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BRITISH POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT SINCE 1900 THE POLITICS OF AFFLUENCE, 1951-1964 Were the 'thirteen wasted years' really wasted?
- Before the 1964 election Labour accused the Conservatives of presiding over 13 wasted years.
- Labour was held in opposition and forced to move its policy programme to the right. Allegations made/arguments against/my analysis...
Conclusion 1951-65: 13 Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon
- Allegations made by Labour and Conservative response:
- Economic management and growth:
- Labour - argued that the Conservatives should have directly managed the economy instead of relying on money policy and free market economics. Go on to say that economic growth in the UK lagged our continental peers.
- Conservatives contend that GDP rose steadily, averaging c3% a year, taxes were cut, and real incomes increased by a half over the period. Further, a fifth of national output was spent on investment and personal savings rose greatly1.
- Balance of payments:
- Labour - British share of world manufactures trade fell from 25% in 1951 to 16% in 1964. Conservatives should have maintained import controls to protect domestic industry.
- Conservatives maintain that the nation remained the world's third largest export and saw a net balance of payments surplus over the period2.
- Unemployment and inflation:
- Labour - contend that inflation was 50% over the years 1951-64, higher than peers. Unemployment of nearly 1million in 1963 was a twenty year high of 4.6%.
- Conservatives response was that unemployment averaged only 1.7% between 1952-64, and that 2million new jobs had been created. Additionally, the brought inflation down from c6.5% during Labour's last government to c2.5% between 1958-643.
- Labour - the Conservatives left a nation divided between a prosperous South and Midlands and a stagnating North.
- Conservatives made attempts to tackle regional inequality, establishing development districts, proving tax allowances, and investing in regional infrastructure4.
- Industry and Trade Unions:
- Labour - sought more government planning and intervention in 'inefficient' industries. Industrial relations were poor and anti-competitive mergers had been allowed to go ahead.
- Conservatives - strengthened the monopolies commission in 1953. Liberalised trade under the GATT. Believed the unions should reform themselves5.
1 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 2 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 3 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 4 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 5 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon
- Labour - the government abandoned the ideals of the 1944 Education Act and failed to abolish selection at 11. Investment in schools was substandard and the number of children progressing to university was low (1in20 in 1960) and below other industrialised nations.
- Conservative - Created 3.5million new school places and built 7000 schools. Invested heavily in technical education and trebled the number of students progressing to university6.
- Labour - 2.5 million homes remained in an unfit state in 1964. Local authority housing programmes have been undermined by free-market objectives.
- Conservatives - c4million new homes were built and 600,000 slums were cleared. Tax relief and 100% mortgages were available to those buying a home7.
- Pensions and insurance:
- Labour - the government had eroded the provisions of the 1946 National Insurance Act. Nearly a quarter of those retired had inadequate income to live on.
- Conservative - Pensions rose at twice the rate of inflation and NI benefits were increased fivefold8.
- Labour - The principles underlying the NHS were betrayed - the introduction of prescription charges being an example. Hospital building plans were inadequate and there were 500,000 on waiting lists in 1964.
- Conservative - There proportion of GDP spent on health rose from 3.8% to 4.1% over the period. The amount spent on hospital building was five times higher in 1963 than in 19519.
- Law and Order:
- Labour - Crime rose and prisons were increasingly overcrowded.
- Conservative - Improved police pay and recruitment and gave the courts more powers with the 1961 Criminal Justice Act. Outmoded laws were amended and a scheme of compensation for victims of crime was put in place. A major prison building programme was underway by the 1960s10.
- Science and Technology:
- Labour - The government failed to support university and industry investment in science and technology, and the free-market provided inadequate financing of this.
- Conservative - Total expenditure in this area rose from 1.7% GDP in 1955 to 2.7% GDP in 1962, ahead of Britain's peers. The Ministry of Science was created and scientific manning rose 50%
- Colonies/Overseas Aid:
- Labour - The government continued Labour's policies of retrenchment, but cases such as Rhodesia demonstrate a failure to abide by the principle of self-determination.
- Conservative - Mostly completed the transition to Commonwealth, and did so once successful handover was administratively practicable12.
- Foreign Policy:
- Labour - Overseas aid was inadequate. Delusions of grandeur were vividly illustrated by Suez. Nuclear ambitions exacerbated Cold War tensions.
6 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 7 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 8 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 9 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 10 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 11 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon 12 19511965: Thirteen Wasted Years?: Barnes and Seldon
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