Sunday, 13 October 2013

Excellence is Not Always Popular

When one looks back at the 20th century there are two governments which, for me, stand out above all the others.

The first was the wartime National Government of Winston Churchill. When it comes to achievements, winning a war in the face of what at first had seemed to be insurmountable odds certainly ranks up there amongst the best of them. Whatever his shortcomings were, and they were many, they are rightly considered inconsequential and even remembered with some affection as a result of what he pulled off as a wartime leader.

When Britain went to the polls in 1945 then, after the war had been won, one could have been forgiven for thinking he would be a shoe-in. Not only was he not a shoe-in, but he was kicked out of office as Labour under Clement Attlee romped home with a large majority.

The Attlee government was the other great government. Just as Churchill had delivered in wartime, so Attlee led a revolution in peacetime the likes of which has not been seen by any living person before or since. The introduction of the National Health Service, the creation of the welfare state, the National Insurance Act, meaningful powers of requisition for local authorities - Attlee enshrined in law the notion that we as a society have a collective responsibility towards those who through no fault of their own may have fallen upon difficult times. True it may be that the mindset created by the crisis of war allowed for radical measures in peace which may otherwise have been unthinkable, but the fact remains that Attlee's government not only achieved more than any other peacetime government of the 20th century, but arguably more than the rest of them put together.

There is one other thing that the war leader Churchill and the post-hostilities Prime Minister Attlee had in common. Both of them were booted out in short order once their fine achievements had been delivered. Yes I know that Attlee won the general election of 1950 - just - but he was a dead man walking and Churchill was restored to office in 1951 to lead one of the most unnoted and unspectacular governments of anybody's time, into and some would say well beyond his dotage.

Although the significance and scale is immensely different, there may be a message here for us locally. If the opportunity ever arises again for us to deliver significant change to the way local affairs are managed we should do so with regard to the result of the previous election, much more than to that of the next one.

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