Sing As We Go is the fourth and final volume in Simon Heffer’s series on the history of modern Britain. Beginning in 1838, the books chart the history of the country over a century. At nine hundred pages, this last volume is not one to take on holiday in an aeroplane. There are densely detailed chapters on politics, but this is much more than a political history. The aim is to show how much of modern Britain as we know it today emerged during the interwar period. Heffer mixes the politics with topics such as culture, class, poverty and housing, among other things. Sing As We Go – the title a reference to a 1934 film starring Gracie Fields – is really two books, one a narrative of high politics and the other a social and cultural history.
The book opens with an account of the national grieving prompted by the First World War, symbolised by the Cenotaph, Lutyens’s memorial to ‘The Glorious Dead’. The main theme is the division between those who wished to return to the Edwardianism of the prewar order and those who wanted a democratic future. A revival of the Edwardian age was soon seen as impossible, but the governing classes feared strikes, trade unions and Bolshevik revolution, the threat of which was often exaggerated.
The prime minister in 1918, David Lloyd George, ‘so sly, so treacherous and unscrupulous’, according to Neville Chamberlain, was not competent enough to deal with mass unemployment and postwar reconstruction. By creating new ministries for health and transport, Lloyd George expanded the state and made the government’s fiscal