• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

What did the post-war consensus in British politics amount to? Why did it break up in the 1970s?

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

What did the post-war consensus in British politics amount to? Why did it break up in the 1970s? The English have always had great respect for tradition, precedent, and institutions. For hundreds of years, as revolutions, civil wars and ideologies swept the rest of Europe, the British political system underwent a slow and measured evolution. After the ravages of the Second World War, Britain's leaders were more aware than ever of the dangers of political instability and extremism. The title of Clement Attlee's book, Never Again, epitomised the feelings of the British people as a whole at that time. This would be the start of a new era, characterised by moderation, conciliation and progress. Henry Moore drew sketches of the lion lying down with the lamb and Sir William Beveridge lauded the "National unity" he perceived among Britons. Among the three major parties unity was even more apparent, as they collectively endorsed the Report on Social Insurance (1942) and the White Paper on employment policy (1944). This unity would form the basis for a post-war consensus. For the next 30 years the consensus would endure. Some scholars, such as Anthony Seldon, have argued that it was a period of remarkable agreement and continuity between the leaders of two parties in government, Labour and the Conservatives. ...read more.

Middle

One year later, the Cabinet caused the resignation of Peter Thorneycroft by refusing to accept the Treasury's monetarist, anti-consensual policies. By the 1960s, however, British politics had shifted to an adversarial style. In opposition until 1964, the Labour party began to call for radical change, such as full nuclear disarmament in 1960 - a clear departure from the consensus. Marxists began to achieve prominence in the party. The Conservatives too began to drift away from the centre, for instance with the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrant Act. The return of Sir Oswald Mosley and the rise of Enoch Powell were symptomatic of the slow death of consensual politics. A consensus of sorts did endure until the 1970s, but it was no longer the result of agreement and co-operation between the Left and the Right. The ageing statesmen, veterans of the War, had been replaced, and their obsession with the stability of the nation was considered old hat. Books with titles like The Stagnant Society and a whole series by Penguin entitled What Is Wrong With Britain are testament to a general change of attitude. Harold Wilson and Ted Heath were thought of as a new breed. If a consensus endured, therefore, it was due to factors other than their own wishes. Prime among these was the need by both parties to capture and to keep the votes of a generally moderate electorate. ...read more.

Conclusion

In the Conservatives too, Heath was replaced by Margaret Thatcher in 1975 - she needs no introduction. It was now obvious that Keynesian economics had failed: Britain's economic health had declined, relative to the rest of the Western world, non-stop since the War. The 70s, the years of "stagflation" (stagnation and inflation), discredited social democracy. Official Labour policy veered leftwards; the Conservative party went right, espousing the monetarist system of Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek. The Winter of Discontent in 1978-9 and the election of Thatcher buried any remaining notion of consensus. A glance back at the post-war years gives an impression of remarkable co-operation and continuity between the various governments of the time. But it is dangerous to talk of a single "consensus" lasting thirty years. As Rodney Lowe has noted, "its nature was constantly evolving." The word consensus, misleadingly, conveys a sense of mutual and bona fide assent. While this was the case in the period immediately after the end of the Second World War, it does not reflect the politics of the 1960s and 1970s, which were adversarial in style. Successive governments may have pursued similar policies while in office, but rarely did they will it. The 1960s and 70s are remembered for great social change (and dislocation) and industrial unrest: hardly the stuff of cheerful agreement. There was a consensus between successive governments in the 60s and 70s; but it was limited to the policies they pursued in office. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Politics section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Politics essays

  1. Why Did the Post-war Consensus Breakdown?

    To defeat 'ignorance', the Labour government did not make further reforms to the 1944 Education Act in which the school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947. However, the other 'four giants' were tackled with considerable effort. Two important steps were taken to defeat 'squalor' and they were, The New Towns Act 1946 and the increase in council houses.

  2. Assess the Impact of the First World War on British Politics by 1918.

    So it can be seen that the war also had a large impact on the Labour party. Though not as noticeable as the effect on the other parties, the war gave Labour a chance to mature into a fully fledged party.

  1. What led to the breakdown of the post war political consensus?

    Another major issue facing the state was the amount of days wasted because of worker strikes; by 1973 the total was 23 million, the highest number since 1923.

  2. Why did a Civil War break out in Spain in 1936?

    Spain was at the shade to public uprisings. The government tried to carry out some reforms which were partially successful, but there was trouble within the government. The wishes of the left alarmed those on the right and the other way round.

  1. Why Did Revolutions Break Out so Widely Across Europe in 1848 and Why Did ...

    Reading Club in Vienna, and the middle-classes knew that its realisation was impossible without the movement to a form of constitutional government. This outbreak of radical new political thought led to the part of the crisis of 1848 that Jones calls: 'a middle-class liberal revolution that demanded constitutional reform and

  2. To what extent was there a 'post war consensus' between 1945-1970.

    The Conservatives, if they had been elected in 1945, would have undoubtedly established some form of National Health Service and when elected to office in 1951 continued to expand and improve the service, abandoning their plans for hospital charges and increasing spending.

  1. What Are The Key Elements Of Thatcherism? To What Extent Was It A Reaction ...

    also spoke of severing links between state and the economy, trying to make a self sufficient economy. But as Gamble describes "The new right would like to be conservatives but they are forced to be radicals. They have to struggle against the forces which have gravely undermined the market oder and which, if left unchecked, will destroy it.

  2. Free essay

    Why keep the Cons. in the 1960s

    Macmillan gambled on the idea that, controlled expansion of the economy could revive the party's fortunes in the following year. This new approach led to the 'night of the long knives', where Macmillan caused great offence by dismissing many of his colleagues, radically reshuffling the cabinet, in 1962.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work