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British Political History 1945-90

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Alex Forrest

on 6 September 2012

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Transcript of British Political History 1945-90

1945-90 Clement Attlee (1945-1951) Attlee, having been the deputy Prime Minister under Churchill in the wartime coalition government, was the first Labour Politician to serve a full Parliamentary term following a surprising landslide victory over Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in the 1945 election. At home, his government nationalised Britain's coal, gas, and railway industries as part of the ''Representation of the Peoples Act'' as well as creating the National Health Service. His Foreign Secretary oversaw the independence of Pakistan and India and helped to form NATO and create the Marshall plan (to aid the reconstruction of Europe) Successes Failures Attlee's government was forced to take out a loan on harsh terms from the U.S.A when they demanded payment for the supply of materials during the war which weakened the economy.
Post-war, people began to resent continued rationing implemented by the Chancellor but the Government failed to lift rationing despite public opinion. Winston Churchill (1951-1955) The Conservative Party, led by Churchill, won the 1951 election and Churchill returned to Downing Street aged 76 for a second term leading the first entirely Conservative government since 1924. Although an excellent war leader, he was less adept as a peace-time leader, and generally appeared more interested in foreign affairs, including the cold war, than the lives of the people at home. At home, various reforms were introduced such as the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954. This improved legislation around women and children in the mining industry and improved safety and working conditions.
The Housing Repairs and Rent act (1955) extended positive housing acts, and improved living conditions by allowing housing to be declared ''unfit for human habitation''
Also, construction of Council housing was accelerated and Pensions and national assistance benefits were increased and tax allowances were raised Successes Failures In foreign affairs, Churchill was met with a series of emergencies:
He dealt with the Mau Mau rebellion (where the 'Mau Mau' group were rebelling against the British ruling of Kenya) with direct military action and the conflict was ended (and won by GB) by 1956.
Similarly, he sent troops to deal with the emergency in Malaya, where a rebellion against British rule, led by communist leaders, had been taking place since 1948. HOWEVER While the rebellion in Malaya was being slowly defeated, it became obvious that the British Empire was becoming unsustainable but Churchill continued to react with direct military action. Harold Macmillan (1955-63) Harold Macmillan, or ''Supermac'' came to office on the 10th January '55, having become popular in certain circles as a ''witty critic of appeasement'' prior to WW2.

During his time in office, he aimed to create a large and varied economy based on the domestic market in order to encourage growth. He also introduced
a number of social reforms to
improve living standards. Overall, during his time in office, average living standards steadily increased, unemployment remained low and the U.K economy grew as a result of greater spending. ''Supermac's'' government implemented a number of social reforms including:
Clean-air act (1956)- this intended to reduce air pollution in British cities by introducing ''smoke control areas'' in cities. It was a reaction to the Great Smog of 1952 and encouraged homes to move towards cleaner fuel and electricity.
Graduated pension scheme- This provided extra support for pensioners and created a more efficient pension system. Successes Failures Despite distancing the U.K from the Apartheid, making his ''Winds of change'' speech, he failed to take the lead in any international action to bring it to an end. He repaired the ''special relationship'' with the U.S.A after the tensions created by the Suez crisis and distanced himself and the U.K from the Apartheid in South Africa with a 1960 speech in Cape Town. Economic growth and
improved living conditions
led to Macmillan's re-election with
a greater majority in 1959 He negotiated with the Soviet Union (Khrushchev) and the U.S.A (Kennedy) to create the Nuclear Test Ban 1963- This banned all tests of nuclear weapons except those conducted underground. Macmillan intended for this to strengthen the relationship between the three countries during the Cold War and also reduce physical risk to Britain. During his administration, Macmillan introduced a new approach to the economy, provoking growth, which was adopted and continued by the following Home administration. ''The Representation of the Peoples act'' also reduced the power of the House of Lords to delay decisions and established the principle of ''One man, one vote''. He failed in his attempt to enter Britain into the EEC when French President General Charles de Gauile voted 'NO' to the British application As the economy began to falter, as a result of problems with the balance of payments, Macmillan began to be portrayed as more and more out of touch, seemingly unable to change his approach to the economy. After a series of scandals, the most damaging being that involving his minister John Prufumo, Macmillan resigned in October 1963 During the early 1950's Churchill suffered a series of strokes, the most serious at 10 Downing Street in 1953. However this was hidden from the public and Parliament, who were told that he was suffering from exhaustion. He remained in office until 1955 despite being seriously ill and often incapable of public work and having left London for his country home. Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64 Educated at Eton and Oxford, Home entered Politics in 1931 and held a number of high profile roles in the Chamberlain and Macmillan Administrations and later became the leader of the House of
Lords after his father's death made him
the 14th Earl of Home.

He entered office in October 1963, after
Harold Macmillan resigned suddenly
in the wake of the Profumo affair, and held
office for only 363 days.

He had previously worked as foreign
secretary under Macmillan, working closely
with President Kennedy, who was
assassinated during his term in office With newly promoted Heath at the forefront economic legislation, the Douglas-Home government abolished ''Retail price maintenance'' which allowed for discounting in retail and created greater competition between retailers, despite opposition from a number of Conservative backbenchers. However this was really the only piece of substantial legislation of the Administration. Successes Failures Home's government was forced to make concessions, weakening the ''Resale prices bill'' in order to avoid defeat in the commons. Home did not have the full support of his party.
Following Kennedy's assassination, Home failed to form such a close relationship with his successor Lyndon Johnson and as such the two governments had severe disagreements over the issue of British trade with Cuba. Away from Politics, Home was also successful in avoiding kidnap after he told two left-wing students planning to capture him that if they did so the Conservatives would win the election anyway. During Home's time in office,
exports from Britain continued to
increase and the U.K economy grew
steadily by 4% per year. However this
was already the case during Macmillan's
premiership. Harold Wilson (1964-70)-(74-76 Having studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, Wilson first entered Parliament in 1945 working as MP for Ormskirk and later was appointed President of the Board of trade by Clement Attlee.

During his time as the leader of the Labour
Party, Wilson won 4 of the 5 general elections
he contested, being elected for two separate
terms in office.

In his first term, his agenda was modernisation; something he hoped to achieve aided by ''the white heat of the technological revolution''. The new Labour government was more willing to experiment with economic policy in order to re-address what they called ''the wasted 13 years'' of Conservative policy.

The new Department for economic affairs drew up ''The National Plan'' which was based on the idea of ''indicative planning'' (setting growth targets with individual businesses to make medium sized companies more competitive) achieved a 2.7% (per year) increase in the British growth rate.

Similarly, unemployment under Wilson in his first year was slightly lower than under the previous Conservative Government and exports increased by 40% between 1963 and 1970.

By 1970, Wilson had successfully overcome the massive deficit in the balance of payments left behind by the previous Government. Successes Failures Valuing membership of the European Economic Community, Wilson made an application in 1967. However this was rejected by its members.
Having been left with a massive deficit by the outgoing Conservative Government, Wilson's Labour, it appeared, would be forced to devalue the pound. However Wilson, who had been involved with the 1949 devaluation (by 30 cents) was keen to avoid a repeat of the disastrous political fallout that followed. He therefore decided instead to attempt to use other economic policies to provoke growth.

However this led to an expensive economic battle which eventually ended in a loss when the Government were forced into devaluation in 1967.

Despite early success and subsequent popularity, Wilson's economic policies began to falter later in his Premiership. The ''New Britain'' which was promised never completely materialised hampered by deep-rooted economic problems. Socially, Wilson looked to modernise Britain. His Government supported MP's in liberalising laws on divorce, abortion, homosexuality and censorship and abolished capital punishment. Wilson's Government also made crucial steps in fighting sexual and racist discrimination in newly cosmopolitan Britain and also created the Open University giving adults who had missed out on higher education the chance to continue their studies.

Social security benefits were increased heavily during Wilson's Premiership, whilst spending on the NHS also increased from 4.2% of GDP to 5%. 1st term In his second term, which he began as the leader of a minority Labour Party after Heath failed to persuade the Liberals to form a coalition, Wilson focused more on domestic policy:

His government introduced child benefit in an effort to fight child poverty.

The Wilson administration also announced that £2 billion would be spent on benefits, food subsidies and house subsidies, including a 25% increase in the pension.

Similarly, rents on Council houses were frozen and National Insurance benefits were increased by 13%.

In 1975 a State Earnings Related Pension scheme was introduced. A new pension which was inflation proof and linked to earnings was added to the basic pension which improved payouts for women and those who had spent time as a carer rather than in formal employment.

The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) legally gave women the right to equal access to jobs and equal treatment to men in the workplace.

Also, the Housing Finance Act (1974) increased aid to local housing associations to clear slums introduced rent rebates for Council tenants and introduced a system of 'fair rents' to improve opportunities for affordable housing. Successes Failures The Party lost support and angered the top-earners after it reversed a decrease in income tax for top earners (implemented by the previous Conservative administration) in Dennis Healey's first budget as Chancellor in April 1974.

During the troubles in Northern Ireland (in 1975), Wilson secretly offered the Libyan leader Muammar Gadafi £14 million to stop arming the I.R.A, but Gadafi demanded a far greater sum of money and continued to supply the rebels.

Despite giving women equal working opportunities in principle with the Sex discrimination Act in 1975, Women remained 2nd choice for most employers. 2nd term Edward Heath (1970-74) Having studied at Oxford and served in the Second World War in the Royal Artillery, Heath entered Parliament in 1950 as MP for Bexley having worked in the Ministry of Civil Aviation until 1947. Under Harold Macmillan, he was appointed Minister of Labour. He then became President of the board of trade under Douglas-Home and was leader of the opposition during Harold Wilson's premiership.

He came to power in 1970, elected to turn around the nations misfortunes. He was PM
at a time of economic decline and industrial change also overseeing the decimalisation of British coinage. Despite a squeeze in the education budget, welfare spending increased during the Heath administration:
New benefits for the disabled were introduced, benefiting hundreds of thousands of disabled people.
Widow's benefits were introduced for now single women between 40 and 50.
There was a new invalidity benefit for long-term sickness, while a higher child benefit could be payed to parents also receiving it.
A family income supplement was available to those on the lowest wages which also made families exempt from NHS charges and eligible for free school meals.
Seemingly a U-turn in Conservative economic policy, The Heath administration pumped £2.5billion into increased pensions, benefits and tax reductions over the budgets of 1972-73. The result was that by early 1974 unemployment had fallen to under 550, 000. Successes The school leaving age was raised to 16, while a new Social Security Act was passed, linking benefit payments to a price index in order to maintain their value.

Following the failure of the previous two administrations to do so, Heath took Britain into the European Economic Community (or the Common Market) in 1973. Owing to the severity of the economic
situation, the majority of Heath's planned changes in economic policy, including a change from direct to indirect taxation, were never implemented.
The Education budget was tightened, which famously led Margret Thatcher, acting on the wishes of the late Iain Mcleod, to end the provision of free school milk for 8-11 year olds.
Despite increasing welfare spending, higher charges were introduced for NHS prescriptions and dentistry, as well as school meals and glasses.
Similarly state sickness benefit was altered so that it would only be payed after the 3rd day of sickness.

The Heath government pledged ''full employment' but, in fact, by 1972, more than 1,000,000 people were out of a job.

The administration failed to bring an end to the bloody troubles in Northern Ireland after a series of talks and the 1973 Sunningdale agreement were unsuccessful. Failures The economic growth brought about by the increase in welfare spending and tax cuts, however, did not last, and the government introduced a variety of cuts, eventually leading to the abandonment of policy goals such as an extension of Nursery Education.

In an attempt to gain control of the Trade Unions. Heath created a special court under the Industrial Relations Act of 1971 which sanctioned the imprisonment of striking dockworkers. It was a public relations disaster.

The Miners' strikes of 1972 and '74 were especially damaging, the Government having failed to avoid strikes through legal means, the latter leading the Government to announce the 3 day working week alongside ongoing electricity rationing in order to preserve power as the Political Battle with the Unions raged on.
The strikes and their impact of domestic life for the average Briton eventually led the the downfall of the Heath administration. James Callaghan (1976-79) Having worked for the Inland Revenue in Kent and London, Callaghan first entered Parliament in 1945 as the MP for Cardiff South. He was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in 1947 and oversaw extensions in road safety including the use of cats eyes and the introduction of zebra crossings.

Under Harold Wilson he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and is, to this day, the only person to have fulfilled roles as Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.

He entered office following the 1976 election, however his Labour Party lost the majority of its seats on the first day of Parliament and Callaghan was forced to rely widely on the support of the Liberals between 1977 and 1978. During his first year in office, Callaghan started what became known as ''the Great Debate'' when he spoke at Ruskin College, Oxford about the state of the education provided in maintained (state) schools. This led to greater Government involvement in the running of State schools, and, 10 years later, the National Curriculum.

The (agricultural) Rent Act 1976 provided security to agricultural workers living in accommodation 'tied-in' to the same agreement as the land they farmed.

The Police Act 1976 set up a Police Complaints Board to ''formailse the procedure for dealing with public complaints'', while the Housing Act of 1977 made it the responsibility of local authorities to provide accommodation for homeless people in their area.

The Education Act 1976 limited the number of independent or grant-funded schools in one area and increased the availability of comprehensive schools. Successes Callaghan's controversial decision to ask the International Monetary Fund for an emergency loan in 1976 created huge tensions among the members of the cabinet. However, his leadership during the cabinet's deliberations earned him wide-spread praise. Callaghan's method of dealing with the country's economic problems involved ''pay restraint''- a technique which had been operating, with little success, for 4 years. The PM, aiming for re-election in 1979, gambled that the economy could be improved further if pay restraint was continued for a 5th year.
The Trade Unions rejected its' continuation and eventually secured higher pay following a series of strikes during what became known as ''the winter of discontent''.

Callaghan made the situation worse when he replied, when asked by a reporter about his approach to the mounting chaos in the country, that he didn't think,''that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos''. This was reported in U.K newspapers and simply added to the Government's unpopularity.

As a result of mounting unrest and anger towards the Government, the House of Commons passed a ''motion of no confidence'' by a single vote in March 1979, which forced Callaghan to call a General election to be held on 3rd May. In hindsight, it is generally regarded that Callaghan's decision not to call a general election in 1978 (which could have given him an extended term in office until 1983) was a massive political miscalculation. He was reasonably popular among the majority of voters in 1978 in comparison to a year later when the election was forced upon him in the wake of the winter of discontent. Failures Economically, Thatcher tackled the country's issues head on. She lowered direct taxes on income and increased indirect taxes, introduced cash limits on public spending, increased interest rates in order to lower inflation. As a result of these, and other measures, by 1983, overal economic growth was stronger and inflation and morgage levels were as low as they had been since 1970.

Thatcher used 90% tax on North Sea Oil extraction as short term funding to balance the economy and pay for reform throughout the 1980's, and by 1987, unemployment was falling and the economy was strong.

Thatcher took the opportunity to call an early general election and was re-elected for a 3rd successive term.

Over the entirety of Thatcher's premiership, however unpopular they may have been, her economic reforms meant that by 1989/90 GDP was up 23.3% on when she entered office while total Government spending was in fact up 12.9% despite heavy cuts to education and social services. Successes Thatcher was desperate to weaken the Trade Unions which she said undermined parliamentary democracy with their strike action. Ironically, but unsurprisingly, many trade Unions launched strikes in protest to new legislation reducing their power, but faced with ''the iron lady'' their resistance eventually depleted.
In an effort to raise funds to balance the economy and pay for reform, Thatcher began a process of massive privatisation, raising £29 billion and £18 billion from the sale of nationalised industries and council houses respectively. Often privatisation benefited customers with lower prices and better efficiency. Probably the most damaging confrontation of the administraion was that between Thatcher's government and the Miners Unions. Thatcher proposed to close 20 state-owned coal mines and cut 20,000 jobs. On this news, the NUM, leading 2/3 of the country's miners, organised a strike.Thatcher refused to meet the Union's demands and the strike continued for 1 year until, eventually, having been compared to the enemy in the Faulklands by the PM, the miners conceeded without a deal in March 1985. The cost to the economy was estimated at £1.5 billion and Thatcher had alienated at least part of working class Britain.

Nationalisation also meant a massive push for greater efficiency which in turn meant the loss of jobs and plants deemed unprofitable. For example in the case of British Steel, the government refused to give in or deabate an outcome with Trade Unions, and closed a number of plants, reducing the workforce by half. Thatcher's method for dealing with the economic situation involved heavily cutting expenditure in social servises, education and housing which badly affected those on low incomes who were not able to benefit from the vast social security available under the previous Labour administration and the Funding Agency for schools closed a number of schools in order to reduce expenditure.
Despite lowering inflation and mortgages, Thatcher's economic reforms left manufacturing output down 30% since 1978 by 1983, and unemployment peaking at 3.3 million in 1984.

Possibly the most unpopular policy of the Thatcher administration, the introduction of Poll Tax, which replaced the previous domestic rates tax (based on the rental value of a home) with a fixed tax amount per adult resident, provoked a 70,000 strong demonstration on 31st March 1990 which descended into rioting and left 133 injured and 340 under arrest. Failures Margret Thatcher (1979-1990 Famously the first female Prime Minister in Britain's history and also the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century. Margret Thatcher first entered Parliament as the MP for Finchley in 1958. She was promoted to Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance under Harold Macmillan, and was then Education Secretary under Edward Heath between 1970 and 1974.
Thatcher offered ''a fresh start'' for the Conservatives when the lost the 1974 election and found themselves in opposition to the minority Labour Government.

Her Conservative Party won the 1979 election and Thatcher entered office saying upon arriving at 10 Downing Street: ''Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope''.
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