Post-War Britain: Decline & Uncertainty

Following victory in Europe a General Election was called, in which the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and his Tory Party were replaced by the Labour Party under Clement Attlee.  Churchill had been engaged at the Potsdam Summit but left for the election.  When the summit reconvened, with Britain being represented by Attlee, Stalin joked about the change in appearance of the British prime minister.  More characteristically he expressed surprise that the former premier had allowed anyone to usurp him!

Attlee had been an admirable deputy to Churchill throughout the war and quickly started upon the task of rebuilding homes and the industrial infrastructure.  His other priority was the implementation of a new Welfare State in accordance with the recommendations contained in a paper known as the Beveridge Report.  This had been commissioned in 1942 by the Conservative dominated cabinet and been broadly accepted across all parties.  Sir William Beveridge was a Liberal politician.

beverage

Sir William Beveridge – Liberal Politician

It fell to the Labour government to implement the key recommendations, notably the establishment of a National Health Service.  This was mandated to provide free medical care at the point of delivery to all.  This and other aspects of social benefits were certainly accomplished by that government but only made possible by the decision of the American administration, through the (George) Marshall Plan, to pour billions of dollars into the rebuilding of war-torn Europe.  Britain, as an ally, received slightly more than West Germany but as a loan.  It was to take 61 years for Britain to repay the debts to the USA and to Canada.  It was a heavy burden on economic recovery.

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America also, quite suddenly, needed their recent enemy as an ally.

In the aftermath of the war Britain, as a nation, fell short of the effort required to discharge this debt expeditiously.  Just as with the conclusion of WW1, industry had to restart from war production to a peacetime commerce in a bomb-ravaged landscape with an even worse labour situation to contend with.  At first there was widespread unemployment to greet the returning servicemen until old industries got back on their feet and new ones up, running and viable.

1947 queing for food
Queuing for food in the 1950s

Afterwards, and for the next forty years, the country was beset by constant disruption of manufacturing concerns, transport services from docks to road and, particularly, rail links and coal mining workforces.  Management and trades unions repeatedly blamed each other for these constant stoppages.  With hindsight all evidence and the weight of it points to there having been blame on both sides but on balance the constant disruption of industry was the handiwork of communist ideologues, who became trade union leaders in all its most vital sectors.  As a prime example car bodies were left to rust, sometimes for weeks, before painting.  Late delivery of sub-standard goods had its effect on both domestic and export business.  It was catastrophic and spelled the end of mass manufacture of vehicles in this country.  Germany and Japan were the beneficiaries.  Unaffordable pay rises across the industrial sector led to the progressive transfer of manufacturing goods to what were then third world countries with low labour costs.  Most of those countries have since developed healthy economies of their own.

Red-Robbo

Derek Robinson ‘Red Robbo’ – Communist shopfloor convener calling for a strike at Longbridge.  He was responsible for more than 500 strikes in the motor industry.

Union leaders took the block votes of all their members, of whatever political opinion, to the policy-making body known as the Trades Unions Congress which, in turn, adopted policies inimical to Britain’s best interests and took them to the annual Labour Party Conference.  As paymasters to the party, bringing millions of apparent votes with them, they shaped the purpose of Labour for the next year, whether in government or opposition.  This indirect sabotage of the country’s post-war economy lasted up to the end of Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1974 and even through a further six years of Labour tenure to the point of near anarchy which became known as ‘The winter of discontent’.  Only then, after a further General Election, were the union barons finally confronted with real purpose.

 

 

 

 

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