Britain 1964-1979: Edward Falshaw Advises How Our Study of This Important Period Can Match the Examiners' Agenda

By Falshaw, Edward | History Review, March 2004 | Go to article overview
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Britain 1964-1979: Edward Falshaw Advises How Our Study of This Important Period Can Match the Examiners' Agenda


Falshaw, Edward, History Review


The new AQA A2 syllabus is more daring and modern than ever before. Events between 1964 and 1997 are proving a fertile ground for debate and discussion in classrooms around the country. Below are detailed some of the important syllabus topics in the first half of the period, 1964-79. They are designed to provide stimulus and guidance. Through a careful study of this period, you will gain a better understanding of Britain's modern-day economy, politics, society and culture.

'The Swinging Sixties'

This is a key area of study, from the standard of living and morality down to the fashion and music of the time. A key question to consider is the extent to which a 'revolution' in society actually took place and whether it enhanced people's lives. For many, positive change was helped by a progressive government attitude, led by Roy Jenkins, who passed a number of 'permissive' acts, such as the Abortion Act (1967) and Sexual Offences Act (1967). Whether these acts and changing trends amount to a 'revolution' or merely a progression of society is a difficult question to answer, but be prepared to comment on specific areas such as education, the cinema, music, sport and the changing role of women, using specific examples. Also, give thought to what caused this so-called 'revolution'.

Be careful not to consider the decade merely in terms of 'cool' and 'groovy' aspects, as behind the growth in consumerism, the mini-skirt and the Beetles lay subversive elements such as the growth in hooliganism, crime, casual drug use and sexual promiscuity. Whilst the popular perception of the 1960s as a happy and carefree decade can over-cloud the negative, the truth for the majority of the population is somewhere between the two, so be sure to look for balance when answering questions on this topic. As Robert Pearce suggests, with a population of approximately 55 million, it is 'not surprising that evidence exists to support almost every view about behaviour and moral standards'. Ultimately, 'the Sixties' was a decade with its own varied character.

Difficulties for Wilson and Callaghan

Like Winston Churchill, on becoming Prime Minister Harold Wilson felt his life had been 'but a preparation for this hour and this trial'. This 'trial' beginning in 1964 was made up of a number of features that you will need to master, from the slender majority gained at the general election, to dissension in the ranks of the party and the wider Labour Movement, to perhaps the most important reason, economic crises, which dominated the next six years. An over-valued pound brought grave problems, especially with exports, and Wilson tried to avoid the inevitable devaluation, which came in November 1967. As Sked and Cook deduced, 'A courageous early devaluation might have transformed the achievements of the Labour government'. As it stands, many see this period as one of failure and disappointment, given Wilson's election promise to work with the 'white heat of technology' and develop Britain's social and economic standing.

When Labour returned to office in 1974, Wilson had lost his direction and 'spark'. He resigned in 1976, leaving the avuncular James Callaghan to step into No.10. It could be claimed that Callaghan's greatest achievement was keeping the Labour Party in office for as long as he did, as the government were forced into a pact with the Liberals (the Lib-Lab Pact) just to survive. It was, unsurprisingly, the economy that provided the defining moment of the government in 1976, as Chancellor Denis Healey announced he was going to the International Monetary Fund for a loan of $3 billion. The conditions attached were harsh, including drastic cutbacks in public spending. In the end, Healey had miscalculated and the loan wasn't even needed, yet its importance lies in the fact that it provided the impetus for Callaghan to begin the shift away from Keynesian economics towards what would later be called monetarism.

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