Agitation in India continued. Further British compromise became inevitable when the Japanese in the spring of swept through Burma to the eastern borders of India while also organizing in Singapore a large Indian National Army and issuing appeals to Asian nationalism. During the war, Churchill reluctantly offered increasing installments of independence amounting to dominion status in return for all-out Indian support for the conflict. These offers were rejected by both the Muslim minority and the Hindu majority.
The election of a Labour government at the end of World War II coincided with the rise of sectarian strife within India. The new administration determined with unduly urgent haste that Britain would have to leave India.
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This decision was announced on June 3, , and British administration in India ended 10 weeks later, on August Burma now Myanmar and Ceylon now Sri Lanka received independence by early Britain, in effect, had no choice but to withdraw from colonial territories it no longer had the military and economic power to control. The same circumstances that dictated the withdrawal from India required, at almost the same time, the termination of the mandate in Trans-Jordan , the evacuation of all of Egypt except the Suez Canal territory, and in the withdrawal from Palestine , which coincided with the proclamation of the State of Israel.
However, like the notion of national unity during World War II, this interpretation can also be seen largely as a myth produced by politicians and the press at the time and perpetuated since. National interest was framed in terms of the postwar situation—that is, of an economically exhausted, dependent Britain, now increasingly caught up in the international politics of the Cold War. Attlee himself was in poor health, and Ernest Bevin , formerly the most politically powerful man in the cabinet, had died. More-radical members of the party, led by Aneurin Bevan, were growing impatient with the increasingly moderate temper of the leadership.
On October 25, , a second general election in a House of Commons not yet two years old returned the Conservatives under Churchill to power with a majority of 17 seats.
Britain Since 1945
Eden resigned in January , partly because of ill health but chiefly because of his failed attempt to roll back the retreat from empire by a reoccupation of the Suez Canal Zone after the nationalization of the canal by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser , in the summer of This belated experiment in imperial adventure drew wide criticism from the United States, the British dominions, and indeed within Britain itself.
Although it was cut short in December , when UN emergency units supplanted British and French troops, the Suez intervention divided British politics as few foreign issues have done since. Eden was succeeded by his chancellor of the Exchequer , Harold Macmillan. Macmillan remained in office until October , when he too retired because of ill health, to be succeeded by Sir Alec Douglas-Home , then foreign secretary.
In this period of single-party government, the themes were economic change and the continued retreat from colonialism. The long Conservative tenure came to an end on October 16, , with the appointment of a Labour administration headed by Harold Wilson , who had been Labour leader only a little more than a year and a half—since the death of the widely admired Hugh Gaitskell.
Gaitskell and prominent Conservative R. Although Wilson was thought to be a Labour radical and had attracted a substantial party following on this account, he was in fact a moderate.
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His government inherited the problems that had accumulated during the long period of Conservative prosperity: poor labour productivity, a shaky pound, and trade union unrest. His prescription for improvement included not only a widely heralded economic development plan, to be pursued with the introduction of the most modern technology, but also stern and unpopular controls on imports, the devaluation of the pound, wage restraint, and an attempt, in the event these measures proved unsuccessful, to reduce the power of the trade unions.
Eventually the Wilson government became unpopular and was kept in power primarily by weakness and division in the Conservative Party. Finally, in , Wilson was confronted with an outbreak of civil rights agitation in Northern Ireland that quickly degenerated into armed violence. The Conservatives returned in a general election on June 18, , with a majority of The new prime minister , Edward Heath , set three goals: to take Britain into the European Economic Community EEC; ultimately succeeded by the European Union [EU] , to restore economic growth , and to break the power of the trade unions.
Heath used the strongest weapon available to a prime minister—a general election, on February 28, —to settle the issue of who governed Britain.
The election, held when factories were in operation only three days a week and civilian Britain was periodically reduced to candlelight, was a repudiation of the policy of confrontation with labour. The Labour government faced severe economic challenges—including post-World War II record levels of unemployment and inflation—yet Wilson was able to renegotiate British membership in the EEC, which was confirmed in a referendum in June However, neither Wilson nor James Callaghan , who succeeded him on April 5, , was able to come to terms with the labour unions, which were as willing to embarrass a Labour government as a Conservative one.
On March 28, , Callaghan was forced from office after losing a vote of confidence in the House of Commons by a single vote — , the first such dismissal of a prime minister since MacDonald in United Kingdom. The book will be essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the internal problems of the contemporary Conservative Party and the dimensions of the task facing the leadership as it seeks to restructure the Conservatives into a united and electorally appealing force in British politics.
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The history of the Conservative Party records attempts to reconcile the compromises required by the latter in terms of the values proclaimed by the former. As an institutional artefact, the party always has been composed of diverse tendencies and the distinctions between them are as deep as their common identity is broad. Explaining both difference and commonality requires a subtle grasp of relations between principles, personalities and politics.
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