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About 1945-1951

Post-war austerity


With the end of World War Two in 1945, the British people were given the chance to vote for a new government. It was the first General Election since 1935. Outlining an ambitious future for Britain in their manifesto "Let Us Face the Future", the Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee won the election and held office for six years.

During 1945 and 1951 the Labour government vigorously introduced a programme of reform and reconstruction despite post-war austerity and financial instability. Education and housing issues were addressed as well as the nationalisation of disorganised pre-war industries. Gas, electricity, coal and (controversially) the relatively efficient iron and steel industry were all brought under government control, along with both railway and road transport infrastructures. Yet, the crowning glory of the Attlee administration was the introduction of the Welfare State, and the National Health Service; providing universal medical service free of discrimination, and free of stigma for all "from the cradle to the grave".

Internationally, relations between the Soviet Union and West plunged to unprecedented depths with the Berlin Airlift 1948-9, the first of many flashpoints in what became known as the Cold War. East-West relations deteriorated further after China "fell" to Communism in 1949. Britain and America also openly fought Communist forces (including Chinese) in the Korean War 1950-1953 ; at the time it was thought to be the precursor to World War III.

Despite launching the most adventurous social reform agenda in British history, Attlee's government also set about constructing a new secret state apparatus to fight the Cold War at home and abroad, as the world entered the atomic age. Furthermore, with independence being granted to India in 1947, post-war Britain took the first steps towards dismantling the empire and assembling a commonwealth based on influence and mutual respect.

As well as rebuilding and reforming the nation in the immediate post-war years, Britain also staged major events such as the 1948 London Olympics (the last time Britain held the Games) and the Festival of Britain in 1951. Considering that all of these achievements occurred despite continued rationing and economic uncertainty, the accomplishments of 1945-51 were even more impressive.