Or at least that’s what our American “Conservatives” would say of him. In effect, Salon’s Joe Conason reminds us of the important role Winston Churchill played in setting up the British National Health System (NHS):
Perhaps it is a forlorn hope that facts and history can make any impression on the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Chuck Grassley, or Bill Kristol, but let’s try anyway — because it is worth understanding that despite the low quality of our own so-called conservatives, there was once another kind.
Churchill was renowned as a politician who put country and civilization above party. The government he led during World War II was a broad coalition of the British parties, from his own Conservatives to the democratic socialists of Labor. Midway through the war, Churchill’s government asked Sir William Beveridge, a Liberal Party social reformer and economist to study systems of social insurance that could reduce poverty, disease, unemployment and illiteracy in Britain.
In 1942, Beveridge issued an far-reaching report that proposed a national health service to provide medical care to every man, woman and child, regardless of means — much as the coalition government had done during the medical emergency brought on by the German bombings of their cities, hospitals and clinics.
Although Churchill endorsed the idea of a national health system, his party lost the first post-war general election in 1945, partly because British voters didn’t trust the Tories to implement the Beveridge report. Instead a Labor government established universal care under the NHS in 1948.
Only three years later, the Tories returned to power with Churchill restored as prime minister. At that point, the NHS could still have been killed — and many members of the Tory party, not to mention the British Medical Association, were eager to do so.
But Churchill asked Claude Guillebaud, a Cambridge economist, to head a committee to study the performance and efficiency of the NHS. The Gillebaud committee found that the NHS was highly effective – and needed additional funding to insure that effectiveness would continue. There was no more talk of dismantling the very popular service, and instead the Tories under Churchill and his immediate successors allocated more money to build additional clinics and hospitals. Even Margaret Thatcher, the most ideological Tory prime minister of modern times, promised voters that “the NHS is safe in our hands.”