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BRITISH POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT SINCE 1900 LABOUR'S VICTORY IN 1945 AND THE WORK OF THE ATTLEE GOVERNMENTS How much does the Attlee Governments' achievement owe to the Second World War?
ESSAY 1: Think back to Week 1 and the definition of a Government 'achievement'. Decide what the achievement(s) might be, and evaluate the factors which brought it about. How might the Second World War be a factor? Generally, of course, it is often said that radical change follows great events such as wars and so on, but are there more specific factors here? Also, as you look at welfare policy, consider the link to Week 1: is the Attlee Government really just building on the 'achievements' of the Liberals?
Introduction What did Labour want to achieve?
Key figures - coalition and first government Welfare - Beveridge Report Education - 1944 Education Act NHS - what was achieved and what wasn't?
Nationalisation Foreign Policy/Bevin and Labour Legacy - electoral failure after 1951 Conclusion The Road to 1945: P. Addison
- Whilst the war suspended normal party politics, it also gave rise to a new consensus. Churchill's ambivalence towards the Conservatives meant that Labour enjoyed the status of nearly equal partners within the coalition.
- Attlee was Deputy PM (Lord President) from 1942-45.
- 'Churchill had given Labour a very great power on the home front whilst simultaneously beheading the Conservative Party.'1
- Wartime Britain served as a test-bed for social reform: social security, education, NHS, Keynesian Budgeting, central planning, dirigiste State intervention in industry.
- Butler Act 1944 - Education Reform.
- By Autumn 1942, evidence suggests that a major swing in public opinion had taken place. In 1939, Labour had looked likely to lose another General Election.
- Bevin - General Secretary of the TGWU
- Citrine - General Secretary of the TUC
- Conservatism in Eclipse:
- A result of obsolescence of outlook - their policy offerings where no longer relevant, and were only rejuvenated by defeat.
- People feared and expected mass unemployment following de-mobilization, and some still remembered the broken promises that followed the First World War.
- The December 1943 General Election forecast by BIPO put Labour on 40 to the Conservatives 27; these forecasts were largely dismissed by senior Tories, who questioned their accuracy. This
1 The Road to 1945: P. Addison
was despite the fact that the Conservatives lost four by-elections between 1943 to 1945, all to Leftleaning candidates.
- The Conservatives continued to believe that Churchill, 'the man who won the war', would be sufficient to secure them election victory.
- It was not until October 1944 that the Labour NEC declared that it would be fighting the next election as an independent Party.
- The idea that Labour had maintained a large number of agents on the Home Front is a myth; in 1945 they had 58 to the Conservative's 256. Labour did not enjoy an organisational advantage.
- Labour did not offer an overambitious or excessively radical programme in 1945. They simply sought to consolidate the gains already made by the wartime coalition, both in terms of policy and the shift in public opinion.
- Beveridge joined the Liberals in September 1944.
- 'Churchill was...thought of as a great man rather than a party politician.'2
- Housing was one of the most pressing concerns of the working-class, and was one of Labour's main election promises; it was low down the list of the Conservative's priorities.
- Did Attlee sacrifice his socialist principles for consensus politics?
- His 1945-51 government saw a continuation of the managed economy into peacetime.
- Nationalised the Bank of England, coal, electricity, and the railways between 1946-48. Measures to which the Conservatives offered only token opposition.
- The NHS was in operation from 1948.
- Iron and steel were nationalised in 1951.
- One million houses were built by Labour, although this fell significantly short of expectations.
- Pelling argued that the war was not innovatory, but merely highlighted room for improvement in existing institutions - questionable!
- Labour benefitted from the fact that many of the reforms they advocated were originally advocated by non-socialists. Which People's War?: S.O. Rose
- Was the wartime political consensus the main contributor to post-war social and economic reform?
- Counter to Addison's 'consensus' - says there was significant disagreement over welfare provision during the war, and the Conservatives only changed their policy after electoral defeat in
19453. - Class co-operation during the war made the nation more sensitive to issues of social and economic inequality.
- One million men were still unemployment on the outbreak of war.
- Bevin was appointed Minister for Labour and National Security, in an effort to limit trade disputes.
- The evacuation of children from cities brought national attention to urban poverty.
2 The Road to 1945: P. Addison 3 Which People's War?: O. Rose
- Whilst social relationships changed, those that had authority and status in 1951 were the same that had it in 1918. The Labour Governments, 1945-1951: H. Pelling
- Churchill owed his position as head of the wartime coalition to Labour's calling of a motion of no confidence in Chamberlain's ministry.
- Churchill and Attlee 'saw eye-to-eye on foreign policy', and Attlee accompanied Churchill to Potsdam as an observer4.
- Labour's election manifesto, drawn up by Herbert Morrison, promised nationalisation as a means of achieving increased efficiency.
- Was Bevin Foreign Secretary and Dalton Chancellor?
Explanations for shift in voting:
- A 'swing of the pendulum' was overdue. There had been a Conservative majority in Parliament since 1931 and discontent with the government's performance understandably focused on them. The Tories could be blamed for Britain's lack of re-armament and appeasement policy.
- A fear of unemployment - which Pelling claims is often overstated, as employment conditions had been improving since the mid-1930s.
- Propaganda in support of the Russian war effort had convinced many voters that Socialism could be efficiently managed - and Labour was seen as the British form of Socialism.
- After 1935, Labour were the main opposition party, and the Liberals had been reduced to a tiny number of MPs.
- Labour had a successful group of Ministers active during the war, and had demonstrated capability for government. Dalton was Minister for Economic Warfare and President of the Board of Trade.
- Importance of housing to voters, which Labour emphasised when electioneering.
- Voters assumption that Churchill would remain as PM after the election irrespective of a Labour victory.
- Morrison and Nationalisation:
- The nationalisation of the Bank of England raised little Conservative opposition - 348 to 153 at divisions.
- Citrine, now a Peer, was made the first chairman of the British Electricity Authority.
- There was greater conflict over the nationalisation of Iron and Steel. The industries were profitable, efficient, and the trade unions had no strong desire for public ownership. The Bill was eventually passed in 1948 with a large majority5. Nationalisations: Bank of England - Oct 1945 Coal - Jan 1946 Civil Aviation - May 1946 Cable and Wireless - May 1946 Transport - Dec 1946 Electricity - Feb 1947 Gas - Feb 1948 Iron and Steel - Nov 1948
- A total of 2.3million employees were transferred to State control.
4 The Labour Governments, 19451951: H. Pelling 5 The Labour Governments, 19451951: H. Pelling
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