Old Uni Stuff: How far was there consensus between political parties about how to reconstruct post war Britain?

I recently came across an old USB stick which was full of old college assignments, stuff from my undergraduate days and even a few bits and pieces from early internships and some of the first speeches I ever wrote:

How far was there consensus between political parties about how to reconstruct post war Britain?

During the 1945 general election many of the political parties of the time were now focused on the idea of post war reconstruction, determined to avoid the hardships and turmoil that were faced after the First World War. There were many ideas put forth by all parties on how best to achieve this and whilst there was often some consensual feeling over certain issues there were many issues that, due to the conflicting ideologies of the parties involved,  only reflected that particular parties core values.

When looking at the Liberal parties manifesto for the 1945 election it is clear to pick out the major themes that the Liberal party strove for such as jobs for all, universal housing and the introduction of social security were all things that both the Labour Party and the Conservative party also wanted however points that can be picked out that differ from other parties are things such as devolution to Scotland and Wales (something that wouldn’t come about for another 50 years). Although similarly to the labour part the liberals wanted to see a nationalised transport system, as well as a bigger investment into health research, the spreading of school sport, to alleviate the subsidy to the coal industry (long before the policies of Mrs Thatcher), the freedom to choose one’s own general practitioner. One area that the liberals have chosen to focus on in their manifesto is the subject of the commonwealth giving particular reference to the problems being faced in India stating “it will be the object of the Liberal Party to break the deadlock in India, and to bring about a reconciliation between the various elements so that Indians themselves may frame a democratic constitution for complete self-government for India.” Of the three major political parties at the time the liberals  and the conservative party were the only two to draw reference to the issues being faced in India, as the conservative party and the liberals offer solutions in terms of offering consultations of all parties in India whereas the Labour party do not mention anything relating to a solution to the Indian problems or offer any solutions as to cooperation within the commonwealth.

One major point that the Liberals make in their 20 point manifesto is that of taxation and government spending and suggest “the time has come for a strict supervision of national expenditure in order to eliminate waste and to secure a progressive reduction in the burden of taxation” this suggestion of what is essentially an economy drive was so aimed to remove tax on the bare essentials of life and to build a tax structure that would be designed to “encourage the re-equipment and modernisation of British industry.” Whilst the other parties make mention of taxation Mr Churchill’s declaration of policy to the electors he sets out a tax reduction after the war but sets nothing out about government spending. Whereas the Labour party manifesto makes no mention of the topic of taxation whatsoever.

From the labour manifesto it can be seen that there were some areas of consensus with the liberal party and the conservative party, all three parties call for full employment, universal housing, economic stimulation and development of agriculture but the labour party call for these things in different ways from the others for example in terms of agricultural development the labour party believe that the agricultural industry should be heavily regulated thus ensuring a fair price to both farmers and consumers. The labour party also suggests that the nationalisation of the farms that are underperforming may be a way to utilise private resources for the greater good of the proletariat.

Whilst the liberal party and the conservative party also espouse the need for agricultural reform and development respectively they both agree with the labour party over the need for regulated prices to protect both farmers and consumers but the conservative policy differed in that they called for a what can only be described as a rural renewal setting out their policy for the development of country housing to aid in the development of the agricultural sector it was thought that by creating housing for the workers in these areas it would help expand the industry with a readily available workforce.

What is seen as one of the major accomplishments of the period of post war reconstruction is the creation of the National Health Service. The Labour party manifesto states: “By good food and good homes, much avoidable ill-health can be prevented. In addition the best health services should be available for all. Money must no longer be the passport to the best treatment” this new health service would allow health centres with the access to latest in medical innovations with better facilities and treatments available to all. Contrary to popular belief this was also something that the conservative party also supported even going so far as to lay out in Mr Churchill’s Declaration of Policy to the Electors “the health service of this country will be made available to all citizens. Everyone will contribute to the cost and no one will be denied the attention, the treatment or the appliances he requires because he cannot afford them” Mr Churchill’s declaration also suggests that the success of this new service will be down to the skill and initiative of doctors, dentists and nurses. With over 450,000 killed in the war and injuries beyond count there would be many of those would still require medical attention for a large portion of their lives, as well as countless cases of rehabilitation and psychological illness that would have been caused by 6 years of total war on a global scale.

As would be expected the Conservative Party manifesto does differ greatly from those of the Labour party and the Liberal Party however as has been previously stated all parties have agreed on certain things such as the need for full employment, social security and economic and agricultural stimulation but often disagreed on the best way to manage these goals. However many of the policies of the Conservative party were entirely their own as the Tories were for the maintenance and restitution of Britain’s defences after the war which is something that no other party was for, but Mr Churchill, himself a military man, was for the reestablishment of British Arms following the war in order to impose Britain’s place in the world and as a military man he knew the value of a good defence having written extensively on the subject during his own “wilderness years”. The conservative party under Mr Churchill was a massive proponent of maintaining the United Kingdom’s place on the world stage and was strongly supportive of the formation of the United Nations unlike the Labour Party who were for strengthening the Commonwealth position, as were the Liberal Party. One of the major accomplishments of Mr Churchill’s prior administration was the Education Act and this set out school leaving age, made provision for more teachers and even made provisions for school sport, had Churchill won the election for the Conservative Party education would have been one of the main priorities of the Party thus restructuring the educational system to the confines of the new act allowing parents to decide the schools of their children and allow parents to play a part in educating their children.  Both opposition parties clearly had their own agendas when it came to education that varied wildly from the conservatives as the Labour party wished to educate and prepare a new generation of workers and educate the masses and then the Liberal Party wanted to just prepare a new generation of workers, but the Conservative manifesto talks about the emotional and spiritual well being of the child stating “no system of education can be complete unless it heightens what is splendid and glorious in life and art. Art, science and learning are the means by which the life of the whole people can be beautified and enriched

So from examination of the Liberal, Labour and Conservative Party manifestos for the 1945 elections it can be seen that each party had different views of how best to reconstruct Britain after the second world war, but there were some elements of consensus in that the parties agreed on certain policy areas that needed addressing. These areas of policy were things such as the need for total employment, agricultural reform some form of social security, the need to build affordable housing, where this consensus falls apart is over how best to introduce these policies as the Labour Party seems hell bent on introducing the socialist way of life into Britain where as both the Liberal Party and the Conservative party were hoping for more for the return of the pre war status quo. So whilst from a cursory reading of the various party manifestos much seems the same it is only when one understands the ideology behind who is saying it you then begin to see that even when there is agreement on one aspect of a policy there will be countless disagreements.



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