Finest Hour 145, Winter 2009-10
Riddles, Mysteries, Enigmas
Churchill on Health Care
I am hoping you can place in context a statement by Mr. Churchill, which has been offered to show that he would support current U.S. heath care reform proposals. My own Catholic parish recently published the aforementioned statement in its weekly bulletin:
What Would Winnie Do?
Here’s an interesting quote. It’s from Conservative British Prime Minister Winston Churchill explaining his view on health care and government in 1948: “The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear: Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion. Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”
The heading, coupled with the quotation, implies that we Catholics should support national health care, but my instincts suggest caution. Lacking the rhetorical context and conditions existing in Britain sixty years ago, I mistrust such a pat assessment of Churchill’s stance. But I would like to operate from a position of accuracy. What was Churchill’s actual position on national health care? —JENNIFER RUPERT, CHICAGO
We tend to deprecate articles suggesting that Churchill would do this or that about modern situations. His daughter likes to ask people who say such things: “How do you know?” The answer is, of course, that none of us knows. (Also, except as a boy, he hated that nickname “Winnie”!)
The Churchill quotation you sent is not from 1948, but from his tribute to the Royal College of Physicians on 2 March 1944. (Complete text available from the editor by email.) You will have to decide whether the excerpts joined together in your church bulletin are in context.
You are right to suggest that conditions in Britain were different then (more critical, health-wise). Also, in 1944 the words “national health service” did not necessarily mean what the Labour government created after the war; nor do they define what is proposed in America today.
Without question Churchill believed that new medical discoveries are “the inheritance of all,” but that leaves a fairly wide array of options. On 3 July 1945, too late to affect the election (which came two days later), he issued a Cabinet Paper calling on his colleagues to move forward on legislation for “National Insurance and a National Health Service.” What they would have come up with we’ll never know, since the Conservatives lost by a landslide, and the Labour Party took over and created their own plan.
It seems evident that Churchill did not oppose the Labour Health Service, though he was not among its advocates. In the beginning everything was to be free, of course. When, inevitably, costs began to rise, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced charges for spectacles and dentures, he protested the heavy government expenditures in the House of Commons (10 April 1951), suggesting that other economies should have been made to accommodate the increases:
Those who hold that taxation is an evil must recognize that it falls upon this country in a most grievous manner at the present time, continually burdening the mass of the nation and continually clogging—or, at any rate, hampering our efforts. There is to be an increase of taxation. I am not at all concerned today to examine even cursorily the detailed proposals which the Chancellor has made, but taxation is to be increased; it is to be heavier still. Naturally, many people will feel that the issue should be argued out very tensely as to whether other economies in Government expenditure might not have relieved us from the need of applying new burdens and new taxation.
I was wondering about Sir Winston’s clothes. Did he use the same tailor? Did he really care about clothes? (I’m referring to civilian garb). We always see him in a dark three-piece suit with polka dot bow tie. —ALEC ROGERS
Allen Packwood of the Churchill Archives Centre informs us that Sir Winston’s favorite London tailors were Austin Reed in Regent Street, and Henry Poole & Co, of Savile Row, both still around. A most interesting quote on his sartorial practices is from Robert Lewis Taylor, Winston Churchill: An Informal Study of Greatness (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952) 4-5:
The Churchills have a family tailor, on Savile Row, in London, whose establishment has for years swathed the normally impeccable line. It is only under extreme prompting by his wife, however, that Churchill will consent to step in for a new outfit. He considers that, creatively, he is the equal of any tailor on record, and besides, he cares very little one way or another. His gabardine “siren suit,” which he concocted in the early part of the last war, was a familiar sight to the thousands who saw him in person and to the millions who knew him as a heartening staple of the newsreels. When one of his friends, pressed for an opinion, commented that the siren suit, to him, seemed “pretty damned dull,” Churchill made one of his rare bows to criticism; he ordered a pin-striped siren suit. The friend was unmoved by the improvement.
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