How long did the consensus last?
What is known as the post-war consensus started with the election of Clement Atlee in 1945, British Prime Minister 1945-51 and ended following the election of Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister 1979-90.
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What made it a period of agreement or ‘consensus’?
It gets its name from the alignment of both the Labour and Conservative governments despite the obvious difference in their ideological views through a desire to maintain Britain’s status in the world following the end of The Second World War.
The consensus in Britain had a foreign policy angle as well as a social and economic base within the following areas:
- Belief in welfare provision for all
- A National Health Service
- Nationalisation of Industry and Public Utilities
- National Insurance reform 1946
- Social Security
- Full Employment
- Introduction of Nuclear Weapons
Building on Britain’s place in the World
Britain at this time was seen to be significant internationally.
This was due to being on the winning side of the war and attending peace conferences, having an empire and the relationship she held with the United States as part of the ‘ Special Relationship’.
Britain pursued policies to extend her influence and it was on this base that consensus politics developed at home.
- Getting closer to Europe – Early European Integration continued without the British. Britain failed to join the EEC in 1963 due to a veto by French President Charles de Gaulle. President de Gaulle, twice blocked Britain’s application to become a member of the European Economic Community (EEC). When de Gaulle left power in 1969 Britain took the opportunity to apply once again to join the EEC also known as ‘The Common Market.’ Prime Minister Edward Heath, elected in 1970, presided over Britain's accession to the "Common Market" on 1 January 1973. Heath’s 1970 conservative party manifesto stated it would be in Britain's long-term interest to join the EEC ‘if we can negotiate the right terms’ in spite of ‘short-term disadvantages’. Harold Wilson became Prime Minister again in 1974. Wilson’s previous application to join the EEC in 1967 had been rejected. Wilson now promised a referendum on remaining in the EEC on renegotiated terms. The referendum took place in June 1975. There was roughly a 2-1 result in favour of remaining on new terms.
- The Commonwealth was created and countries such as India were granted independence in 1947 but were still used strategically by Britain often for military bases
- The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was created in 1949. Existing today, this was primarily a mutual defence agreement between the United States of America, Great Britain, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and six other European countries to help each other if faced with aggression from, at that time, the Soviet Union.
Coming together closer to home
Although there are varying views of how well this worked at home, the main policy agreement between political parties was the welfare of its people and cradle to grave protection. This was shown through legislation passed in Parliament during this time, which had sustained support.
- The 1944 Education Act - Introduces universal secondary education split into three parts Grammar, Modern and Technical schools. It also created a Government Minister for education and raised the school leaving age to 16 by 1973.
- The 1945 Family Allowance Act – gave money to support those with children.
- The 1946 National Insurance Act – industrial injuries – giving money to support people who could not work following injury.
- The 1946 National Insurance Act – paid for through taxes the Government provides support or ‘benefits’ in the form of sickness, unemployment, retirement, maternity, widow, guardians allowance for orphans and a grant for funeral expenses.
- The 1946 National Health Service Act – a major law that gave healthcare to all paid for by taxes but free at the point of need.