The Labour Party 1945-51

Easy-to-read set of revision cards outlining the key factors and events within the Labour Party's leadership between the years 1945 and 1951.

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Labour's 1945 victory

In 1945, Labour gained a majority of 148 overall seats. However, it was 2% short of winning half the total vote, other parties had a greater percentage of popular support. 

Conservatives failures:

  • they had not understood the needs of ordinary people
  • Churchill was unable to carry his wartime popularity into peace time
  • inability to manage the economy and handle unemployment during the 30's
  • the appeasement policy of the Conservatives had failed to prevent war
  • ill-judged and unconvincing campaign
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Labour's 1945 victory

Labour's advantages:

  • the attractive image of the Labour Party, representing the progressive zeitgeist (spirit of the times) encouraging reform and reconstruction
  • Labour was better fitted to carry out post-war construction
  • leading Labour figures had gained experience as ministers in the wartime Coalition, gaining the respect of the electorate 
  • voters were willing to overlook Labour's failings in 1924 and 1929-31
  • the imbalance in the electoral system worked in Labour's favour
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Members of Clement Attlee's government

Ernest Bevin

Extremely influential British statesman, Foreign Secretary between 1945 and 1950.

Stafford Cripss

Pro Communist learnings, intelluctually gifted member of the government. Chancellor of Exchequer during the period of austerity after 1947.

Herbert Morrison

Deputy Prime Minister between 1945 and 51, briefly Foreign Secretary in 1951.

Hugh Dalton

Contributed to Labour's nationalisation programme, resigned as Chancellor of Exchequer in 1947

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Members of Clement Atlee's government

Aneurin Bevan

Dominant left-wing figure. Created the NHS in 1948, Minister of Health 1945-51.

Clement Atlee (1883-1967)

Contrasted to his predecessor Churchill, with an unprepossessing physical presences and limited skills as a public speaker, he did not create the grand image. However, history suggests he may be regarded as the outstanding figure in his government, with Nationalisation, the welfare state, NATO, Indian Independence, his striking successes.

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The Beveridge Report

William Beveridge was appointed Chairman of the Interdepartmental Committee in June 1941, set up to study schemes of social insurance and make recommendations. The Beveridge Report was presented to the House of Commons in November 1942. 

His aims were; to abolish material want, establish a minimum level of national welfare. It believed the 5 major evils want, squalor, ignorance, disease and idleness needed to be rid of.

He proposed; all people would pay a weekly contribution to a state insurance fund, Ministry of Social Security would provide people with substance in the form of sickness, medical, maternity, old age, unemployment, widows, orphans, industrial injury and funeral benefits

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The Beveridge Report

His proposals weren't new, but he made them significant by integrating them into a comprehensive scheme to meet ALL social problems for everyone, "from cradle to grave".

It would provide minimum sources/benefits for food and substance, trying to attack the CAUSE of poverty, rather than reacting to results. People were encouraged to save as private individuals, Beveridge wanted to encourage personal responsibility

The Welfare State introduced by Attlee's government was a fulfillment of the Beveridge plan and a tribute to its creator. 

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Labour's Welfare programme

Labour turned its attention to applying the main proposals of the Beveridge Report. The strategy for an integrated social-welfare system came in four major measures, coming into effect in summer 1948:

1) National Insurance Act - a central fund for payments for unemployment, sickness etc was made from government-employer-employee contributions

2) Industrial Injuries Act

3) The National Health Service Act

4) The National Assistance Act -> established National Assistance Boards to deal directly and financially with cases of hardship and poverty

(Two other measures; The Educational Act 1944 (The Butler Act) and The Family Allowance Act 1945)

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The Act in setting up the NHS was passed in 1946 (intended to come into effect 1947) but the resistance of the medical profession delayed it till 1948.

Only 4,735 doctors supported the NHS scheme whilst 40,814 were against it..

  • they did not wish to become 'salaried civil servants' of the government
  • the feared government interference in doc-patient relations
  • they worried regional management boards would take away their independence as practitioners
  • they saw the NHS as nationalism, which treated the medical profession as if it were an industry

Bevan had to buy off the British Medical Association (BMA). The BMA had demands; private practices and hospitals continued, 'pay beds' for private paying patients reserved in NHS hospitals, teaching hospitals run by independent governors outside government control.

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Sadly, by 1950, the government revenue was insufficient to meet the cost of drugs, medical appliances and machinery. His scheme fell foul to:

Bureaucracy - By the 1980s, the NHS had become the largest single employer in Europe. The controversy has continued to focus on over how the NHS can be reformed to it can fulfill its primary task of providing patient care, but it seems employees have thwarted attempts at a genuine reform.

The 'dandruff' syndrome - There was no limit to the number of people who could call on the services of doctors and nurses, leading to trivial complaints wasting time (e.g. dandruff) The gap between Bevan's estimation and cost and the reality is shown in these figures:

1949 Health and Social Security Budget - £567 mil (4.7% of GDP)

1990 Health and Social Security Budget - £91 mil (14% of GDP)

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Economy under Labour

Nationalisation - government control of coal, civil aviation, Cable and Wireless and Bank of England in 1946, iron and steel in 1949, inland transport (rail, road & air services) and electricity in 1947, all classified as Britain's major industries.

Iron and Steel fought against nationalism, it was already successfully run and making profits, large investments had recently been made into it, it had excellent employer-employee relations and was a privately owned manufacturing concern.

The Conservatives morale and reputation were low, but the 1948 proposal to nationalise steel created rallying ground for them. In the Commons they launched onslaughts on nationalisation as an abuse of government power.

The passing of the Parliamentary Reform Act 1949 however prevented Conservatives from blocking the steel bill, allowing nationalisation to become law.

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Economy under Labour


John Maynard Keynes, a Cambridge academic and a chief economic advisor said that if demand could be sustained, decline could be prevented and jobs preserved. He urged:

  • the government should use budgets and revenue powers to raise capital to then reinvest in the economy -> high level of activity
  • this artificial boost to the economy will lead to genuine recovery and growth
  • earnings would be spent on goods and services with the result that the forces of supply and demand would be stimulated
  • the government should abandon trying to balance the budget between income and expenditure, willing to run deficit budgets in the short term, the government will be able to repay debts from a flourishing economy. 
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