So they set about creating a welfare state in which everyone had a decent chance in life. Despite emerging from the war with a national debt double that we currently have as a proportion of national income they managed to create the national health service, massive improvements to higher education, improved transport systems and a network of council houses. Across a thirty year period they reduced that debt down to well below current levels by achieving rapid economic growth. And they generously supported the economic growth of other countries with the USA leading the way with the far sighted Marshal Plan which helped Europe and Japan achieve spectacular economic improvements.
Governments of all colours agreed that their job was to ensure that no one was left behind and that the achievements of private enterprise were enhanced by effective state management and guidance. There were, of course, many problems but by and large they succeeded in their objective. The government organised the peace every bit as effectively as it had organised the war and we managed to grow the economy, keep unemployment below 500,000 and avoid any significant problems with inflation for 30 years. They also managed to create a European Union for the first time ever so that the endless problems of warfare that had bedevilled the continent came to an end. Perhaps most importantly of all the generation that achieved this was very modest. The culture was that you didn't boast about what you had done because there was a very high chance that the person you were boasting to had done something very brave indeed during the war.
Compare that to the current generation of rulers. Few of those who rule us ever shared any significant experience or had a genuine friendship with anyone from outside their own privileged class before they stood for office. As a result they find it easy to write off the poor as scroungers. They have become convinced that allowing the state to help anyone is a waste of taxpayers money which must be challenged and controlled. They have allowed the economy to get so badly out of control that it almost completely collapsed in 2008. They have become obsessed by the debt levels that resulted from the measures they took to deal with that crisis.
Everywhere they look they are finding reasons to cut back on what is done to help people who are not rich. Councils have been forced to sell off the best of their housing stock and even non-governmental housing associations are told that they must do the same. In the UK we have just passed a budget that cuts the income of 3 million of our poorest working people by £1,000 a year and this is to be followed by cutting back on the government services they need by up to 40%.
Our government seems convinced that the poor have allowed themselves to get that way by being feckless and lazy and is determined to punish them into changing their habits. Zero hours contracts leave them utterly at the mercy of their employers and if they get into financial difficulties then loan sharks are allowed to charge them rates of interest that would make a criminal blush.
In much the same way the government has become convinced that other countries that are in difficulty must also be abandoned. Greece is not helped with a modern equivalent of a Marshall Plan to grow its way out of difficulties and to put its people back to work. Instead it is provided with lectures about how it should cut back even more sharply and somehow pay off its debts whilst one in four of its population is out of work and it faces a migrant crisis on its borders that makes what has happened in Calais look like a little local difficulty. When a country like Tunisia hits problems it is given no financial help to sort them out and just left with the real risks that massive unemployment will turn it into yet another failed state where people are so desperate that they place their hopes in the murderous liars of ISIS. And when the UK goes to war it seems to be with very little thought for the consequences and no clear plan about how we might win and what we will do when the conflict is over. Governments have taken us into failed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and now want to get involved in armed conflict in Syria without bothering to try and sort out the mess that they have already created.
And instead of being ashamed at their utter failure to make the lives of ordinary working people easier and more successful or to promote improved international security they are completely lacking in any modesty. Every tiny achievement is boasted about, promoted to the absolute limit and presented as a huge success and every failure is blamed on someone else. So we have the spectacle of a government of the UK telling us that their long term economic plan is working whilst the country is buying so much more from abroad than we are selling that the gap amounts to over 6% of the entire nation's income. This statistic alone would have resulted in the resignation of any UK government in the 1960s. If it had been coupled with a growth in manufacturing of zero, a stationary construction industry, a major housing crisis and a huge cutback in the welfare programme then the party responsible would have been out of office for a generation.
To me the obvious conclusion to draw from this is that we need a serious shift in the approach we are taking to solving our problems. Trying to fix things by making cuts can't possibly work. It simply results in less money being spent and lower incomes across the board which then result in lower tax receipts and another round of cuts. Even when one country does get away with making such cuts by attracting hot money from abroad the problems are simply exported elsewhere and it is a matter of time before the cutbacks in other countries start to impact in your own.
We have an out of control world economy lurching from crisis to crisis. We also have a horribly urgent environmental crisis with the entire planet being put at risk by over consumption of fossil fuels. Instead of trying to solve these problems by co-ordinated international action our government seems determined to deal with a desperately difficult situation by taking away the safety net from the poor and hoping that this will somehow energise them into achieving economic growth.
When the next generation looks back on what our governments have achieved and compares it with what was done at the end of the Second World War then I suspect the conclusion will be simple. International collaboration to properly tackle problems, to create a welfare state, and to get the world economy moving works. Narrow nationalism accompanied by the destruction of the safety net for the poor and leaving the world economy to the mercy of the wild mood swings of international speculators doesn't.