British politics after the II World War
Britain after the II World War lost its empire, power and status. Two events illustrated this. One of these events connected to Suez. In 1956, Egypt, without prior agreement, took over the Suez canal from the international company owned by Britain and France. The British and French military tried to stop this diplomatic disaster. The US did not support them and their troops were forced to withdraw. The second event which took part in the loss of status was Cyprus. When Cyprus left the British empire, Britain became one of the guarantors of its independence from other countries. Britain tried to hold onto its international position through its Commonwealth, which all the old colonies were invited to join as free and equal members. This seemed to be successful as it based on the kind of friendship that allows all members to follow their own policies without interference.
In 1945, Britain considered itself to a major world rule. It was still the world’s 3th most powerful 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 force 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 should cease to be a nuclear power. Britain still has nuclear force, although it is tiny compared to that of the USA.
After the II WW and throughout the 1950s, it was understood that a conference of the world’s great powers involved the USA, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. However, in 1962, the Cuban Missle Crisis was resolved without the 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 great power with global interest to protect eg.: developing NATO and Commonwealth. Moreover, since the II World War, British government often referred to the ’special relationship’ which existed between GB and the USA. This relationship mainly based on history, the culture and the language. After the II WW many reforms were introduced, both by the Conservative and the Labour Party. It is called the consensus politics. During the first half of the 20th century, a number of welfare benefits were introduced. These were a small old-age pension scheme (1908), partial sickness and unemployment insurance (1912). The real impetus for the welfare state came in 1942 from a government commission, 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 employment. 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, the balance of payment crises and growing unemployment. The 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 decided to join the Europian Community to share their new Europian wealth. It took more than 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 welfare state had broken down.
The Conservative party moved right and the Labour party moved left and lost its power. 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 the welfare state and continued the privatization of the public sector industries. She also tried to find a way to reduce public spendings. The conservative government tried to restore Britain’s national prestige and great power status internationally. So they revived the special relationship with USA, promoted Britain interest in EC more aggressively, and decided to use armed force 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 a good relationship with the USA (Clinton) as it could be seen during the Iraq crisis and the intervention in the NI peace process. In domestic 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.
Update: The relationship with the EU resulted in Brexit.