DW Mault talks to director Ken Loach about new film The Spirit of ’45, his appearance on Question Time and the new left…
Ken Loach exists in a vacuum, a place unloved and uncared for. The chronicler of the displaced and exhausted; he sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees, but in a perverse way it should be celebrated that a 70-something man still sees the world through the duality of black and white, and not the analogous grey that intellectuals peer through the smoke to see.
He has always alternated from fictive deconstructions of how we live now, and how the effects of that unasked for struggle effect the supposed hopeless, with documentaries that focus on a more powerful political necessity that needed to be said and shown. His latest film, which is located with the latter, is The Spirit of ’45 and it focuses on the Labour government elected in 1945 and it’s nationalisation of most of the country and how these elements were reversed from 1979 onwards; ultimately we arrive here now, and what a mess that has been left.
Loach, who has always had an affectionate relationship with Liverpool, chose to come here a couple of weeks ago to screen his film and host a Q&A with himself and local political activists.
When I sat down with him, he was buoyed by the public’s reaction to his appearance on Question Time and sensed we were located on a pivotal moment in the history of the country and the left.
D W Mault: Why choose to tell this story via the prism of documentary?
Ken Loach: Film is an amazing medium, it’s like fine art, it’s like drama, it can capture the present and documentary is very important for that.
DWM: Watching the film, I was made angry and filled with a sense of hopelessness. Can the tide be turned?
KL: The Labour government (of 1945) certainly wasn’t a socialist government, and it was intent on putting an infrastructure into place that capitalism could thrive, but what we were concerned with was that mood. Now we hear ‘well now everyone’s out for each other’ and we have all the TV programmes: The Apprentice, How To Do A Deal, How To Get On Top Of Everyone Else; and that’s the human nature they would like us to believe. The point of ‘45 and what follows demonstrated that is not the case, we are naturally our brothers’ keepers, we naturally look after each other. When people are down we lend them a hand and that is actually who we are, how we live and what our good neighbourhoods embody. For once, for a few years it was implicit in the kind of societies that we wanted to establish; and the NHS is an embodiment of that and that’s why they hate it, because it shows what we are capable of.
DWM: Are the general public ready for what may be around the corner, vis a vis a hard choice between selfishly accepting the status quo or fighting for a better future?
KL: When you’re engaged in a common battle, that’s when the public consciousness changes, you saw it in the big disputes, the Dock workers’ dispute, the Miners’ strike, and that’s when people started looking after each other and made huge strides in their consciousness. What was was so wicked in what the Thatcher government did, was they embedded selfishness in the economic system again and that was the core of it: ‘there is no such thing as society, we are not responsible for each other, you just look after yourself, elbow your way to the front,’ and that’s what was so wicked about it. But now their system has collapsed, you saw it in Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and across Europe where people are on the streets. They elected a comic in Italy for Christ sakes, there’s enough comics in Liverpool surely for that to happen here.
DWM: So how far is too far? And what about answers rather than questions?
KL: People have a sense that the system is collapsing, because every vestige of what we thought was a civilised life is being stripped out of our society: libraries, swimming pools, running tracks; Newcastle has cut 100% of its art budget, attacks on the disabled, attacks on children’s services, every kind of social service and welfare benefit is being cut. Doing Question Time – which is very nerve racking and I filled my head full of statistics, and one statistic I learnt was that the poorest 10% when these cuts go through, 30% of their average income will go. Now think what a savage cut that is, that is just malice; and at the same time since the crisis began in 2008 the richest thousand in the country have seen their wealth increase by £155bn. Now, when that is happening and the truth of it becomes apparent, people get angry.
So I think there has to be a new movement of the left, there are people who say we can reclaim Labour, but the surest way to pull Labour to the left is to turn off the money from the Unions and they’ll move so fast you won’t see them. The other thing that will make them shift left is when we start organising a big movement to the left of Labour. We do to Labour what UKIP do to the Tories, because when that happens then they’ll move because they’ll see their votes eroding. They’ll not move otherwise and when they do move I won’t believe them because if they believed that they would be doing it now, they wouldn’t be waiting for pressure.
So we do have to start a movement of the left but it has to be broad and democratic so everyone has a stake in it, we all have to be in it. Not one group saying we will march behind one flag. It’s too dangerous for that now. If we do that and some of the Unions say, ‘OK, we will have put up with right wing New Labour too long and you’re not getting any more money’, then we could be onto a winner; because the feeling out there is desperate, people are saying ‘who can we vote for?’ And there is no answer, so we have the possibility, and in the next few months is a moment with the cuts starting to take effect. We can do it but we can’t afford any slips this time.