We always talk about the old Soviet Union as an inspiration against socialism, but for Ronald Reagan that journey may have started in a more familiar setting:
Maybe the single biggest surprise is the couple of pages devoted to the four months spent by American actor, Ronald Reagan at Elstree Studios making a war movie called The Hasty Heart (pp.314-315). He was appalled by the filthy London smogs and rundown hotels, and – although he went out of his way to praise the director and all the other technicians he worked with – it was a grim first hand sight of socialism in action which, in his view, amounted to: stoppages dictated by the militant trade unions, six hour queues at hospitals, mile after mile of slate-roofed council houses in the rain.
So far so anecdotal: but Kynaston goes on to point out that Reagan himself, writing in the 1970s, pointed to this trip to Britain – seeing the natural economic order of free markets replaced by rationing and state interference at every level, and the resulting lack of all basic facilities overseen by the petty tyrannies of trade union shop stewards and local government officials – as a defining moment in his journey to the Right.
Considering Reagan’s centrality to world politics during the 1980s and the role he played in the collapse of the Soviet Union, of communism, and even of full-blooded socialism as viable political programmes, there’s a case for saying these few months in rainy Hertfordshire changed the history of the world.