The Establishment of the Post-War Consensus, 1954-64

Andrew Boxer explains why party political strife lacked real substance in the period after 1945.

Andrew Boxer | Published in History Review

In February 1954 The Economist invented a new word – ‘Butskellism’. The magazine thought that the policies of Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, the Conservative R.A. Butler, were so similar to those of his Labour predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell, that they had been devised by a ‘Mr Butskell’. The name caught on – there really did seem to be no difference between the economic policies of the two main parties. ‘Butskellism’ outlived both Butler and Gaitskell because successive Conservative and Labour governments appeared, not only to tackle Britain’s economic problems in the same ways, but to share a wide range of policies and attitudes. Most historians today accept this view and argue that, for 30 years after the Second World War, there was a widespread agreement among the British people and their political leaders about the policies and style of their government. This is known as ‘the post-war consensus’ – and, it is claimed, it remained in place until it was dismantled by Mrs Thatcher’s governments of the 1980s.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week