The Spirit of '45, the latest film by British director Ken Loach, is only being shown in one theater in Madrid; and during a late-night screening last week there were barely a dozen people in the audience. Across Spain only eight copies are in circulation. Although Spirit… is a flawed cinematographic experiment, it is unfortunate that it should pass by virtually unnoticed because the documentary is an interesting reflection of the atmosphere of political euphoria during the setting up of the British welfare state and the nationalizing of key industries after World War II.
The Labour leader Clement Attlee won an overwhelming victory in the general elections held after the war, defeating the Conservative Party's Winston Churchill and immediately setting about the construction of a comprehensive welfare system, of which the jewel in the crown would be the National Health Service, for decades the example that other European nations would attempt to copy. Until the 1980s, that is, when Margaret Thatcher started to demolish it to make way for private initiative.
Attlee entrusted the task to his health minister, Aneurin Bevan, a great Welsh politician whose name must also be placed on the roll of honor of those who created the welfare state, along with William Beveridge, Beatrice Webb and the rest. In Loach's film, which is largely made up of interviews with those who lived through the formation of the welfare state, two opinions are voiced that ring out like thunder above all the others.
Loach's film is a monument to the ideological triumph of the conservative revolution over all rationality
— The decision to broaden the public sector was made to prevent unemployment and suffering among those who get left by the wayside, just as had happened after World War I. Today there are homes with two generations living in them with no work. Have we forgotten the lesson of the two great wars?
— Those who today are helping to destroy the welfare state are the same people who grew up and benefited from it.
Contrast the spirit of 1945 with that of 2013, when the Netherlands — a nation at the heart of wealthy Europe and one of those that has done the most to develop a network of social protection for its citizens (fantastic healthcare infrastructure and excellent public services, in the words of the World Economic Forum) — declares the welfare state to be dead and heralds its substitution with a concept as vague and empty as the "participatory society." Last week, a government comprising Liberals and so-called Social Democrats announced, through the mouth of the Dutch king, that "the classic welfare state is slowly but surely evolving into a participatory society."
What is at stake in this crisis is the entire European social model, the closest thing to a real-life utopia that humanity has seen, and what has set the continent apart from other parts of the world for almost seven decades.
The enthusiasm of citizens for this system is present throughout Ken Loach's documentary - although it is a shame that any hint of criticism about its defects or how it may have lost touch with society's demographic needs is entirely absent from the film. It serves, above all, as a monument to the ideological triumph of the conservative revolution over all rationality.