“The past is a foreign country”

This weekend sees the marking of 70 years of Queen Elizabeth as the reigning monarch. Reflecting on this, the longest reign of any monarch in the UK, let’s look back to that time. Let’s compare and contrast with today.

King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, died on February 6th 1952. He had never expected to be king but his brother Edward, the heir to the throne abdicated. And so King George it was to be and he served in that role from 11 December 1936. He was not only  King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth  but also Emperor of India. That title was removed in 1947 when India became independent.

Although Elizabeth was now Queen, a time of ‘mourning’ was left between the death of George VI and the Coronation. That took place on June 2nd 1953.

BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives from Canada, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

This was an era of looking forward to the future. The generation who had fought fascism in a world war had done so for a better future for their children. Very few of that exceptional generation are now left alive who were willing to give up so much so that we would be living in a world free from fascism.

After the war there was a massive surge in house building, the National Health Service was set up in 1948, and the National Coal Board was created. A Labour government had been returned in 1945 as people looked forward to improve society for all.

Nationalisation of industry was a central policy of the Labour government in 1945. Responsibility rested with the Ministries of Fuel and Power, Transport, Civil Aviation, Supply and the Treasury. Herbert Morrison had overall responsibility for nationalisation until 1951.

The Cabinet Papers Post War Nationalisation

Although food rationing did not end till 4th July 1954 there were no Foodbanks.

In the year 2021 – 2022 the Trussell Trust alone issued 2.1 million emergency food parcels to people in the UK. An increase of 14% on the previous year. 832,000 of these emergency food parcels went to children.

In the UK of 2022 Food Security has yet again become a huge issue since we left the EU, the world’s largest Free Trade Market. Delays at customs points which now have to be endured because of Brexit, the ongoing global issues of Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have all impacted on food supply and distribution. The war in Ukraine has also resulted in a hike in profits for oil and gas companies. It’s called the Cost of Living Crisis as food and energy prices for householders soar. The Cost of Living in the UK

Cut backs in funding by successive UK Governments for the National Health Service left it extremely vulnerable and less resilient to dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have been left with long term health issues in the wake of contracting the highly infectious virus. UK’s ‘Sick’ Economy Hit by Rising Prices & Ill Health of Workers At the time of writing this 177,977 people in the UK have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid – 614 in this week alone.

The UK Government, mired in the scandal of partying whilst the country mourned its dead and dying, has brought in new laws to curb the freedom of its citizens and a people trafficking trade deal with Rwanda. The UK which once proudly welcomed refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, now shipping those seeking refuge in return for trade.

10 Downing Street is today the top location in the UK for the number of fines issued for breaking the rules introduced to limit the spread of a deadly virus. Accused of lying to MPs the Prime Minister has simply rewritten the Ministerial Code.

‘Most of our people have never had it so good’ said Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1957.

“You will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country.”

Today backwards Britain has a Prime Minister who seeks to reintroduce Imperial Measurements. Anyone over the age of 60 will recall how dreadful arithmetic was at school when you had to calculate weights and lengths. Science has used the metric system for over a century. The cost to business to going back to a pre metric time will have huge cost implications. Is it a diversion to what is actually happening in a Britain today bound to a romantic view of the past where we were actually an international player compared to the isolated state we are in 2022 ?

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

L.P Hartley, The Go-Between

How true those words were. What would the generation who fought fascism and created the National Health Service think of the UK of today where families have to choose between heating and eating ? A UK with a Prime Minister who is a law breaker and a liar?

As we look back on “the good old days,” we need to ask ourselves: Was the past actually as great as we remember it? And what can we learn from all these walks down memory lane?

Why We Romanticize the Past

Fiona Grahame

1 reply »

  1. When I realised that the news about the plan to go back to Imperial Measures wasn’t some kind of satire…..going back to Imperial Measures…..taking Imperial measures usually meaning squashing all opposition etc etc. I thought …”Why?” Is it another distraction technique on the part of Boris? It makes no sense at all. It would be costly and confusing at a time of great confusion – so – why?

    Then I thought – but, if he wants to do it he will, because, let’s face it, it’s got so that he can do what he wants – and he gets away with it.

    Boris wants – and what Boris wants – for whatever reason – Boris gets.


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