Despite some historians trying to argue that the notion of a “ post-war” consensus becomes more blurry and inaccurate the closer one studies modern Britain from 1951-2007, there is a wealth of resources and abundant forms of evidence to firmly claim confidently that a post-war consensus did exist; permeating and diffusing throughout British politics, economics, societal events and also foreign affairs.
From 1951 to 1979 both parties accepted the mixed economy (loose form of Keynesianism); main priority was full employment From 1951 to 1979, successive governments wanted to tackle the unions and dared not to become too forceful; as seen through the failure of In Place of Strife, growing number of wildcat strikes in the 1970s and the psychologically devastating Winter of Discontent 1978-1979 This consensus ended in 1979 with the advent of Thatcherism; Thatcher derided consensus economics, “ unemployment was a price worth paying”; which proves that an economic consensus certainly did exist Thatcher took on the unions and wholly smashed them, as seen through the miner’s strike 1984-5.
Destroying notions of consensus industrial relationships Thatcher’s philosophy of “ private good, public bad” and “ rolling back the frontiers of the state”; completely changed the idea of past consensus collective ideas of collectivisation and corporatism ; further initiatives such as privatisation created new incentives for individualistic wealth creation additionally proved this You can argue that there were 2 post-war economic consensuses, after 1989, a blurry neo-liberal plus a free market consensus was established; which was carried on by Blair and his “ New” Labour. This was seen through the unions never regaining any power they once might have yielded under a Labour government, clause 4 scrapped, public services were made to be more accountable, much more pro-business
Evidently there has to have been a consensus as we’ve always only had 2 parties in power; the “ two-party” state remained intact despite some attempts seen through the SDP party, Liberal party trying to capitulate on periods of Labour and Conservative weakness It was very palpable that Labour and Conservative tried to hold the centre ground from 1951-1979 Any attempt to break this initial consensus met with problems, as seen through Edward Heath and his painful administrations forced into a series of U-turns in 1970-1974 Thatcher believed in the consensus, as she said countless times that the past consensus was a “ disease”; for her to exist as a conviction politician meant there had to be a consensus for her populist style to smash through On the contrary you can argue that Blair succeeded in a form of populism by transforming his party, without having to smash through the Thatcherite consensus; he adapted consensus and his own conviction effectively
British society in 1951 was far more deferential and conformist, with more respect for leaders. That has been completely transformed today; British society is more critical and satirical of its leaders, which can be shown through rising levels of apathy Throughout this entire period, no party has dared attack the welfare state; even Thatcher had to say in 1982 that the “ NHS is safe with us”. Social welfare has been a dominant consensus Consensus that immigration should be managed, but never banned; despite the growth of Powelism Broad agreement on the development for more inclusive education, seen through the growth of comprehensive schools Where social consensus did break down after 1970, there were worries over social cohesion between different ethnic groups and polarisation, which could bubble into riots.
Thus, could you argue social consensus was important, further highlighted when Thatcher created a more divided society producing several riots and strains on community relationships? A dominant negative social consensus has been the worsening north-south divide and the growing gap between the rich and poor On the contrary you can argue about the emergence and development of pressure groups taking direct action, seen through CND and environmental movements Culture and media have become less deferential; with greater consumerism and affluence creating a more complex and diverse society
Continued desire for Britain to have an international role, seen through continued high levels of defence spending Britain has always retained its nuclear deterrent, this policy has proven controversial, but leading policy makers have always seen as this as a badge of Britain’s influence in the world PMs have always been keen on the EEC, but have also always showed ambivalence due to political fears; shown through Thatcher and Major, as well as Blair failing to really commit himself towards the European project. Lukewarm. Could you blame this on Europe though? Governments have always been keen to foster the special relationship with USA, shown through the Falklands war and the war on terror Britain has largely remained at the forefront of world affairs, perhaps not for the best as seen in Suez and Iraq, but some positives (Balkans) have been produced as well. Britain has remained prepared to intervene, the attitude of world’s “ policeman” may have eroded, but is still there Britain has certainly kept its place at the international top table
There is thus no doubting that a political and economic post war consensus existed. British society has seen some change, but there really hasn’t been any revolution or period of total transformation. It is true to say that we are less deferential, experiencing more crime, more protest and more critical of power. Plus, one can’t deny that Britain remained committed to keeping its seat warm in the international table of power; even if that has meant very troublesome and painful events of say Suez or Iraq; plus the continued ambivalence and lukewarm attitude towards the growing influential European Union.
Consensus is certainly inevitable after major events, the Second World War intrinsically created an environment where consensus was not only created, but really, needed to help Britain rise from the dark depths of horrible conflict. To a lesser extent, Thatcherism, by pulling the roots of this tired and worn out consensus, also sowed seeds of another blurry and paradoxical consensus, which we are continuing to live through today. Thus, most certainly a post war consensus existed and rightly so.