The Postwar British Consensus Notes
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Supervision Economics 1st Year Paper 4
„The consensus in British politics between 1945 and 1979 reflected confusion
and compromise rather than a purposeful sense of direction.” Discuss.
The period of 1945 – 1979 is usually seen as the period of consensus in British
politics, having seen a mutual agreement between the two main parties about the
general direction of their policies. The agreement could be seen in fields as economic
policy, social policy and foreign policy. But was this a time of visionaries with a clear
picture of the consensus or was it a period of confusion and alternating policies with
no specific direction? I will try to shed light about this issue by having a closer look to
the role of the civil service, macroeconomic policy, interest groups and foreign policy
of that time.
The situation in 1945 in Britain was marked by the end of World War II as well as the
aftermath of the economic crisis of the 30s. The electorate has seen high
unemployment and social deprivation in the 30s, often regarded as related to a too
liberal capitalism, and it has as well perceived some success of government
intervention during World War II, and has therefore finished a leftward shift of its
policy preferences in 1945. It was hence the labour party, who won the 1945 election
in a landslide victory. Attlee was a visionary, and his government implemented the
welfare state in Britain, consisting of some revolutionary policies at that time, e.g. the
introduction of the NHS, the Education Act, the nationalisation of essential industries
and the acceptance of Keynesian ideas as a normal tool for British economic policy.
Due to the leftward shift in the public opinion after the war, the conservatives had no
choice but to adapt to the new situation in order to have a chance in future elections.
Therefore, except for some denationalizations, the conservatives kept the welfare
state and its achievements after their victory in 1951. This common commitment to a
more leftward oriented policy is commonly seen as the time of consensus.
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