Juggling with Welfare and Greatness: Britain Under the Tories 1951-64

In assessing Britain's performance during 13 years of Conservative rule, Dilwyn Porter picks out the two themes which have dominated British history since the Second World War.

Historians writing about Britain since 1945 have generally been more interested in what went wrong than what went right. This is not surprising. The 30 years or so after the end of the Second World War witnessed the loss of empire and confirmed Britain's fall from Great Power status. At the same time Britain's economy entered a period of relative decline when its rate of growth lagged persistently behind that of most other developed nations.

Yet there was another side to the story. A.J.P. Taylor, in his celebrated English History 1914-1945 (1965), finished on an optimistic note arguing that victory in 1945 was a triumph for the British people. Britain might have lost its Great Power status but there were real compensations: as the British Empire declined, the condition of the people improved. It is possible to carry this forward into the 1950s and 1960s. Sustained improvement in welfare provision, even after Labour gave way to the Conservatives in 1951, is important here. So, too, is the rising level of personal prosperity culminating in a 'great leap forward' into affluence at the end of the 1950s.

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