Friday, September 02, 2011

We're all in this together?

My throw-away line about wartime food rationing not applying to the wealthy in yesterday's piece elicited a couple of queries, which require a follow-up.

The myth-making of the period – as with the attempts by Cameron now – has it that we were "all in this together", equal partners in the struggle against evil (or, in this case Gordon Brown's profligacy, which amounts to the same thing).

And, as always, the myth is just that – a myth. Although during the war, the amount of food that could be purchased over the counters was rationed, the restrictions did not apply to restaurants. There, in 1941, customers could eat as much as they could afford.

Needless to say, in the high class restaurants such as the Savoy, prices soared, so diners had to be well heeled to patronise these establishments - altough price controls were introduced later. Nevertheless, in January 1941, a week after the meat ration had been cut, Cassandra from The Daily Mirror reported having had in five days at least seven times his weekly meat ration, five times his bacon ration, nearly half a pound of butter, and so much sugar that he couldn't eat it all.

Not content with this debauch, he wrote (pictured – click to enlarge to readable size) "I have swallowed saddle-of-hare in wine sauce, lobster thermidor, the inevitable (if you live that way!) caviar, Hungarian pork goulash, quails-in-aspic and truffled goose livers".

In addition, he wrote, "I have climbed outside two dozen oysters and a considerable quantity of fish, ranging from smoked salmon, by way of tunny, sardines and anchovies, to an enormous Dover sole". Rationing was only for little people.

Much of this booty had to be imported in increasingly scare shipping, at peril from being sunk from Hitler's U-Boats. Ship owners – who doubtless dined high on the hog at the Savoy – had no worries though. They were fully compensated for the loss of their ships.

Not so the seamen who manned those ships. Paid by the day, those who were fortunate enough to survive a torpedoing had their wages stopped the moment their ships went under. If they then spent harrowing days in open boats awaiting rescue, they did it in their own time and at their own expense. Nor were they even compensated for the loss of their personal possessions which went down with the ships.

In all probability, such inequalities – and the resentments they engendered – contributed to the landslide Labour victory in 1945. Churchill was seen as a great war leader, but he presided over a rotten, corrupt society and people were looking for a change.

Such inequalities exist today, but are even more "in your face" when we are supporting the banksters, the parasite classes – the white-collar looters - and the millionaire politicians telling us to tighten our belts. The cry of "we're all in this together" was as hollow then as it is now. And people are just as desirous of change – the only problem is that there is so little on offer.