It was George Orwell who said “he who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

Having recently watched BBC 2’s ‘The NHS: A Difficult Beginning’ I was again reminded of Orwell. For the nation was again feed the laughably simplistic line that the National Health Service was the product of a few well meaning individuals and that its roots purely lay in the 1940s.

Failing to place the service in any historical, ideological or institutional context there was no mention of the medical profession coming under the nationalised monopoly authority of the state via the General Medical Council in 1858.

There was no mention of the British Medical Association’s campaign at the end of the nineteenth century to undermine consumer choice by stamping out competition amongst doctors through an act of Parliament that banned them from canvassing (advertising). 

There was no explication of the ideological push by the Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb to first promote a nationalised healthcare system in 1909. 

Again, there was no mention of BMA’s push to part-nationalise healthcare through their explicit opposition to the self-help friendly society movement during the passage of the 1911 National Insurance Act. Having a deep hatred of working class consumer control, the BMA’s ‘medical gentlemen’ conspired with the middle class insurers to legislatively undermine the ever expanding working class Friendly Society Medical Institutes. Now forcing people pay National Insurance meant that millions of low paid workers could no longer afford the cover and protection of these institutions which they had built up over many decades and which they ultimately owned through mutuality.

No, to perpetuate the lie that the NHS did not represent an evolutionary expansion of the corporatist – anti-consumer – state, the BBC instead produced a film which simply argued that the service was the seemingly rootless product of one isolated statist: Nye Bevan.

Perhaps there should be no surprise here. For if you want to perpetuate the power structures of the past it makes far better television to suggest that a state institution was the creation of one so called working class hero than deal with the more challenging and complex issues of history and producer capture.

To help the NHS on its way at sixty it is far better to make it appear to be the revolutionary product of social liberation than the logical evolutionary extension of an ever expanding and grotesquely elite state. To go on with the lie that is the NHS it is vital that the past is heavily edited and censored.

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