The estate we’re in: how working class people became the ‘problem’
January 21, 2015 6:52 AM   Subscribe

This makes me wonder if "working class" is defined differently in the UK. I'm assuming a council estate is similar to a housing project, and the "working class" people I know are very proud to NOT live in housing projects. Like, the "we are the 54 percent" crowd.
posted by rednikki at 7:17 AM on January 21, 2015

(Er, I should add that does not make them right to feel that way - only that from a USAnian point of view "working class" is not the same as poverty and is in some respects even put on a pedestal as more "real.")
posted by rednikki at 7:19 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

This makes me wonder if "working class" is defined differently in the UK. I'm assuming a council estate is similar to a housing project, and the "working class" people I know are very proud to NOT live in housing projects. Like, the "we are the 54 percent" crowd.

If I understand it correctly, there is a LOT more "public" housing (even now) in the UK than in the US and people who live in it are (or have been, until austerity, etc) working regular working class jobs. Council housing isn't the equivalent to housing projects. If memory serves, some was built before the war and a lot more afterward as part of big rebuilding-and-improving post war processes. There was a big move to the left in the UK after labor was elected in 1945 - the National Health Service was established, popular education was improved and university access increased, and lots of this "public" housing was built. (Partly because a lot of houses had been destroyed in the Blitz.) It's rental housing, not free.

Thatcher, of course, did everything she could to get rid of it, and her heirs - both Labor and Tory - have done the same.

It just kills me when I think of the great, great social progress after the war and the huge difference it made to so many people - it kills me that there's an Anglophone country that actually was almost socialist and nothing happened except these awful people working as hard as they could to bring it all down. If we in the US had half the post-war UK reforms, this place would be a virtual paradise compared to how it is now.
posted by Frowner at 7:28 AM on January 21, 2015 [30 favorites]

Also, if you want to read a really interesting book about the UK in the seventies, which was when the groundwork was laid for Thatcher and her horrible ilk, you could do worse than When The Lights Went Out: What really happened in Britain in the Seventies. It's extremely readable and the author is really interested in understanding what all the people involved thought they were doing in addition to actual outcomes.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 AM on January 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

There are probably a lot of different ways to define the UK working class and its subgroups, which makes your question difficult to answer rednikki. You might find this Wikipedia page a useful introduction, it introduces the idea of skilled and unskilled/semi skilled workers, as well as the emergence of the 'underclass' (See thatcher again) and the formal classifications. Trying to give a breakdown in terms of all the signifiers is well beyond my skills, though I would say they have been evolving substantially over time. I would agree that being of working class origin is often seen as more 'real'. Poverty does not equal working class in the UK (poverty can also take in the underclass/precariat) but the working class might find themselves in poverty. It might be fair to say that WC and poverty overlap in a Venn diagram, but other social classes also have some overlap.

I'm not sure whether a council estate does necessarily equal a US project, there is a fair variance in quality across UK estates.
posted by biffa at 7:40 AM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

wow, mind blown. thank you.
posted by photoslob at 7:54 AM on January 21, 2015

If memory serves, some was built before the war and a lot more afterward as part of big rebuilding-and-improving post war processes. There was a big move to the left in the UK after labor was elected in 1945 - the National Health Service was established, popular education was improved and university access increased, and lots of this "public" housing was built. (Partly because a lot of houses had been destroyed in the Blitz.) It's rental housing, not free.

Yes, it was almost all post-1945. There was a need to replace housing destroyed or damaged during the war, a determined effort at slum clearance - and also the notion that a country that had united to fight fascism should remain united to construct a better society. The least that a man who had fought for his country should expect was a decent roof over his head, the chance at betterment through free education, and not to be reduced to penury in the event of illness - or so the idea went.

The change with housing was in 1980 when the Thatcher government bought in 'Right to Buy' which allowed council house tenants to purchase their properties at very favourable rates. This wasn't a terrible idea in itself (and it was hugely popular at the time) but there was a catch: councils were prevented from using the funds raised from these sales to construct new public housing. Therefore the availability of social housing plummeted (and what remained was the poorer quality units which no-one wished to buy) and homelessness tripled in the 1980s. Since the private sector has utterly failed to keep up with demand we've also been left with a perennial housing shortage in the UK, the highest housing costs and lowest average housing sizes in Europe. A lot of new-build housing is truly shoddy.
posted by sobarel at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

This makes me wonder if "working class" is defined differently in the UK.

Well, it's defined, as opposed to being defined away as it has in the US.

As I've mentioned here before a couple of times, the post-war settlement in the US was divvied out in individual chunks through GI Bill benefits and broad mortgage subsidies (from which black people, though technically entitled, were systematically excluded) while the UK, like much of Europe, built social housing and healthcare systems.

Many estates in the late 70s and early 80s estates were actually built as 'mixed' housing: the same new semis, some council-rented, some privately owned. No real difference in what you could do to them, because lifetime tenancies in the UK encouraged council tenants to redecorate and beautify their homes and gardens, and though there was banter between kids on council vs private, the adults on those estates were doing similar working-class and lower-middle class jobs.

The right-to-buy in the 80s was insidious in multiple ways: councils were forbidden from investing the money from sales in new property, council estates got divided up between those who could but at the massive discount (and sell on at a massive profit) and those who couldn't because of low-paid work or unemployment or other economic insecurity.

It created the same unequal apportionment of wealth through property that occurred in the US decades before -- a stratification that tends to worsen over time -- and those who weren't able to take advantage of it were seen as losers. It laid the foundations for the kind of social breakdown that this piece describes (and shit like Benefits Street as 'entertainment'); it also creates the conditions for the nasty reactionary politics of UKIP to take hold.
posted by holgate at 8:02 AM on January 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

[T]he Thatcher government’s rhetoric of “underclass” and “the enemy within” became an attack on working-class communities, despising them, destroying families and identities. New Labour did little better with its social exclusion model, where it took the concept of social justice from France that tried to explain how groups of poorer, working-class people were becoming excluded from society. New Labour subverted it into something about how poorer families were excluding themselves with their “wrongness”, their bad culture and bad practices.
When the UK's manufacturing industries (and with them the labour unions) were gutted because it was cheaper to move them offshore, it was important to paint the victims as the villains. If too many people had felt sympathy for whole communities thrown out of work, taxes on those making the profits might've gone up to support the newly jobless working classes and thus reduced the profitability of slash-and-burn finance in the City.

It reminds me of how women get demonized as "witches" as an excuse to kill them. No, no, it's not that the community doesn't want to support them! It's that they brought this punishment upon themselves!
posted by clawsoon at 8:02 AM on January 21, 2015 [13 favorites]

A lot of new-build housing is truly shoddy.

It really is. Council houses were initially built after slum clearances, and the standards were decent -- providing indoor hot water and toilets for people who'd lived with tin baths and outhouses. These standards got put aside during the era of tower blocks, but right up to the 80s, most council stock, while small by US standards, is often better built than the overpriced 'executive home' crap that's now being flung up in whatever space is made available.

You can see the barely-disguised spite against people living in old but well-built council semis manifested in the 'bedroom tax'. In your fifties, poor and still renting, but your kids have moved out? Pay extra for the privilege of a spare bedroom, you losers. Or move out to that one-bedroom flat that doesn't exist because your council hasn't been allowed to build it.
posted by holgate at 8:14 AM on January 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

St. Anns is a slightly worse-off area than where I currently live in Nottingham, and for a lot of the same reasons. In the 80s, when they weren't selling off the council homes, they were shipping in "problematic" families from other councils, so that those areas could become more middle class while our areas...didn't.

St. Anns is getting gentrified by the encroaching university student population, but my neighbourhood is too far away from the universities to get any sort of benefit. So all we really are is a place to drive through on your way to the B&Q/Morrisons/Lidl/TK Maxx in the local retail park. And when they build in the roads for the new Sainsburys they're putting on the industrial estate, I suppose you won't ever have a reason to drive through it at all.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:21 AM on January 21, 2015

The flip side is class-based horror stories like this: rich person screws up like a poor person. You can almost hear Toronto Life's readers sniffing and thinking "Hrummph! Not MY child!" as they read it over their organic free trade coffee and/or scotch and/or cigar.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:22 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure whether a council estate does necessarily equal a US project

I grew up in council housing in Liverpool. Where I lived was two streets of privately built housing that had been acquired by the council, surrounded by mostly privately owned properties.

There were only houses on one side of the street, and they overlooked what were then well maintained gardents.

Today, I live in a big posh house in a posh part of town, but the only difference between the house I live in now, and the house I lived in then, is size and location. The properties were both built around 1910, and the build quality is pretty identical.

I expect they're all sold off now. Even if you couldn't afford to buy one yourself, local estate agents were offering residents more cash than they'd ever seen for exercising their right to buy and then turning over the property to them.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:30 AM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of a Pat Barker novel, The Century's Daughter (also published as Liza's England. (Pat Barker wrote the Regeneration trilogy about WH Rivers, Siegfried Sasson, Wilfred Owen, anti-war Britons, shell shock, WWI and stuff.) It was written in the early-mid eighties and the characters are reflecting that conditions are deteriorating for working people under Thatcher - the elderly working class woman, who is living in some kind of perfectly decent council housing, only gets a couple of check-in visits from the social worker every week. (They're actual helpful visits and he spends a lot of time with her.) There's nothing wrong with Liza - she's fully mentally present and can go out, she's just old and a bit frail, so naturally she gets a social worker to check on her and help her with stuff.

Again, it just kills me that people actually set up all this stuff - and it worked okay, as far as I can tell; not perfectly, but okay - and then it all got torn down.

I think I basically got interested in UK history because I was reading all these novels from the fifties through the seventies where people had access to social services that seemed amazing to me, and I could not figure it out - what was a council flat? what was the National Health? How was this working class kid winning a place at Oxford and then getting to go?

Pat Barker herself benefited from the post-war education stuff - she was from a working class family and born to a single mother and then she won a place at a grammar school, ie the more academically rigorous kind, and then she went to LSE. I think that would be like a kid from the bad side of town winning a private school scholarship in the US and then going to an Ivy, except that the grammar schools were set up everywhere and anyone who was bright enough could test in. So basically not like here at all.
posted by Frowner at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

Grammar schools were (and "are" in the odd places in England where they're still extant) a bit problematic as far as social mobility goes - the Eleven Plus selection exam tended to strongly favour middle-class children. Smart kids from poor backgrounds breaking through the class barrier was the exception rather than the norm.

Still, we've now got such abominations as state-funded "Faith Academies" so we've nothing to boast about.
posted by sobarel at 9:02 AM on January 21, 2015

The equation of moving up and moving out is a major problem in the English speaking world.

I recently attended my 20th high school reunion, for an inner city Chicago school, and by far the happiest alumni were those who had moved up without moving out.
posted by ocschwar at 9:10 AM on January 21, 2015

Pat Barker is from my part of the world, and only a little older than my parents. She won a place at grammar school in part because there were public libraries that a bookish child could devour by the shelf. Libraries gave us power. (On preview: yes, grammar schools and the eleven-plus were problematic, but the exceptions set precedents for their peers.)

The council estate public library where I devoured books by the shelf in the 80s, the intellectual rocket engine that gave me escape velocity, has been hit hard by spending cuts, and was threatened with closure; it operates on restricted hours, and most of the time has a heavy iron gate on the entrance and metal shutters on the windows. The shopping centre of which it was once a bright, active focal point has a lot of boarded up shops, a betting shop, a post office, a chippy, and a couple of mini-markets that sell booze.
posted by holgate at 9:10 AM on January 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

That was the feeling I got when reading about didn't seem like there was a huge quantity of class mobility. It just seemed so incredible to me back when I was reading novels and memoirs that the possibility was even available. We've got plenty of things here in the US that are nominally equalizing but really favor the middle class, certainly, but they are always so stingy and limited in scope, and they have so little potential that the whole idea of "you can have high quality schooling even if you're poor if you're smart enough, and there are many places, not just a couple of scholarships for the whole city" really blew me away.
posted by Frowner at 9:12 AM on January 21, 2015

I so wish the UK Soft Left was able to engage with the forces of reality.

The 1968 Housing Act was the first major step in making much of the UK's Post War 'Welfare State' radically means tested rather than universal and contributory. And communitarian. Want to be on the Estate? Don't piss in the lift. Keep your garden tidy. Be nice to people.

All those obligations went in 1968.

Many friends and family recall the slow change in who was on their Estates as a result. It took a while. Thamesmead, which was used as a set for Clockwork Orange, was a very pleasant, diverse place overall well into the later 80s.

Trellick Tower is a thing of beauty. But when it opened the GLC would not put locks on the doors or a concierge at the front due to some comic book cod Marxist debate about 'who was being kept out.' Of course it became a combo of Mad Max and Escape from New York in minutes. Crossed with a downmarket brothel.

Either native people with serious issues - mental health, addictions, criminal tendencies, or very recent and needy immigrants, replaced the working poor, the young, and the elderly.

This meant Council Estates truly became a warehouse for desperation and frankly depravity. Everyone else was chased away - often into the very expensive Private rented stuff again paid for by the State as Housing Benefit. Right to Buy was well intentioned but a grossly unjust transfer of unearned wealth - which further destabilised Estates by replacing long term occupation with itinerancy. So you get rid of Grammar Schooling, the State leaves the Housing sector in favour of rapacious private rent. The whole concept of Council Housing becomes discredited. And we are where we are.

But politically what so many miss is - these people in St. Anne's probably are sympathetic to UKIP. The Working Class does not exist in the UK anymore. And in most urban areas, anyone with a job or prospects is shut out of the Council House system. Friends of mine that have hung on are under constant terror from paranoid schizophrenics being 'cared for in the community' and people who throw bags of shit and rubbish out the 20th floor window. Drive through South London and look at all the chicken wire covering the high rises to prevent people chucking stuff out.

This Soft Left student fetish of the 'noble poor' and riding out of prize ponies like this plum author is a suicidal nonsense.

She writes as if individual agency does not exist. As if the fact this post apocalyptic rump could and would not support a simple pub, or even open their OWN shop is unknowable. These are all helpless serfs. What rot.
I know for a fact there are many schemes local government use in the UK to let local people use retail space at little to no cost. Some, mainly immigrants by the way, have the ambition.

The vast majority of people in the UK in receipt of benefits feel they are too generous and wrongly targeted. The harder Left in Labour is rediscovering communitarianism and contributory welfare.

The battles of the 1980s need to end for these cartoons or else there will be no mass support for any collective provision of anything in the UK.

A read of this book reveals much. As does this.
posted by The Salaryman at 9:26 AM on January 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

except that the grammar schools were set up everywhere and anyone who was bright enough could test in


anyone who didn't pass the selection exam at eleven years of age was pretty much written off, had virtually no chance of getting to university and faced limited employment opportunities and their financial disbenefit outweighed the financial benefit to those who did get selected.

Results for those attending grammar schools were much worse for those from lower social classes.

Modern grammars tend to be selective by social class despite supposedly being meritocratic and even with the introduction of exams supposedly proofed against those receiving extra tutoring (eg from private schools).
posted by biffa at 9:29 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

the whole idea of "you can have high quality schooling even if you're poor if you're smart enough, and there are many places, not just a couple of scholarships for the whole city" really blew me away.

If we're talking about lost factors for social mobility: University education used to be not only free (until 1998), but you got a non-means-tested maintenance grant to study (until 1989). Nowadays only those with wealthy parents can hope to access higher education without incurring a significant debt.
posted by sobarel at 9:29 AM on January 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

I am reminded of the problem of the American woman who died of asphyxiation in her car, napping between her 3-4 jobs. I am reminded of a woman demonized because she left her kids in the car while at a job interview. I am reminded that the 1% plan to keep everything. Their paid minions in congress, will see to it. We just speak about it differently in the US. To help us understand this reality, essentially who rules us, the police shoot to kill.

While at a job interview at a high school, east of Salt Lake City, a very white community, there were at least five police officers in and out of the office, all with visible sidearms. At least two had snatch off pistols, some sort of holder with no holster. The other cultural kids are the targets. This is the school famous for altering yearbook photos to fullfill the predominant culture's social ideals.

In the US we have made some efforts, which are continually deconstructed, or carefully constructed to maintain the class status quo, or less.

A good read is "A Handbook for Understanding Poverty," this is a guidebook often referred to by education administrators. Sadly it names matriliny as a defining feature. Meanwhile we maintain a pretty picture of a classless society, with the middle class watchdogging the situation, and filtering out the undesirable job applicants. Oh, wait is that why middle.class incomes are down? The cheap labor provided by algorithms has ended a prime source of income for the middle class, that being the buffer between, yeah and advances in computer generated sound can easily duplicate the sucking noises that so soothe the haves.

Maybe if we get poor enough, and will work for less, the 1% will move some jobs back to the US, meanwhile, plant your gardens, trade for seeds and plants.
posted by Oyéah at 10:07 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Want to be on the Estate? Don't piss in the lift. Keep your garden tidy. Be nice to people

Ha! I'm still surprised if I walk into a lift and it doesn't smell of pish. Housing rules seem to be a bit better now as well. The writer is spot on about both left and right doing their bit to demonise the working class.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:17 AM on January 21, 2015

University education used to be not only free (until 1998), but you got a non-means-tested maintenance grant to study (until 1989).

My parents were unskilled labourers -- dad made wellingtons, mum packed biscuits, back in the days when we had local factories, jobs, etc. Before we moved to our council house, we lived in a slum clearance area -- equidistant between the two football grounds. And whenever a kid passed the 11 plus (which sent you to grammar school), every family in the street gave you money.

I did pass the 11 plus and go to grammar school -- most of the other kids were just as working class as we were. I left school without qualifications, but decided to go to university and on to post-grad study when I was older.

There's no way I could have ever envisaged doing that without free higher education and the maintenance grant. I was married with a kid, but even if I hadn't been, it seemed like such an insane risk (I'm not sure I'd even ever met anyone that had been to university before then) that I never would have borrowed money to do it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:34 AM on January 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

The vast majority of people in the UK in receipt of benefits feel they are too generous and wrongly targeted.

Do you have a source for this? I'd be interested to see it.

The council estate I grew up on consisted of mostly two and three bedroom houses, all with front and back gardens, generously proportioned. We moved in in 1989. By 1995 nearly everyone had exercised right to buy and that brilliant housing stock was never replaced. My friends who still live in the area have pretty much given hope of ever being able to afford their own house or even renting somewhere half decent on a long term basis.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:46 AM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

The middle class were boring, and the upper class were cruel – they hurt animals and sent their children away.

Unfortunately, offhand and casual comments relating to class prejudice and snobbery are very common.

posted by Dr.Pill at 1:38 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sort of breaks my heart that the motherland appears to have just as many people in political leadership who don't understand that if you want people to have stable lives, they have to have stable jobs and homes.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:10 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

just as many people in political leadership who don't understand that if you want people to have stable lives, they have to have stable jobs and homes.

Perhaps they understand it very well and just don't want it. Or they want it for the people who read the Daily Mail ('IMMIGRANTS GIVE YOUR HOUSE PRICE CANCER'), but not for the people the Daily Mail tells you to fear.
posted by holgate at 2:18 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just on a point that came up earlier: most public housing in the US isn't free, either. It may be rent-subsidized or rent-controlled, but most people in US public housing also pay rent.

Great article, and I find it interesting that on both sides of the Atlantic, there has been much more work from the "underclass" point of view reaching the mainstream. I hope it continues to get louder. Also, her refusal to allow her own story to represent the neoliberal talking points about making it through hard work and success is very important.
posted by Miko at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2015

there is a LOT more "public" housing (even now) in the UK than in the US

Just did some numbers. It looks like 17% of UK households are in some sort of social housing, compared to around 3% of US households (around 1.8M each in public housing and voucher programs, most of which are so-called "Section 8"). [Got this from a HUD data portal where you can't link to the results.] I happen to live in a city which has never had actual public housing, even though another slightly smaller city down the road does. US attitudes are also highly associated with racial attitudes, even though nationally there is a slight majority of whites vs. other races (but blacks are 3x more likely to be in social housing).

I'll add that the excellent 2009 BAFTA-winning Fish Tank is illuminating about how people in social housing live, how distant and impossible opportunity appears, and the gulf between living in a council estate tower block and living in a modest suburban home (and there's even a further indication of the level below council estate, which is living in a trailer). Director Andrea Arnold drew on her own experience growing up on a council estate in Kent.
I don't want to say more, but she drew a commanding performance out of an untrained actress that stole the movie from Michael Fucking Fassbender.
posted by dhartung at 5:23 PM on January 21, 2015

When they say "Estate" - are these former aristocratic estates which have been divvied up, or is there another reason for the term?
posted by corb at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2015

From OED: "housing estate n. Brit. a residential area in which the houses, streets, etc., have all been planned and built at the same time."
My English history is perhaps rusty, but, no, I have no recollection of a redistribution of land from the aristocracy to local town councils. I think the term probably arises from the use of "estate" to mean landed property, but the use of the term is akin to the American use of "subdivision".
posted by gingerest at 10:13 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Similarly, "real estate agent", which in the UK is just "estate agent", and "station wagon" which becomes "estate wagon". The meanings of "manorial estate" and "property of a decedent" remain intact, so it's just a more broadly understood term there. The term "council estate" also refers to the local council which is responsible for maintaining them; a council is basically a county-level authority (there are municipal and sub-municipal councils as well, I believe, i.e. municipal boroughs) with tax and public services authority. In any case, as noted, it began with a need for industrial workers' housing and especially after the Second World War for vastly expanded housing needs during a period when rationing was still in place and the auto was still a symbol of middle class arrival. It really depends on the area what the housing is; smaller areas have townhomes, cities have tower blocks that resemble American cities' "projects". They don't have the racial connotations, though, and generations of working class Britons have grown up on council estates. There are, as noted, issues with availability and access to jobs and concentrations of criminal activity. Just as the US infamously demolished Pruitt-Igoe, Scotland has been demolishing the Red Road towers (there's an unsettling episode of Rebus that is set there).
posted by dhartung at 10:55 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Subdivision is more or less the American equivalent, and there used to be a time when private large-scale developments along similar lines were also enthusiastically called 'housing estates', but that's fallen out of fashion and they're now suburban villages or some other marketing nonsense. But we're talking about the kind of development that houses thousands of people, not hundreds.

My guess is that it draws from the Grosvenor and Cadogan Estates in London, which were the first large-scale bits of systematic 'property development' in modern British history, and perhaps early social housing schemes like the Boundary Estate were meant to be red-brick parallels to those white Georgian houses. The term wasn't used for places like Edinburgh's New Town or Bath's terraces, nor for 'model village' housing tied to specific industries in the 19th century.

More prosaically, housing estates within cities were built through compulsory purchase (eminent domain) to accumulate large areas of land, sometimes through slum clearance, sometimes farmland. The earliest replaced the worst slums; many industrial towns' inner-ring suburbs included estates built in the 1920s (like this one) to provide 'homes fit for heroes'; new estates were built in the 40s and 50s to replace bombed-out central residential areas or add additional suburban space; the 60s brought concrete and tower blocks and T. Dan; the 70s and early 80s saw the last significant building-out of social housing for reasons described upthread. Nowadays, cash-strapped councils have placed their housing stock in the hands of housing associations (whose slow consolidation is another topic) and sell off land to property developers who then build crap houses and sell them for a very tidy profit.
posted by holgate at 11:36 PM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Does that mean my house's price is going to grow without limits? Yes, please!
posted by Anne Neville at 6:38 AM on January 22, 2015

My SO's measure for how to tell you grew up poor (in urban subsidised housing): you always carefully step around the unidentified puddle in the elevator. (He'd never done that before hanging 'round where I grew up).
posted by jb at 8:27 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

An interesting illustration of the two meanings of estate in British English:
An orangery, once part of an estate compulsory purchased post war by a London council, now marooned in a housing estate. William Bonney Estate, Clapham Common.
posted by Dr.Pill at 11:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

There was a big move to the left in the UK after labor was elected in 1945...

Labour campaign from the 1945 UK general election
The war had set in motion profound social changes within Britain, and had ultimately led to a widespread popular desire for social reform. This mood was epitomised in the Beveridge Report of 1942, by the Liberal economist William Beveridge. The Report assumed that the maintenance of full employment would be the aim of post-war governments, and that this would provide the basis for the welfare state. Immediately on its release, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies. All major parties committed themselves to fulfilling this aim, but most historians say that Attlee's Labour Party were seen by the electorate as the most likely to follow it through.

Labour campaigned on the theme of "Let Us Face the Future", positioning themselves as the party best placed to rebuild Britain after the war, while the Conservative campaign focused entirely around Churchill.[note 1] With Churchill's status as a "war hero", many predicted a Conservative victory. Churchill made some costly errors during the campaign. In particular, his suggestion during one radio broadcast that a future Labour Government would require "some form of a gestapo" to implement their policies was widely regarded as being in very bad taste, and massively backfired.
Let Us Face the Future: A Declaration of Labour Policy for the Consideration of the Nation
The people made tremendous efforts to win the last war also. But when they had won it they lacked a lively interest in the social and economic problems of peace, and accepted the election promises of the leaders of the anti-Labour parties at their face value. So the "hard-faced men who had done well out of the war" were able to get the kind of peace that suited themselves. The people lost that peace. And when we say "peace" we mean not only the Treaty, but the social and economic policy which followed the fighting.

In the years that followed, the "hard-faced men" and their political friends kept control of the Government. They controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which the people got their living. They controlled the ways by which most of the people learned about the world outside. This happened in all the big industrialised countries.

Great economic blizzards swept the world in those years. The great inter-war slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of the concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men. These men had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic State. They had and they felt no responsibility to the nation.

Similar forces are at work today. The interests have not been able to make the same profits out of this war as they did out of the last. The determined propaganda of the Labour Party, helped by other progressive forces, had its effect in "taking the profit out of war". The 100% Excess Profits Tax, the controls over industry and transport, the fair rationing of food and control of prices - without which the Labour Party would not have remained in the Government - these all helped to win the war. With these measures the country has come nearer to making "fair shares" the national rule than ever before in its history.


The nation wants food, work and homes. It wants more than that - it wants good food in plenty, useful work for all, and comfortable, labour - saving homes that take full advantage of the resources of modern science and productive industry. It wants a high and rising standard of living, security for all against a rainy day, an educational system that will give every boy and girl a chance to develop the best that is in them.

These are the aims. In themselves they are no more than words. All parties may declare that in principle they agree with them. But the test of a political programme is whether it is sufficiently in earnest about the objectives to adopt the means needed to realise them. It is very easy to set out a list of aims. What matters is whether it is backed up by a genuine workmanlike plan conceived without regard to sectional vested interests and carried through.


The Labour Party stands for freedom - for freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of the Press. The Labour Party will see to it that we keep and enlarge these freedoms, and that we enjoy again the personal civil liberties we have, of our own free will, sacrificed to win the war. The freedom of the Trade Unions, denied by the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, must also be restored. But there are certain so-called freedoms that Labour will not tolerate: freedom to exploit other people; freedom to pay poor wages and to push up prices for selfish profit; freedom to deprive the people of the means of living full, happy, healthy lives.

The nation needs a tremendous overhaul, a great programme of modernisation and re-equipment of its homes, its factories and machinery, its schools, its social services.



All parties pay lip service to the idea of jobs for all. All parties are ready to promise to achieve that end by keeping up the national purchasing power and controlling changes in the national expenditure through Government action. Where agreement ceases is in the degree of control of private industry that is necessary to achieve the desired end.

In hard fact, the success of a full employment programme will certainly turn upon the firmness and success with which the Government fits into that programme the investment and development policies of private as well as public industry.


First, the whole of the national resources, in land, material and labour must be fully employed. Production must be raised to the highest level and related to purchasing power. Over-production is not the cause of depression and unemployment; it is under-consumption that is responsible. It is doubtful whether we have ever, except in war, used the whole of our productive capacity. This must be corrected because, upon our ability to produce and organise a fair and generous distribution of the product, the standard of living of our people depends.

Secondly, a high and constant purchasing power can be maintained through good wages, social services and insurance, and taxation which bears less heavily on the lower income groups. But everybody knows that money and savings lose their value if prices rise so rents and the prices of the necessities of life will be controlled.

Thirdly, planned investment in essential industries and on houses, schools, hospitals and civic centres will occupy a large field of capital expenditure. A National Investment Board will determine social priorities and promote better timing in private investment. In suitable cases we would transfer the use of efficient Government factories from war production to meet the needs of peace. The location of new factories will be suitably controlled and where necessary the Government will itself build factories. There must be no depressed areas in the New Britain.

Fourthly, the Bank of England with its financial powers must be brought under public ownership, and the operations of the other banks harmonised with industrial needs.

By these and other means full employment can be achieved. But a policy of Jobs for All must be associated with a policy of general economic expansion and efficiency as set out in the next section of this Declaration. Indeed, it is not enough to ensure that there are jobs for all. If the standard of life is to be high - as it should be - the standard of production must be high. This means that industry must be thoroughly efficient if the needs of the nation are to be met.

A Call to Rally
The first revolution is exemplified by Thomas Hobbes, who insisted that the state exists to provide benefits to its subjects, not the other way around. John Stuart Mill typifies the second revolution, both in his early emphasis on liberty and his later shift toward more collectivist ideas. Beatrice Webb symbolizes the third, exemplifying an idealistic commitment to using state power to remedy social inequality, but rather too willing to admire Stalin. Even the failed revolution of Thatcher and Reagan has its avatar, Milton Friedman (first met by one of the authors in a San Francisco sauna in 1981, “minimally dressed”).

This is by far the strongest section of “The Fourth Revolution,” offering a thoughtful account of how Hobbes, Mill, Webb and Friedman each struggled to answer that most fundamental of questions, What is the state for? But once these thinkers and the intellectual movements they inspired faded away, Micklethwait and Wooldridge lament, it was all downhill for the West, which stopped asking the hard questions and started looking for the easy way out.
posted by kliuless at 1:01 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

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