Category: Britain

Elections on Film: ‘General Election’ (1945)

Today’s election-related film is a bit different. It comes from the British Council film archive and is a short documentary explaining the processes involved in conducting the 1945 General Election from the perspective of one constituency – that of Kettering in Northamptonshire. The film offers the viewer a guided tour around Kettering as the various candidates (including the incumbent Tory MP John Profumo – yes, that John Profumo) valiently attempt to win their contituents’ votes, showing how their campaigns are run and reported and how the votes are cast and counted. Little has changed in this respect – much of what the viewer sees will still be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the way an election is organized in recent years.

Held in July 1945, this was the first General Election in ten years as a result of the Second World War and the results took some time to come in due to the huge numbers of the electorate who were still serving overseas in the armed forces, whose votes had to be returned to Britain from vitually every corner of the globe. This is also mentioned in the film and was, to a cetain extent, probably a factor in the end result – because the 1945 election is one of the most important of the twentieth century, as it returned a large and unexpected Labour majority for the first time.

This came as a real shock to the Conservative Party, who had expected to be carried into power on the back of Winston Churchill’s record as war leader. However, the nation thought otherwise and made their views very clearly known. The impact of this election result has echoed down the years following 1945 – indeed, modern Britain still owes a huge debt to this groundbreaking Labour government, as it was they who introduced the NHS and the welfare state.

Elections on Film: ‘All the Winners – And the Losers!’ (1923)

Today’s newsreel footage comes from the General Election of December 1923 and features a remarkable FIVE politicans who had been or were to become prime minister in the first half of the 20th century: Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, Herbert Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (again! He randomly popped up yesterday too…) – plus Austen Chamberlain, senior politician and half-brother of the late 1930s prime minister Neville Chamberlain.

This election was a hugely momentous one in that the result gave Labour their first ever stab at forming a government (with the support of the Liberals, for whom it was the last time they would win over a hundred seats and more than 25% of the vote – although they came close with the Liberal Democrats’ controversial result in 2010 with 22.1%). This minority government only lasted until the following year, but it was the first time that the traditional two-party system had genuinely been threatened in an electoral context.

If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.

Elections on Film: ‘Animated Politics’ (1910)

Some of you might remember that in the run-up to Christmas I posted some seasonal film snippets from the wonderful BFI archive YouTube channel. Since it is now election week, I was pleased to discover they’ve uploaded some bits and pieces of newsreel footage relating to various 20th century General Elections – so I’ll be posting a particularly interesting example every day until Thursday’s crucial ballot…

Today’s choice is very brief snapshot of one of the two elections held in 1910 (January and December – this film is probably from the January one), showing footage of the Labour MP Will Crooks and his Tory opponent Major William Augustus Adams on the hustings at Woolwich in London, plus a glimpse of the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill.

The results of both of the 1910 elections had been ridiculously close and very tense, with Asquith’s Liberals being separated from Balfour’s Conservatives by a matter of only two seats in January and a mere one in December. These deadlocked elections were particularly significant for being the last elections to be held until after the First World War. They were also significant for being the last elections to be held over a period of days, unlike the single polling day we are used to now – this, in many ways, was the beginning of the modern electoral system.

If you’d like to find out more about the BFI’s National Archive, you can visit their website here.

Bodiam Castle: Medieval Ruins and Structural Secrets

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This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. From the photographs, you can clearly see that it’s a pretty spectacular construction. Indeed, it looks like the kind of castle immortalised in books and films as the type of defensive military stronghold we all associate with knights and soldiers, sieges and battles – “everyone’s idea of what a medieval stronghold should look like”, as the guidebook puts it.

It certainly has all the outward trappings of a classic medieval defensive building, although now ruined inside: thick stone walls and tall towers with battlements, a wide surrounding moat, a rare 14th century wooden portcullis, arrow slit windows, murder holes in the ceiling of the gatehouse (and even a much later piece of defensive kit in the shape of a World War Two-era pill-box) – all the things you’d expect to see in such a castle. Ostensibly, it is such a castle, and it has the kind of history you might expect from that too.

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Horsemeat, Sloe Leaves and Arsenic: Food Adulteration Past and Present

It can’t have failed to escape your notice in recent months that most of the major supermarkets have been pulling beef products off the shelves at a rapid rate of knots due to the fact that it has been discovered that they have been adulterated with horsemeat.

Unlike many other cases of food adulteration, this isn’t necessarily a public health issue. In Britain, at least, the decision not to consume horsemeat is a cultural choice (although this hasn’t always been the case); however, this is more a case of whether we can assume honesty and are able to trust the products that we buy – or not. If our microwave meal claims to contain beef, for example, then beef is exactly what it should contain.

What is in our food is actually regulated by law, but that hasn’t always been the case either – and the horsemeat scandal shows how ineffective even these modern laws can be against those determined to make a fat profit out of the food we eat, whatever the consequences. However, a horsemeat lasagne is really nothing compared to some of the highly disturbing things that have been found in foodstuffs in the past.

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Library Cuts: The Facts

In March last year, I wrote about the impending cuts to our library services and why it’s just so important to save these vital community resources from closure and ‘rationalisation’. Recently, I was interested to note that the Public Libraries News had put together a list of library closures – and of those libraries still under threat from government policy.

This threat is very real, as a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) explained to The Independent:

[W]e are seeing a reduction in opening hours, book stock spending and staff in many library services. Local communities, families and individuals are more than ever facing a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of library services they can expect to receive.

And good quality library services are a crucial aspect of any healthy community. I’m a regular user of my local library – and not just in order to borrow books, although I do that frequently. The libraries in my local area also offer everything from local history services and access to education information, newspapers and the internet, to storytime sessions for the little ones and book groups, family history tutorials and craft workshops for the grown ups.

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Spring has sprung?

Less than a month ago, I posted a picture of the snowy view from my front door. During this last week, conversely, it appears that Spring has decided to put in an early appearance instead.

This photo was taken last weekend at Syon Lane Community Allotment, which is already beginning to look a lot greener than it did the last time I was there back in January, with blossom starting to appear everywhere.

Despite what the weather forecast is saying, I’m hoping this really is the beginning of a new Spring…

Benefit fraud: the facts

What with all the vicious media ranting and disapproving government pronouncements recently, you might be forgiven for thinking that almost every single person claiming state benefits of any kind in this country is actually on the fiddle – and thus getting away with ripping off the Treasury and the tax-paying public to the tune of billions and billions of pounds.

Not true.

Let me repeat that: Not. True.

I’ve written before about how those on benefits, especially the sick and disabled, become an easy scapegoat for a government who are more concerned with feathering their own nests and protecting the interests of big business than looking after the most vulnerable in our society – and that the levels of fraudulent benefit claims are much, much lower than most people think they are.

This afternoon, I’ve been looking at the official Department for Work and Pensions report Fraud and Error in the Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates (Great Britain), which was released last week and contains some very interesting statistics indeed; statistics that clearly demonstrate that the current spate of media and political poor-bashing and the demonisation of benefits claimants is based on a tissue of lies.

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Quote of the Day: The lady who told Andrew Lansley where to stick it

[Lansley is] gutless. He knows he is wrong, but he can’t face the people. If they just had the courage to do a U-turn, just say, ‘I’ve made a bloody big mistake here, we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.’ It is clear to everyone that is what they need to do, but they are not brave enough.

I am sticking up for people like my niece’s husband who has had a brain tumour. He has had fantastic treatment on the NHS which would have cost millions of pounds. His treatment has enabled him to keep on fighting so I will keep fighting for people like him.

What they are doing is immoral. The NHS should be there from cradle to grave and I’m not in my grave yet. The public have not had a say on any of this. It’s our money that pays for the NHS, we should have a ­referendum on it.

The other thing that gets me cross is this talk about choice. I don’t want choice, I want all hospitals to be as good as each other not to have to travel around the place. It’s about trust and I don’t trust them. The Tories don’t like the NHS and they never have…

He told me he wasn’t privatising the NHS. How dare he lie to me like that? It’s in black and white for anyone to see. It started years ago in 1979 under Thatcher. It really upsets me to be honest.

He wanted to go by and turned his back on me. It annoyed me, I was upset, how dare he turn his back on me, he tried to brush me off, like his government is brushing us all off.

I feel really sad for the people who will in the future have the ­misfortune to fall ill or be born with a disability.

June Hautot, you rock. This is the elderly lady who confronted Health Secretary Andrew Lansley over NHS reforms at Downing Street yesterday, rather excellently putting him in a publicly embarrassing position. Her words, quoted above, come from an interview she gave today to The Mirror, in which this feisty lady explains in no uncertain terms exactly why she had to take a stand against the government’s proposed healthcare policy.

You can read the full interview with Mrs Hautot here.