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A paean to the people

26 December 2010

2:36 PM

26 December 2010

2:36 PM

There’s so much junk on the box at Christmas that yesterday I tweeted a link to a seven-minute video that I thought would be
much more memorable: an American’s film on England in Christmas 1940. The film is above, and speaks best for itself.

The great thing about Twitter is the response: positive and negative. And while many people retweeted the link (one guy said he’d forced his kids to watch it), it provoked fury from one David Walker. His words:

"@frasernels – this Tory dares extol this film – a paean of praise to the state and common sacrifice. What hypocrisy."

This is David Walker, co-author with his partner Polly Toynbee of various books on the Blair years and,
until recently, a member of the Audit Commission (and familiar to Guido readers) – by all accounts, a
serious commentator. So how can he see in this film any kind of praise to the state? It’s a film about people. A portrait of human courage: the resourcefulness of window cleaners, operating in a
London with its windows blown out. The courage of shopkeepers who pick up their decapitated mannequins and start the day again. We’re used to reading about the courage of the Blitz, but I’d never
seen it quite as presented in this film. But its power lies in the near-absence of any governmental bodies (despite the film being commissioned by the GPO). I will happily give Walker space on Coffee
House to explain in what ways this film is a "paean of praise to the state".

It’s about what David Cameron might call the Big Society. It’s a shame that the phrase has become so widely derided, because it contains a very powerful message. There is a difference between state
and society – and this film was about the latter, not the former. It is a faith in people that drives the Conservative desire for small government and low taxes. It’s about passing power into
the hands of these people, and a major part of this is letting workers keep more of the money they earn. The greatest act of faith in the British people is to empower them: and this is the aim of
this coalition government.

P.S. Some disclaimers. Many on the left – the Blairite wing – agree with the empowerment agenda, as does Nick Clegg. Empowerment vs state control is a dividing line
which cuts across all parties. And, yes, the film was of course produced at a time when many Americans wanted to believe that Britain would be okay fighting Hitler by herself. And to my fellow
Scots: yes, he means Britain in the film but says England.

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