Ruling the UK since 1945

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : Multi-level governance since 1945
Corpus Corpus 1
Ruling the UK since 1945




> timelines and maps, p. I-III

Since 1921, the United Kingdom has been an established state with four nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). How has Britain moved from one of the most stable states of the world to one of the most contested inside its own borders since the 1980s?

1 The triumph of the nation-state (1945-1979)

A An antique heritage

 The British monarchy has symbolized the political stability of Britain since the early 18th century.

 The UK is often described as the “Mother of Parliaments”. In 1215, the Magna Carta established that the King might not collect any taxes without the consent of his royal council, which gradually developed into a parliament.

B The welfare state

 Working for the wartime national government, an economist, William Beveridge, chaired a committee to survey existing social insurance. In 1942, he proposed the introduction of a welfare state.

 In 1945, the Labour party won by an overwhelming majority and Clement Attlee became Prime Minister until 1951. He implemented Beveridge’s recommendations. His government launched a new kind of consensus, a social democracy based on a mixed economy. The government nationalized most of public utilities and major industries: coal, railways, road transport, gas, and even the Bank of England.

quotation “Most of our people have never had it so good.”
H. Macmillan, 1957

 The National Insurance Act (1945) provided unemployment benefits for six months and unlimited sick pay. With the National Health Service Act (1948), doctors, hospital, dentists became free for all.

C The end of Keynesian economic policies

The Labour and Conservative parties accepted this settlement for over three decades. However, Britain lurched in the 1960s and 1970s from rising unemployment to inflation. It became the “sick man of Europe”. Keynesian economic policies were not able to solve these problems.

2 The weakening of the nation-state (since 1979)

A The Thatcher revolution: free market and strong state

 In 1979, Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister. She privatized everything Attlee had nationalized in the name of market freedom and scrapped the social organization of the welfare state (National Insurance, retirement, etc.). She attacked the “bloated* state”.

 However, she used the power of the centralized state to snuff out other alternative powers such as local governments and trade unions. A year long miners’ strike (1984-1985) on the Durham Coalfield was unable to force a reversal of the decline.

B The rise of peripheral troubles

Celtic Nationalists are opposed to the powerful centralized British state. Endemic violence in Northern Ireland crossed the sea with bomb attacks on English cities.

 Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists’ pressure for devolution* weakened the state. In September 2014, a referendum on indepen­dence took place in Scotland but the “no” side won. However, extensive powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

C A “sleaze*” state

 In the 1990s, public commentators used this word to describe the British state. Ministers were involved in sexual affairs; some of them were corrupt, receiving payments from firms.

 Even the monarchy faced criticisms fuelled by royal family troubles such as the divorce of Charles and Princess Diana in 1996.

  • bloated = boursouflé
  • sleaze = vulgaire
  • devolution
    = la décentralisation