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It was not socialism but the continuation of a wartime consensus on the need for reform. Discuss this assessment of the 1945-51 Labour Governments.

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Introduction

It was not socialism but the continuation of a wartime consensus on the need for reform. Discuss this assessment of the 1945-51 Labour Governments. Britain since 1945 has adopted a genuine policy of realistic and progressive social reforms. However contempary critics have argued that the period from 1945-1970 was one of a continuation of a wartime consensus. The coalition governments during the war had drawn up a number of plans which included the Beveridge report in 1942 as means to move forward in the post-war era. The ending of the Second World War had left two strands of thought. The first was the collectivists; consisting of the Labour party plus left wing conservatism. Individualism was the other strand adopted by Churchill, which focused on a move away from the wartime consensus. The wartime coalition on the home front had been dominated by the 'big three' Atlee, Bevin and Morrison and it was inevitable that their determination would see a Labour government elected in 1945. Even opinion poll from the 1942-43 indicated a Labour victory suggesting a change in political attitudes and priorities, Labour had become fashionable for the first time. The succession of the Labour Party into came power in the July election of 1945 that saw Atlee's government achieve a majority of 146 (47.8% of the electoral vote) from the 72.7% of the electorate that voted. His government in 1945 showed an interest in radical provisions and intervention in the economy. Labour's attention centred on families and on the role of women after the war which had to be addressed in the post war era. Atlee had recognised this and said at the Labour party conference on 13th May 1940 that "I am quite certain that the world that must emerge from this war must be a world attuned to our ideals"i These ideals centred on the need to reform Britain internally starting with the introduction of a coherent welfare system in the form of a national health service (July 1948). ...read more.

Middle

A ministry for National Insurances was set up with an initial capital of �100 million in its fund. It was then the responsibility of the Exchequer to make contributions annually that were gathered from employees and employers weekly from NI contributions. Many in the Labour Party were incensed by the latter especially Sydney Silverman and Barbra Castle. Under the Act an unemployed worker was eligible to receive assurance after just 3 days out of work for up to 180 daysviii. The system was very thorough in that if an insured person got a job and lost it again after less than 13 weeks of employment, then they would qualify for another period of benefit. By and large this can be seen as a form of progressive socialism in that those in need could rely on the state in order to survive. However throughout history similar schemes had failed and were often subject to abuse for example the Poor Laws of 1601 and 1834. These periods saw the remarkable frailties socialist systems bring. In many ways the NI Act can be viewed as a modern form of poor relief. The NI Act however can be seen as a continuation of a wartime consensus as rationing was still in force until 1954. However the idea of benefits in return for payments had been in existence and accepted in principle since Liberal legislation in 1911. The return to old ground is evident here and is more or less a successful attempt to bring together loose ends which had been evolving for over 100 years. James Griffiths has made a similar assessment as he said it represented "the culmination of half a century's development of our British Social Services"ix It is fair to say that the Labour governments 1945-51 had identified the need for reform and in so doing, brought together the 'English fudge legislation' that had been present since the early nineteenth century. ...read more.

Conclusion

Their domination of the home front during the war enabled them to recognise at first hand the needs of the British society. Their manifesto pledges in 1945 were reflective of Atlee's party conference speech in May 1940 in the recognition of post-wartime policies. Three of Atlee's five pillars were socialist policies that sought to deal with Britain's ailing society. The introduction of the welfare state cannot be accredited soul to the Labour party. Conservative Henry Willink must be attributed some of the credit for his initial proposals and had they been thoroughly assessed by Churchill then it is quite possible that he may have won the election of 1945 had he implemented the ideas into his manifesto. Sir William Beveridge's report in 1942 had more or less highlighted the problems that any post-war government would have had to take on. It recognised the need for family allowances, full employment, and the creation of a NHS, with the latter two a main part of the Labour manifesto in 1945, which Atlee is said to have hijacked. The 1946 National health bill was far superior to Willink's proposals in 1944 but can be seen as a continuation of a wartime theme within a consensus. The determination of Bevan to accumulate a nationalised health service can be seen as a progressive rather than an aggressive attack on a stagnated conservative Britain. The welfare state was the greatest achievement of the Labour governments 1945-51. The extent of which it was socialist is open to debate. It was clearly a continuation of themes and ideas expressed during the war period. The National insurance act if anything was an act of socialism in that it delivered a safety net for those who found themselves unemployed. It also used its capital to fund the NHS and had gone further than any other government had done before in helping those in need. The distinguished writers, Morgan, Pelling, Cairncross and Hennessy all concur that the Atlee governments were "Labour's finest hour"xvii with regards to social reform. ...read more.

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