History - Britain 1951-2007

  • Created by: bethany
  • Created on: 19-05-13 14:44

No government was able to stem from Br's economic

It could be argued that between 1951-1990 success British governments were entirely unable to stem from long term economic decline. Historians such as Barnett blame the governments of the 1950s and early 1960s, others such as Hennessy contrast this view by stating that it was a "golden age." By 1990 historians who disgree with the initial statement point to evidence of an economy transformed, examples include greater wealth and deregulation. In this essay I will argu that whilst there were many failures throughout the period, it was not in fact one of continuous economic decline and there are many examples of the economy being managed effectively. 

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For historians examining the period 1951-64, especially those critical of consensus, such as Barnett, the idea of a 'goden age' may appear more like a mirage. During this period, Britian's share of world trade declined; from 25% in 1951 to 10% in 1975. In addition, the failure to join the EEC left Britain Industrial production somewhat behind, by 1973 French production had increase by 75%, west Germany's by 90% and Britain by only 30%. Throughout this period, the 'stop go' system of economics ruled, the 'giveaway budget' of £130m in 1955 and £370m in 1959 perhaps best exemplify this. The fact remains that for Thatcherite economists, that Britian was simply importing too muc and exporting too little and may therefore blame the government 1951-64 for failing to grapple with the problems head on.

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Of course, both Labour and Conservative governments of the late 1960s and 1970s stand accused of this charge. Although Wilson did attempt to modernise the economy, his 'white heat of technology' appeared to envisage a period of economic planning. This was attempted by the inroduction of the DEA under George Brown, but it was largely underminsed by the Treasury. Thus it was disbanded in 1967. Furthermore, the pound was devalued by 14% in the same year and as the historian Shore states, it was "terribly damaging" for the government. In addition, neither Labour nor Conservatives during this time period were able to manged the trade unions effectively. Both in 1969 (In Place of Strife) and in 1971 (The industrial relations act) attempts were made to reduce the union power, but failed. The 1974-79 Labour government withdrew the Industrial Relations Act and favoured the social contract, but one only has to look at the winter of discontent in 1979 and that c.29.5million working days were lost due to strike action to see that this too was a failure. 

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However, there were some steps taken to reverse the 'continuous decline' in the period and evidence that such decline, certainly in absolute terms, did not exist. In the view of Hennessy in the late 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s was a period that resembled a 'golden age,' therfore action was not required to be taken. Unemployment between 1951-73 averaged at 2%. In addition consumerism also boomed, when rationing ended it paved a gateway to a revolution, perhaps indicated by the increase in tv ownership; in 1955 35% of households owned a tv, in 1975 this was raised to 96% and in 1995 98% of households owned a tv. Furthermore, governments also had successful policies during this time as Wilson was able to turn a £800 million deficit (Marr) in 1964 to a £700million surplus in 1970. 

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It appears undeniable that it was under Thatcher that the economy began to revive itself. Although her period in office in not without it's criticism, notably her infamous promise to tame the dragon of inflation, but infact when she left office it was 0.6 percentage points higher than when she has arrive. Nonetheless, Richard Viven highlights that the British productivity in the 1980s did improve. The big bang after deregulation in 1986 ensured Britian's place as a new global financial centre. Also, Thatcher, unlike the governments in the 1960s and the 1970s, was able to tackle the Trade Unions. The Employment Acts in 1980 1982 1988 and 1990, aswell as the 1984 trade unions act gave the government and Employees more power, and helped to defeat the militant NUM in March 1985 after a year of industrail action. Furthermore, her privatisation scheme made 6 million more people shareholders, and under the leadership of people such asLord King, companies such as BA became more efficient and profitable. 

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In conclusion, I disagree with the statment that no government was able to stem from Britain's economic decline, to an extent, I would argue that Government's of both sides were able to take some form of effective action during this time period. 

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