British politics after the Second World War

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British politics after the Second World War


Britain after the II. World War lost its empire, power and status. Two events illustrated this. First, Suez. In 1956, Egypt, without prior agreemnet, took over the Suez canal from the international company owned by Britain and France. British and French military steps to stop this was a diplomatic disaster. The US did not support them and their troops were forced to withdraw. Second, Cyprus. When this country left Britsh empire, Britain became one of the guarantors of its independence from other countries. Britain tired to hold onto its international position through its Commonwealth, which all the old colonies were invited to join as free and equal members. This has been successful, because it is based on the kind of friendship that allows all members to follow their own policies without interference.

In 1945, Britain considered itself to have a major world rule. It is still the world’s 3th economic and military power, because with the help of the Marshall Aid Programme its economy recovered quickly and Britain reduced the large standing army and introduced a small, professional forces staffed by specialists. Modern military meant nuclear weapons. Since the 1950s, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has argued, on both moral and economic grounds, that Britain schould cease to be a nuclear power. Britain still have nuclear force, although it is tiny compared to that of the USA.

After the IIWW and throughout the 1950s, it was understood that a conference of the world’s great powers involved the USA, the SU and GB. However, in 1962, the Cuban missle crisis was resolved without reference of Britain. By the 1970s it was generally accepted that a superpower conference involved only the USA and the SU. But strong British foreign policy (Bevin, Eden – Foreign Secretaries) was vital to world peace and Britain was still a grat power with global interst to protect eg.: developing NATO and Commonwealth. Morover, since the IIWW, British government often referred to the ’special relationship’ which exists between GB and and the USA. The base of this relationship is the history, the culture and the language. After the IIWW many reforms were introduced, both by the Conservative and the Labour Party. It is called the consensus politics. Britain can claim to have the first large country in the world to have accepted that it is part of the job of government to help any citizen in need and to set up a ’welfare state’. During the first half of the 20C a number of welfare benefits were introduced. These were a small old-age pension scheme (1908), partial sickness and unemployement insurance (1912). The real impetus for the welfare state came in 1942 from a government comission, headed by William Beveridge, and its report on social insurance and allied services. In 1948 the National Health Act turned the report’s recommendation into law and the National Health Service was set up. The Labour government went further, taking over control of credit (Bank of England), power (coal, iron, steel) and transport (railways and airlines).

This mixed economy meant 4/5 private sector and 1/5 public sector, which were run by the government on Keynesian lines in such a way as to maintain full employement. During the 1950s and 1960s Britain began to slip rapidly behind its Europian neighbours economically. This was partly the result of a new and unpleasant experience, a combination of rising prices, high inflation, balance of payment crises and growing unemployment. Government was uncertain about how to solve the problem, and no longer agreed that the state had a responsibility to prevent unemployment. The special relationship with the USA weakened and the Commonwealth as a political unit and trading partner started to fall apart, so Britain decide to join the Europian Communitiy to share their new Europian wealth. It took more then 10 years to became the member of the EC (1973). Margaret Thatcher had been elected in 1979 because she promised a new beginning for Britain. The old conservative and Labour agreement on the principles of the welafer state had broken down.

The Conservative party moved right and the Labour party moved left and lost its power. Mrs Thatcher wanted free trade at home and abroad, individual enterprise and less government economic protection or interference. At home she reduced inflation, stabilized prices but the unemployment still was high. She reformed welfare state and continued the privatization of the public sector industries. She also tried to find the way to reduce public spendings. The conservative government tired to restore Britain’s national prestige and great power status internationally. So they revivaled the special relationship with USA, promoted Britain interest in EC more aggressivly, and decided to use armed fore when it is necessary (eg. Falklands war). In 1997 Tony Blair (Labour Party) became the PM. Britain is a middle-racking, post-imperial Europian state but with nuclear weapons and still possessing cultural, diplomatic and military resources enables to play a significant role.

In the EU, Britain is still playing an ambiguous part (eg. not accepting the EURO). They have good relationship with the USA (Clinton) as it could be seen during the Iraq crisis and the intervenion in NI peace process. In domectic policy, his priority is to maintain low inflation economy, to keep the taxes low, to recover the power of trade union, to continue privatisation, but with tighter regulation, and reforms in education, health and housing, and also constitutional reforms. Tony Blair was reelected in May 2001.

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