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British Politics and Society Essay

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– Between 1947-51, there was a considerable degree of economic recovery from the severe crisis of 1945-57.

– Nationalisation of key industries, and creation of the welfare state

– Ernest Bevin’s work as the Foreign Secretary ensured continuation of ‘ special relationship’ with USA and the formation of NATO

– After losing power in 1951, labour only had two terms until Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997

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– History of British politics & society between 1951 – 1997 was framed by Attlee’s govt and the beginning of Blair’s administration.

Trends& Developments

– 1951 – 1973 sustained periods of employment & relative popularity – the long post-war boom

– 1973 – 1979 oil price crisis

– 1979 – 1990 Thatcherism, industrial unrest, and privatisation of nationalised concerns.

– Post-war years= extensive social & cultural change, with emergence of a youth culture, the advance of women, vast developments in the mass media & the growth of multiculturalism.

Politics & Govt

– 1951-64 was marked by dominance of moderate Tory govts under Churchill, Eden& Macmillan

– Between 1964 – 79, it was a period of mainly Labour govts under Wilson & Callaghan, interrupted by Tory govt, under Heath 1970 – 4.

– 1979 – 97 era of ‘Thatcherite’ conservatism

– During those years Labour fell into decline due to internal divisions and the formation of SDP

– 1969 – 98 problems of security in N.Ireland

Foreign Affairs

– Period marked by slow & uneven ‘retreat from empire’, with further decolonisation.

– Continuance of cold war enhanced Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with USA , whilst relationship with Europe grew more complex

– Britain joined EEC 1973

Section 1

– Dilwyn Porter – ” that of a ‘post-war consensus’ that the sense of national unity, which developed during and because of ‘People’s War’ was continued and consolidated by Attlee’s government”

Legacy of war years

– Post-war consensus after WW2

– Attlee, Churchill & Eden worked together in war time coalition

– PMs until Wilson in 1964 fought in WW1

– Tony Blair’s background fitted in with Tory mould as well or even better than Heath

– Right-winged Tories argued that continuation of Attlee legacy was a tragic ‘socialist’ mistake

– Left-winged Bevanites argued Atlee legacy not socialist enough

Political Tensions

– labour was subjected to a series of intense internal divisions and personality clashes throughout post war history

– post war labour didn’t move with the post war consensus

– west Germany 1959, key turning point when SPD reformed and dropped Marxist ideology for modernisation and democracy

– Thatcher’s successful rebellion against Heath in 1975 marked the conservative party ‘s shift from the post war consensus

– Thatcher’s election success marked the degree of part divisions


– Tories could hardly be called right winged in the 1950’s

– Both Churchill and Eden made radical movements to alter the relationships between the government and the trade unions

– Steel industry was denationalised in 1953

– No attempt to reverse what the labour government had done between 1945 – 51

– Macmillan government did more to consolidate the post war consensus than to challenge it

– 1959 Macmillan’s government continued to follow centrist policies

Economic Policy

– continuation of the post war consensus under the government was referred to as ‘butskellism’

– Butler was a key figure in the conservative party (chancellor of exchequer) and was a serious contender for leadership in 1957

– Butler clashed with Bevan over the costs of the NHS

– 1963 – Gaitskell became leader of the labour party

– Gaitskell had open feuds about with the left wingers in his own party especially over nuclear disarmament

– a key feature of butskellism was the ideas that Butler and Gaitskell had much more in common with each other than rival wings in their own parties

Foreign Policy

– Foreign policy was a major element of the Attlee legacy and the post war consensus which was summed up as ‘ a commitment to maintain both the welfare state and national greatness’

– An issue was the dissatisfaction of the alliance with the USA, and large scale commitments such as the independent nuclear war deterrent and anti soviet policies of the cold war

– Labour politicians were sensitive about the claims that the socialism was unpredictable and unreliable and they wanted to prove the opposite

– Bevan had battle with the left wing and communists during the thirties

– Bevan was a supporter of Churchill and was proud of his successes such as the formation of NATO and wanted to keep their special relationship in good repair

– Many left wingers weren’t happy with the policies but were never able to do over turn them

– Post war consensus was put under strain due to the Suez crisis

– Macmillan read the lessons of the affair and was quick to mend bridges with the US

– Macmillan’s wind of change speech led the way to rapid decolonisation across Africa

– Macmillan applied to get Britain in the EEC which got declined due to De Gaulle

– Under the government of Wilson is when Britain was accepted into the EEC

The significance of the 1964

– The labour campaign made much of the theme of modernisation

– Public mood of expectancy in 1964 , reflected the sense that 1960’s Britain was going through fundamental social and cultural change

– There was no change in political direction, in 1964 the labour governments under Wilson & Callaghan succeed in carrying on with their radical promises

– Labour’s policies weren’t that different from what the conservatives would have done and there was emphasis on the economic modernisation

– Why were the labour governments between 1964 and 1979 unable to achieve more success?

– When Harold Wilson came into power in 1964 optimism among the labour supporters was high,

– Wilson seemed to be a talented leader who had a wide support in the country

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