allowed to continue private treatment. Similar compromises were worked out with dentists.
The Beverage report was enormously influential, and what cannot be stressed enough is that in the subsequent 1945 general election, all three parties endorsed the Beveridge Report.
However, what history shows to those who love history, and I do, is that the fact is the Conservatives actually had the longest section in their manifesto, pledging:
The health services of the country will be made available to all citizens. Everyone will contribute to the cost, and no one will be denied the attention, the treatment or the appliances he requires because he cannot afford them. We propose to create a comprehensive health service covering the whole range of medical treatment from the general practitioner to the specialist, and from the hospital to convalescence and rehabilitation.
People cannot be happy unless they are healthy. The Liberal aim is a social policy that will help to conquer disease by prevention as well as cure, through good housing, improved nutrition, the lifting of strains and worries caused by fear of unemployment, and through intensified medical research. The Liberal Party’s detailed proposals for improved health services would leave patients free to choose their doctor, for the general practitioner is an invaluable asset in our social life.
What of the Labour?
Well, Labour was by far the most ambivalent of the three. they gave a fairly evasive pledge, envisioning the NHS as little more than an advisory body for healthier nutrition and medical research:
This is what they said
With good food and good homes, much avoidable ill-health can be prevented. In addition, the best health services should be available free for all. Money must no longer be the passport to the best treatment.
In the new National Health Service, there should be health centres where
the people may get the best that modern science can offer, more and better hospitals, and proper conditions for our doctors and nurses. More research is required into the causes of disease and the ways to prevent and cure it.
The point is that a Conservative post-war government under Churchill was fully signed up to introducing the NHS.
The Liberal post-war government under Sinclair was fully signed up to introducing the NHS.
Labour’s on the other hand was not, and it was only the colossal Labour majority of 1945 that made it possible for Clement Attlee’s government to confidently embark on an NHS scheme that was deeply controversial among its own members.
The Labour party, despite its self-written mythology, was not even a dogged believer in socialism up until this point. Until the 1920s, most of its own MPs saw themselves primarily as workers’ and trade unions’ representatives, and the majority did not consider themselves to be socialists (indeed, with the Fabian Society originally within the Liberal tradition, far more Liberal MPs of the 1900s and 1910s considered themselves socialists than Labour or Lib-Lab MPs did). Furthermore, the Labour party was never particularly interested in social reform before the Beveridge report. This is interesting because Churchill before he crossed the floor in 1924 was a Liberal and had been since 1901.
Before the Beveridge report. Many Labour MPs actually opposed the first state pensions in the 1909 Peoples’ Budget because they thought they would get in the way of demands for wage increases. The Labour governments of 1924 and 1929–31 dismissed talk of such comprehensive extensions of the state as unaffordable, focussing instead on appeasing further trade union claims for wage rises until the Great Depression made that impossible. It wasn’t until a report commissioned by a Conservative-led coalition and chaired by a Liberal economist, that the Labour party showed any serious inclination towards social reform, and only after the other two parties had embraced it.
If anything, the National Health Service Act 1946 is emblematic of something else — the Labour party’s struggle for a justification to exist in the modern age. Even as early as the 1940s, with the levelling of society during WWII, the justification for a purely class-based party came under question. Labour was in search of themes and continued to be through much of the twentieth century. Thus we see the natural consequence today, with the farcical sight of Labour MPs wrapping themselves in the flag of the NHS, in historical paroxysms.
These exaggerated claims that the NHS owes its whole creation to the Labour party are only possible through the most colossal ignorance and misrepresentation of the past, and I would also say propaganda worthy of Joseph Goebbels. The NHS was Britain’s triumph, not Labour’s. If Churchill who was first a Liberal MP before crossing the floor to become a Conservative MP had not thought to ask for a wartime report on how the UK was going to build a better more healthy Britain with an idea of an NHS, the UK would not have had a cradle to the grave NHS. It’s as simple as that. Isn’t history great.