Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The battle over introducing public healthcare

President Obama's travails over his attempt to introduce a measure of public healthcare to the United States remind me of a House Points column I wrote in 2002. That was in the days before I started blogging when dinosaurs still roamed the streets of Market Harborough.

In it I described the problems that Charles Masterman had putting Lloyd George's National Health Insurance Bill through the Commons. It is written in the present tense because of some conceit involving a time machine.
The doctors are not keen. Sir James Barr, chairman of the BMA, believes it will "destroy individual effort and increase the spirit of dependence," and that "only loafers and wastrels will benefit". 
The British Medical Journal says that if you wanted to abolish the medical profession it would be "hardly possible to conceive a scheme better calculated to achieve that end that the present Bill". Letters to the Lancet call it "a bold and sinister attempt to degrade our calling" and "an attempt to capture and enslave our profession". 
Nor are the newspapers enthusiastic. The Daily Mail has declared its oppostion to "the hateful task of collecting this unpopular tax thus thrust upon Mr Lloyd George's hapless victims". For, "it is not only 3d a week we shall lose, but our independence, self-respect and character" ... And a reader says: "If the Insurance Bill becomes law it will be advisable for us to leave England." 
Meanwhile the Evening News is warning that "we shall never boast of freedom again if we let this measure past," and writing feelingly of "these days of highly paid servants". 
The cost of employer insurance for domestic staff is uppermost in many minds. Five aristocrats have founded a League of Protest and called a public meeting. As we arrive, Lady Desart is reaching her peroration:
"This England never did nor never shall
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror."
Later, when the government sends servants a circular about the new scheme, the headmaster of Eton will accuse it of "interfering with home life to an unprecedented degree". 
And if you listen carefully you can hear the Conservative leader pledging to repeal the act as soon as he comes into office.
So it is not such a surprise that Obama is facing vehement opposition to his plans. Next time you hear the British Medical Association pose as the defender of the National Health Service, remember this piece of history from 1911.

The source for this column, incidentally, was Lucy Masterman's biography of her husband Charles. Charles Masterman served under both Lloyd George and Churchill as a minister, and he and Lucy became friends of both families. So her book offers the best picture of the politics and personalities of the Asquith government I know.

C.F.G. Masterman was published in the 1930s and there was a second edition after the war, yet I have never seen a copy in a secondhand bookshop. Surely it cannot be as rare as all that?

Later. I now own a copy.

1 comment:

iain said...

I did notice that a couple of online bookshops listed the biography