The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Sixties and After

Category: 20th century

The BeatlesIn 1960′s Britain experienced a real revolution in fashion. This was a rebellion against the existing con­ventions in dress, social behaviour, music, popular en­tertainment, and so on. London became a world cap­ital of popular music, and the groups like “The Beatles” made British music popular all over the world.

The phenomenon had the negative side effects, such as crime rate rising and spreading of drug cul­ture. Besides, the increased spending by consumers led to rising of prices. Consequently, trade unions de­manded higher wages, and strikes became frequent. The rising of wages led to the further growth of pric­es. A persistent trend towards inflation led to a wage-and-price freeze in 1966. This measure eased certain economic problems but became very unpopular. In 1970 the Conservatives returned to power under Edward Heath.

The main goal of the government was to eliminate inflation. Heath tried to achieve it by freeing the Brit­ish currency from fixed rates of exchange with other currencies and by joining the country to the European Community.

The following governments had to face the prob­lems unsettled during Heath’s premiership. The La­bour government of 1974 to 1979 under the leadership of Harold Wilson and that of James Callaghan put an end to all legal restrictions on wage and price rises, but then the annual inflation rate topped 25 per cent in 1975. Both Wilson and Callaghan hoped to settle the problem by the restriction of state control over indus­tries. On the contrary, the Conservatives hoped to re­store a greater role to private enterprise. In 1979 Cal­laghan resigned when a vote of no confidence went against him.

Margaret ThatcherThe next government was led by Margaret Thatch­er, the first woman Prime Minister in European histo­ry. She remained in her office for eleven years, up to 1990. Her first years were very difficult. Thatcher tried to avoid wage-and-price freeze in halting inflation and introduced the policy of high interest rate and gov­ernment budget cuts. By 1982 her policy was showing some success, but only at the cost of the highest un employment   rate   since 1930′s.  By   1982  it  had reached over 3 million, but by then inflation was being gradually reduced. In April 1982 Argen­tina occupied the Falk-lands, a group of British-controlled islands in the South Atlantic. Margaret Thatcher responded by sending a task force to free the islands. The Brit­ish succeeded in recapturing the islands, but nearly 1,000 people, both British and Argentinian, lost their lives in that military clash. The British, however, sup­ported the acts of their “Iron Lady”, and the Conser­vative victories in 1983 and 1987 were the result of widespread popular support for the government’s po­licy.

Thatcher worked to reduce government involve­ment in economy and launched the programme of state-owned industries privatization. Such government mo­nopolies as the telephone service, distribution of gas and water and British Airways were turned over to private investors. People were encouraged to buy the houses they rented.

Thatcher’s critics accused her of short-changing education and health service. She resigned in 1990 and was succeeded by John Major, who became the Con­servative Party leader and prime minister.

It is clearly impossible to make a historical assess­ment of the contemporary scene, for the obvious rea­son that the scene in contemporary. However, it is prob­ably true to say that the British have never been better housed, that the health of the nation is looked after as never before, and that educational standards are rising.

Once the most powerful empire in the world, Great Britain plays the decisive role in the functioning of the Commonwealth. The map of the world today shows the Commonwealth to cover some 14 million square miles — territory inhabited by more that 700 million souls.

The development from Empire to Commonwealth has been a healthy development, but one which poses many and great problems for the future — problems of race, of belief, of wealth and poverty, necessitating, for their solution, the highest technical skills and a vast amount of good will. Despite all difficulties it is probable that this society can be maintained as long as those who belong to it believe in its worth.

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