Sunday, 26 February 2012


Upstairs, Downstairs is just a bit of fun, I suppose. But even so, its depiction of the events leading up to the Second World War is quite laughably irresponsible and quite irresponsibly laughable. The Master of the House is depicted as diplomat heroically close to Churchill and Eden, and tonight's episode suggested that the whole thing was about the persecution of the Jews, no part of the cause of the War at the time, and not a cause with which impeccably aristocratic people would almost ever have had very much sympathy.

On a Sunday evening last year, the same channel showed the infinitely superior Glorious 39, which suggested that the tide might at last have been turning. Bill Nighy's character, an upper-class Tory MP (although his views were held across all classes and parties at the time), was not a Nazi sympathiser, as almost no one was, although that, too, was distributed across both the social scale and the political spectrum. Rather, he saw that Britain in 1939 was in no fit state to fight a war against Germany, he was determined not to subject another generation of young men to what he himself had endured, he understood that the dispute between Hitler and Stalin for control of Eastern Europe was no concern of Britain's, and he recognised such a conflict as a threat to everything that he and his people - once again, regardless of class or of political allegiance - held dear.

And what was that? We ended up giving Poland to Stalin anyway. How was that any better than letting Hitler have Poland in the first place? We lost our global status, and were in debt to our great rival for it right up until 29th December 2006. Have you got that? 2006! Moral standards collapsed during the War, and everything to do with the Swinging Sixties really started then. We laugh now about the women from whose bedrooms the Normandy Landings were reputedly launched. But it was, and is, no laughing matter. There is always a baby boom after a war, so there was bound to be the Baby Boom after the War, imposing its views and tastes on both its elders and its juniors. Apparently for ever. There were warnings about this in the Thirties. But then, there were warnings about a lot of things in the Thirties.

Germany rules via the EU, and has better schools, policing, transport infrastructure, working conditions, and standards of behaviour than we have, as well as cleaner streets, a huge domestic manufacturing base, and ownership of her own industries. She has long been out of recession. Of course we had to defeat the country that was subjecting our towns and cities to nightly aerial bombardment. But how and why did we ever put ourselves in that position? What for?

Even the usually cited silver lining turns out to be illusory. There was no need to get the British used to large-scale State action by means of the War, thereby paving the way for the Welfare State and for public ownership. The Tory Britain of the Inter-War years was not only no stranger to nationalisation (of the BBC and of electricity, for example), but had the most advanced Welfare State in the world, with Britons taking for granted the things to which American New Deal Democrats, Swedish Social Democrats and the New Zealand Labour Party still only aspired. Taking them for granted under the Tories.

No wonder that all three parties offered Keynes and Beveridge Commons nominations (but they both stuck with the Liberals, so they both had to be given peerages instead), and no wonder that the NHS was in all three manifestos in 1945. The Conservative Party did eventually vote against it on a couple of technicalities, but only in the secure knowledge that it was going to go through anyway. On returning to office in 1951, when the NHS was very new and practically bankrupt, they left it intact, as they continued to do until after last year's General Election, which Labour would have won outright if the Conservatives' real agenda for the NHS had previously been made public. Tellingly, those agenda have still yet to be given practical effect. Far from the War's hastening the emergence of what came to be seen as the post-War settlement, in reality it delayed that already well-advanced emergence by an unnecessary six years.

Now, when can we expect a television drama about how there was never a German scheme to invade Britain, and how Hitler's occasional imaginative forays into that area caused the professional top brass of his Navy to threaten open mutiny? Or about how the Soviet Union that had been broken by the War had neither the means nor the will to invade Western Europe, never mind to cross the Atlantic or the Pacific, and had no mind to repeat the creation of alternative Communist powers by turning any major Western European country into another Yugoslavia, never mind turning the United States into another China? Such a drama would be Glorious, indeed. Unlike, to this extent, Upstairs, Downstairs.

1 comment:

  1. "We ended up giving Poland to Stalin anyway. How was that any better than letting Hitler have Poland in the first place?"

    Well it was much better for the Poles at least.

    The chances of someone living in Poland, even a non-Jew, was much higher for just physically surviving the eight years of Stalin's control of the country than of the five years of Hitler's control of the country.

    Also the Germany that "controls" the EU today is a bit different from the Germany of 1940.