“Shame that Ken isn’t here tonight.”
says pensioner Dot to the audience at Stratford Picturehouse, East London, where Ken Loach’s inspirational 2013 documentary ‘Spirit of 45’ has just ended.
“He’s up in Newcastle.” she adds, by way of explanation. (We’ll have to let him off, then.)
We’ve just watched Loach’s moving testimony to the spirit of unity which sustained Britain during WW2 years, and carried on through after 1945 to create a vision of a fairer, united society.
Dot Gibson is one of a memorable line-up of silver ‘talking heads’ whose authentic commentaries intertwine evocatively with the film’s archive footage, chronicling how post-war Britain ushered in the NHS, public ownership and the concept of public (not private) good. This real-life cast of good ‘old-troupers’ reminds us what we all now stand to lose.
These days Dot keeps busy as General Secretary of the National Pensioners’ Convention. Tonight she is guest speaker at this Waltham Forest People’s Assembly’s screening event.
So what (slight) bone would Dot have had to pick with Ken had he been here this evening?
Well, the camera didn’t at any point reveal Britain’s post-war Caribbean immigrants who settled in London, did it? Dot assures us these guys were a major contributing factor to the rebuilding of London’s post-war urban economy. Having been invited to fill labour requirements in hospitals, transportation venues and railway development, they meticulously did just that. So why is there no trace of them in the documentary? (Ken’s not here to answer, is he?)
Dot merely wants to give everyone their credit where it’s due. Since Loach made his seminal film ‘Cathy Come Home’ in 1966, real life and the world of his films have been closely interwoven. (Dot is living proof of that, having emerged from the cinema screen for us this evening!). But we are also here to look at how the life and times of Dot’s generation can reflect in the youth of today.
We’ve just heard Ray Davies, (a campaigner aged a mere 83), recall on-screen:
"We owed trillions to the Americans at the end of the war, we had nothing, but we said 'Knickers to the debt.’ We are going to put this country back on its feet. And we did!”
Ray's voice still resonates with the sheer buzz of it all. His vibrant overtones could easily find an echo with a newer generation facing cut-backs, unaffordable housing, and the loss of our precious public services.
Younger guest speaker, Maddy Kirkman, an NUS Disabled Students’ Officer, dreams a world where there is equality of opportunity for everyone to participate fully in a society that celebrates diversity.
Young people need to find their strength in unity as much as the Rays and Dots did back in the day.
Look what happened this summer, when a youthful surge of electrifying optimism revitalized a tired and jaded Labour party. A 66-year old ‘rank outsider’, who was always open in his belief that young people need to be heard, won his Labour leadership job by a landslide. While Jeremy Corbyn’s message of anti-austerity is not exclusively related to young people, it was that which resounded with them. After all, the cuts brought in under the new Conservative government are going to directly impinge upon under 25’s.
People’s Assembly General Secretary Sam Fairbairn is chairing this evening’s (lively) Q&A session:
So, what is happening to our ailing NHS and how can make sure our beloved patient survives? With the correct treatment, we can keep the principle of universal services paid by general taxation alive and well. After all, this cherished service of ours is a sturdy type by nature, if we can only prevent it from being maimed and disfigured by attacks. We have to build support by encouraging people to look beyond the outward symptoms (deteriorating service and declining patient care) to the actual root cause of its debility (deliberate cuts and harmful dismantling by the government). That’s what is actually causing the scarring.
And, as the anti-austerity crusade continues to gain healthily in weight and numbers, this movement’s own long-term care-plan should not so much be based on ‘preaching to the converted’ as about gently engaging those with opposing views in an antidotal manner. So what do you do if you work in an office full of, say, Tory supporters? Well, don’t be tempted to give them any harsh medication. Try to nurture them ‘holistically’, mind, body and soul. Keep communication channels open and carefully encourage them to rethink. (And remember that a spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down, so ‘sweeten’ the message as much as you can.) Let them know it’s for the greater good.
The consensus is that we must continue to raise our heads above the parapet and get out there, spreading the message of hope and unity.
Hopefully we can all leave the Picturehouse imbued by a touch of that same old spirit we’ve just witnessed up there on that big screen.
And don’t forget to grab a bit cake as you leave - just to keep your spirit (of 45) up!