Age of Austerity

Age of Austerity

Age of Austerity

Age of Austerity

Excerpt

"Austerity" was a word as current after 1945 as "affluence" has been since 1958. Sir Stafford Cripps presented it to the right-wing critics of the Labour Government, just as Professor Galbraith provided "affluence" for the critical vocabulary of the left in the late Fifties. The years between the election of the first majority Labour Government and the strange ritual of the Festival of Britain which immediately preceded its downfall afford enough examples of austerity amply to justify the title of this book. Yet the word retains an ambivalence in relation to those years. "Affluence" and "austerity" are both words now too loaded for use in any neutral, descriptive sense. So "austerity" in the title of this book (it has rarely been allowed to appear in the text) has a different meaning for different people, as a justification of the period or as a criticism.

However, the dates which we have taken to mark the Age of Austerity are not arbitrary: increasingly 1951 seems a political and social landmark. Little has been written on these years so far, beyond the inevitably partisan memoirs of the political protagonists. In the growing prosperity of the Fifties there was perhaps a conscious turning away from memories of the days of rationing and shortages. And in many ways the atmosphere of the post-war years is incredibly remote. It is difficult to recall a time when so much idealism was in the air...when T.V. was only a metropolitan toy, ball-point pens a source of wonder, and long-playing records a transatlantic rumour.

Nevertheless, for all the talk of austerity, this was an exciting time, with a strong flavour of its own. As a period it is much of a piece...from the spiv and the squatter to the New Look and the Lynskey Tribunal. Politically it is hardly the age of anyone in particular, but some magnetic figures did strut the national stage and belong essentially to these years. The great social experiment that was being conducted gave rise to a sense of crusading idealism, and to virtually all a feeling of involvement in national affairs which was to become muffled in the following decade.

We have tried to give the essence of these six years by concentrating on certain key incidents and personalities as seen today by fifteen writers, who have in common an interest in the period and the fact that they were too young to vote in 1945.

This is not a definitive history of the times. There is no more than . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.