The main dividing lines in the British party system are the same today as they were in 1945

The main dividing lines in the British party system are the same today as they were in 1945

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‘The main dividing lines in the British party system are the same today as they were in 1945.’ Is this true? The Labour Party in their 1945 manifesto, entitled “Let Us Face the Future”, proposed “great national programmes of education, health and social services” 1 . Churchill and his Conservatives declared that they could not be afforded in the economic climate following such a devastating world war, and Churchill even went as far as saying that “some form of Gestapo [force], no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance” would be needed to carry through such reforms. This gave perfect ammunition for Labour to portray Churchill as an inappropriate peace-time leader and the Conservatives as out of touch, and ultimately the Tories suffered a landslide defeat at the polls, winning just 210 out of the 640 available seats. Labour had won its first ever majority government, with an impressive 48% of the national vote. In essence, the public was given a clear choice in the policies of the different parties; a financially risky venture towards a welfare state, or alternatively economic stringency. The new Labour government was true to its word and introduced many of the recommendations contained within William Beveridge’s 1942 report on welfare measures, including the creation of a National Health Service, overseen by Aneurin Bevan, and that of a national insurance scheme. Mines, gas and electricity supply, as well as the country’s rail network, were also all nationalised soon after the 1945 general election and the party espoused a commitment to full employment. Michael Young, a key architect in the Labour victory, summarised the Attlee government neatly when he declared that it was simply “Keynes, plus Beveridge, plus socialism”. One would have expected clear dividing lines to appear. After all, the Conservatives had always been in favour of the free market, supporting relatively little interference by the state in either economic or social affairs. However, following their defeat in 1945, the Conservatives took the opportunity to regroup. The Conservative Research Department was revived and run by Rab Butler, the party went on a successful membership drive increasing their membership to just short of 3 million people by 1951, future Home Secretary Robert Maxwell-Fyfe pursued measures to ensure that anyone could stand as a party candidate, regardless of background, and a party policy review was carried out. The Tories, ever since Edmund Burke and his evolutionary conservatism, have prided themselves on their pragmatic positions, and following the policy review, the Party swung to the left in many areas. Seldon points to five main ‘planks’ 2 that formed the post-war consensus; the commitment to a mixed economy, an intention to achieve full employment, to negotiate Page 1 of 5
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with trade unions, the pursuit of at least some form of equality, even if not absolute, and finally the acceptance and an embrace of the welfare state. When in October 1951, Churchill won the General Election and returned to office, there was no
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2008 for the course PPE PPE taught by Professor None during the Summer '08 term at Oxford University.

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The main dividing lines in the British party system are the same today as they were in 1945

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