Britain, 1940-51

  1. Crisis of May 1940
  2. wartime coalition government 1940-45
  3. the impact of total war on the economy
  4. the impact of total war on social attitudes
  5. the reasons for the labour landslide 1945
  6. economic crisis and recovery 1945-51
  7. the achievements of the attlee government, 1945-51
  8. the birth of the welfare state
  • Created by: Tom
  • Created on: 09-04-14 14:31

The crisis of May 1940

  • crisis of political leadership over competence of Neville Chamberlain as war time PM
  • Chamberlain's policy of appeasement failed - he underestimated Hitler and had been fooled by his declarations of peace
  • As result he rejected opportunities to make an alliance with S.U to deter Hitler from invading Poland.
  • Loss of faith in his decision making reached peak April 1940 following military setbacks in Norway

Military Crisis, April-May 1940

  • following outbreak war Sept. 3rd 1939 there was 6 month 'phoney war' - barely any fighting
  • Chamberlain joked Hitler had 'missed the bus' - anticipated early end to war
  • within few days Hitler had invaded Denmark/Norway
  • British troops sent to Norway had to be evacuated - humiliating
  • 10th May German troops stormed Holland and Belgium - drove deep in to France
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The crisis of May 1940

The Political Crisis

  • 7th May 1940 Chamberlain attacked from all sides in parliamentary debate about failed Norwegian campaign
  • Criticisms: army was unprepared for European war, Chamberlain not taken action to form new National gov. dedicated to war, preparations for wartime economy slow, blockade of German ports inadequate, Norwegian campaign = disaster
  • Labour+Libs called for Chamberlain's resignation and Cons. rebels refused to back Chamberlain
  • Chamberlain forced to resign
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The crisis of May 1940

Lord Halifax

  • Strengths: regarded as best candidate by Libs and Labour, experienced Foreign Secretary, good contacts with German leadership if negotiated peace became necessary
  • Weaknesses: closesly associated to policy of appeasement, member of H.O.L - not ideal for leading gov., lack self-belief - uncertain he was right for the job

Winston Churchill

  • Strengths: consistent and outspoken opponent of appeasement, throughout 1930's emphasises need to rearm, opponent of Nazism, favoured broad coalition gov. including T.U's, good contacts in U.S - important for getting U.S support against Hitler, hard worker strong self belief & greater orator
  • weaknesses: out of politics 1929-39, past failures - Gallipolli 1915, return to G.standard 1925 - hated by Labour for opposition to General Strike, out of touch with popular opinion in 1930's - 66 when election in 1940, impulsive inconsiderate authoritarian

10th May 1940 - King apppointed Churchill as PM - on Chamberlain's advice that he was strongest candidate

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the wartime coalition gov. 1940-45

Churchill leadership became legendary - symbolic of refusal to negotiate with Hitler

Churchill 'finest hour' = defeat of German airforce in b.o.b

Government's compisition and goals

  • Churchill close Attlee deputy PM - Attlee bought organisation balanced out Churchill's careless nature
  • Coalition strength from all party compisition and Churchill decision to bring in outsides - Lord Woolton Manchester businessman who organised rationing
  • Gov. had 3 priorities in pursuit victory - develop war economy, find way finance war, plan for post-war Britain

Financing the war

  • war paid partly through higher taxes rest from borrowing. Main sources of income:
  • increase income tax + tax paid on goods and services
  • Loans and materials supplied by countries of British empire
  • Lend lease scheme agreed 1941 - U.S provide Britain with war materials and supplies which would be paid for after war. Lend lease critical to Britain's ability to fight - provided £27,000m

by 1945 Britain's debt was crippling.

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the wartime coalition gov. 1940-45

post-war planning

  • plans for better post-war Britain necessary to:
  • sustain morale - reassure public that sacrifices would bring better quality of life
  • T.U's, church, politicians, all pressed their ideas for post-war reconstruction
  • some social welfare bought about by war: Emergency hospital scheme - gave gov. greater control over hospitals - step toward NHS. Free milk scheme for mothers/children - step toward future 'cradle to grave' welfare state
  • several measures + proposals taken before end of war:
  • Beveridge report 1942 - proposals made for eliminating poverty by targetting the causes: want, sickness, lack of education, bad housing, unemployment.
  • Government white paper 1944 - a 'national health service' set out guiding principles for reforms to health provision
  • Town and Country Planning Act 1944 - gave local authorities power to provide new housing
  • Education Act 1944 - free compulsory education up to age 15
  • Family Allowances Act 1945 - accepted state should contribute to cost of bringing up families
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the impact of total war on the economy

The Emergency Powers(Defence) Act, 1939

  • gave gov. unlimited authority over citizens and their property. Led to increased gov. control of economy and was basis for waging total war.
  • transition to wartime economy initially slow and poorly co-ordinated until Churchill replaced Chamberlain May 1940
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the impact of total war on the economy

The War Economy

Man power and labour

  • Gov. took great powers to control workforce. Ernest Bevin = Minister of Labour
  • Bevin introduced form of industrial conscription - gave him power to transfer workers from non essential to essential industry
  • Gov. issued over 8.5 'essential work orders' during war
  • 1941 - registration for employment made compulsory + list of 'reserved occupations' created - keep people in essential jobs from being sent to war
  • 1940 onward women sent to employment where labour shortages


  • Industry divided into 3 priority groups - munitions, essential industries(metal+engineering), non essential industry(textiles etc)
  • production centralised by setting up ministries - i.e Ministry of Supply(iron&steel production)
  • Cabinet committees made sure approach was organised
  • Coal industry less succesful - output fell 231m tonnes 1939 to 183m 1945 - poor industrial relations+disputes continued in coal industry


  • Import of essential raw materials+machinery>food imports. Meant by 1941 food, fuel, clothing all rationed.
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the impact of total war on the economy


  • not introduced at outbreak of war
  • January 1940 - Sugar, butter, bacon rationed. March - meat. July - fat + margerine
  • rationing seen as means of controlling restricted supplies and stopping development of profiteering + black market


  • Agricultural production intensified to make up shortfall of imports - 'dig for victory' promoted
  • need to produce enough calories for daily diet switched production from livestock to arable
  • Arable land under cultivation increased by half


  • total mobilisation of people+resources ended depression. 1941 Britain faced labour shortage rather than unemployment.
  • 1941 politicians began to think & plan in national terms. extent of centralised planning turned Britain in to a Collectivist state - made idea of gov. directing economy seem natural, desireable, and essential.
  • war economy success as brought victory. Able to mobilise economically without causing unrest or major breakdowns of food & power supplies.
  • managed to mobilise, equip and maintain armed forces on 3 fronts.
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the impact of total war on social attitudes

social mobility

  • war created revolution in social mobility
  • military + industrial conscription took millions away for months. Before war 50% Britons never left home.
  • migration people mingled social classes
  • evacuation 1m+ children from major cities mingled social classes weakened urban/rural divide

status of women

  • expansion of employment = increased responsibility and independence = social / sex liberation
  • women worked wherever labour shortage - 500,000 women auxillary branches armed forces
  • more independent social outlook & greater respect for their capabilities


  • unemployment dissapeared by 1943. Higher wages + nutritional standards, despite rationing overall health improved
  • state provided free milk for mothers+children - Emergency Hospital Scheme = free health care for bomb victims
  • created expectations improved healthcare and welfare would be post-war gov. priority
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the impact of total war on social attitudes

arguements for change in social attitudes

  • mixing social groups weakened class barriers led to post war demand for more equal society.
  • views shifted toward more collectivist outlook. war showed how state could be force for public good
  • war convinced many no need to return to inequalities of 1930's - politicians must delivery a 'land fit for heroes'
  • war showed problems in housing, health, employment could be tackled. Caused belief that welfare and employment should be available as a right
  • war showed what could(and should) be done - symbolised by Beveridge report

Arguements for continuity in social attitudes

  • war may have paved way for future advances for women, but majority teturned to role of wife/mother after war
  • Increased social mixing challenged class system but class division didn't dissapear
  • war created sense of national unity - collectivist spirit not in everyone
  • social impact of war is an amalgam of many millions of individual histories
  • many wanted to limit rapid tide of change
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Reasons for Labour landslide 1945

  • May 1945 - Germany surrender, Labour reject Churchill offer to continue coalition until Japan defeated
  • Election scheduled for July - Labour won landslide - increased number MP's 154 -> 393, 48% of vote compared to Cons. 39.3%
  • Labour outnumbered Cons. 2 to 1 first time ever
  • Churchill resigned 26th July
  • election result came as shock.
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The reasons for the Labour landslide 1945

Reasons why Labour won

long term factors

  • long term support coming back by 1930's - 1942 Labour had double figure lead in opinion polls
  • pre-war legacy of Cons. worked against Churchill:
  • inability/unwillingness to tackle unemployment
  • discredited appeasement policy
  • inadequacies of defence preparation

Effects of the war

  • Labour ministers in war cabinet were effective and popular. Removed myth they unfit to govern.
  • Labur project image they would not allow return to poverty of 1930's
  • war cause major shift to left in public opinion.
  • success of total war + S.U defeat of Hitler increased support for planned economy
  • Labour first to endorse Beveridge Report proposal for welfare state
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Reasons for the Labour landslide, 1945

the election campaign

  • Labour programme 'let us face the future together' fit spirit of time better than Cons. which emphasises need to defeat Japan.
  • Cons. party manifesto promised 'four year plan' of social reforms - nothing concrete
  • Cons. assumed they could cash in on Churchill's popularity
  • Cons. campaign focused on danger to democracy that Labour posed - counter productive
  • Churchill Gestapo speech on national radio huge blunder
  • Cons campaign poorly managed, tone accusatory rather than crusader feel of Labour(organised by Herbert Morrison, became deputy PM)

Other factors

  • 20% of electorate first time voters. Hadn't been election for 10 years - many voted Lab.
  • absence of 3rd party - Libs won only 12 seats


  • as much a vote of no confidence in past as it was a vote for future. cons ill-judged and unconvincing campaign enforced this.
  • Labour victory reflected deep change in British society - looked toward egalitarianism and collectivism to deliver the 'new jerusalem'
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Economic crisis and recovery, 1945-51

state of the economy in 1945

  • ww2 = huge financial cost
  • national debt trebled, exports dropped 2/3, lend lease ended August 1945
  • Labour pledged costly reform programme+ heavy foreign and imperial commitments - had to find a way to fund reform programme - key would rest on whether US could be persuaded to provided economic help the British economy required.

Government Actions

  • vital for Labour to replace lend-lease with new US loan. granted loan $3.75b over 50 years at 2% interest - repayments began 1951. Also had to agree tp convertibility of sterling with dollar by 1947
  • Gov. obtained loan $1.25b from Canada
  • loans allowed post-war boom maintained full employment
  • priority given to increasing exports and rationing continued to limit imports
  • wartime control prices/wages continued
  • interest kept low
  • Nationalism prioritised as means controlling and stimulating economy in long term
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Economic crisis and recovery, 1945-51

Economic crisis, 1947

  • most sever winter of century - fuel shortages, power cuts, slow down in industry output
  • unemployment increased exports fell
  • convertability went ahead July, so many dollars withdrawn from Britain that balance of payments crisis occured & convertability had to be suspended in August
  • Crisis ended when chancellor of exchequer Stafford Cripps introduced greater austerity
  • Cripps increased exports and British people had to accept stricter rationing, wage freeze, higher taxation, continued shortages. Cripps helped by £1263m Marshall aid in 1948 - end of year balance payments deficit ended

Economic crisis, 1949

  • Britain's balance of payments fell into deficit - devaluation pound against dollar $4.03 -> $2.80 in September
  • done reluctantly, made British exports to US cheaper by 1950 balance of playments in surplus but fell back to deficit in 1951


  • over life of gov. manufacturing increase 50% exports even more
  • Gov. control over economy = investment could be directed to pre-war blackspots
  • shortages continued for ordinary Britons
  • Labour ensured decent minimum standard of living. Ended long-term unemployment
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achievements of the Attlee government, 1945-51

Economic reforms: nationalisation

  • committed to socialist ideals of public ownership of major industries through clause IV of its 1918 contitution
  • 1945 nationalisation not only ideological commitment but practical politics
  • state controlled much of industry during war so logical and popular to extend state control to public ownership for 'national efficiency'
  • bank of England nationalised 1946
  • 1946: civil aviation
  • 1947: coal, cable and wireless communications
  • 1948: railways, road haulage, gas, electricity
  • 1949: iron and steel
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achievements of the Attlee government, 1945-51

The process of nationalisation

  • no planning done before 1945 about how to nationalise industry
  • common format quickly developed - each industry run by central board which reported to appropriate gov. minister
  • little political opposition to nationalisation initially - owners 'generously' compensated
  • Later Cons. opposed nationalisation of iron+steel and road haulage schemes
  • Gov. made concession in transport bill to exclude small road haulier firms but fought for steel nationalisation - delayed until 1951 - Cons. pledged to denationalise steel when returned in 1951
  • by 1951 Labour nationalised 1/5 British industry - 'commanding heights' of British economy
  • post 1950 enthusiasm for nationalisation stopped, no attempt to nationalise further 4/5 of industry
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strengths of nationalisation

  • some beneficial growth - supply of electricity + gas expanded. Civil aviation + cable and wireless strong growth.
  • improvements in working conditions - greater standardization of safety procedure in mines
  • better economic balance reached - 'mixed economy' private+state ownership
  • step toward fairer society - prioritising social need over private profit
  • consensus among parties state control should be maintained.
  • Nationalised industries lasted until 1980's
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weaknesses of nationalisation

  • Labour accused thinking out plan of nationalisation as it went along - no real strategy
  • programme very costly; compensation to private owners = £2,700m
  • much nationalised industry inefficient, run down, unprofitable. huge burden for tax payers - forced to invest large amounts to improve neglected infastructure
  • admin of nationalised inustries did not include worker representation - socialast idea 'workers control' didn't happen. Many on left didn't feel nationalisation went far enough
  • opportunity to nationalise and co-ordinate economic planning was missed - each industry left to go its own way. no cooperation

Political reforms

  • Parliamentary reform act 1948 - changed constituency boundaries to bring them in line with changed population(deaths from wars). Reduced number MP's 640 -> 625
  • Parliament Act 1949 - because Lords continuous opposition to steel nationalisation - change to 1911 Act, cut delaying power of Lords to 1 year
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birth of the welfare state

roots of the welfare state

  • Labour reforms built on previous reforms going back as far as Lib reforms 1906-14
  • 1939 - provision still uneven in coverage and inadequate breadth
  • war decisive turning point - created consensus fairer society necessary
  • Labour criticised for being cautious not going far enough in redistributing wealth & ending private schooling/healthcare
  • welfarestate considered most important achieve of Attlee gov. State accepted responsibility for health care, housing, education, social security.

Social security

  • National Insurance Act 1946 - made national insurance universal and comprehensive. Workers + dependants covered for life for unemployment, sickness, old age. Benefits for widows, maternity, funeral expenses
  • National assistance act 1948 - payments for those whose benefits run out and those who could not care for themselves - preventing people falling through gaps in welfare
  • Industrial injuries act 1946 - benefits for injuries + illness sustained at work
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the birth of the welfare state

housing and town planning

  • housing act 1946 - Britain faced housing crisis at end of war. Labour built 1.5m houses - 80% council houses
  • new towns act 1946 - represented Labour long term vision fr housing. 14 new towns planned


  • 1944 education act - free + compulsory education up to 15
  • selection at 11+ introduced for grammar, modern, technicals(tripartite). Hoped grammar would allow academically able w/c to go to university


  • NHS act 1946 - main hospitals under state control. fiercely resisted by doctors - resented proposal they would become state employees, concerned damage their status and income from private practice
  • Labour forced to comprimise - could not run NHS without doctors. GP's paid basic salary by state but also paid for each patient on their list
  • by end 1948, 90% of all doctors joined NHS
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strengths and weaknesses of Labour welfare reforms

strengths of Labour welfare reforms

  • NHS immensely popular - provided millions with glasses+teeth. Nations health improved & NHS admired and copied worldwide. 95% of population enrolled with NHS doctors and dentists
  • family allowances helped w/c mothers
  • provision free milk, orange juice cod liver oil improved nutrition of children
  • most reforms universal and comprehensive
  • Rowntree 3rd study in York 1951 showed definite improvement for poor
  • reforms still form basis of today's welfare system

limitations of welfare reforms

  • no unified system of NHS administration, quality of provision varied across country. staff shortages, outdated facilities and NHS very costly. payment for prescription had to be introduced 1951
  • level of benefits remained low
  • claims for compensation for industrial injuries hard to prove
  • Labour failed to meet own targets for house building & private house building slowed
  • tripartite benefitted those who passed 11+ but secondary moderns never gained same status or resources as grammar - technical schools barely existed
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