Empire, State and Society: Britain since 1830

By Jamie L. Bronstein; Andrew T. Harris | Go to book overview

13
Building a Welfare State
Society and the Economy, 1945–1979

On July 20, 1957, Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, known to his admirers as “Supermac,” addressed loyal crowds at a rally in Bedford. With uncharacteristic optimism, he noted that increased production in major industries such as steel, coal and motor cars had led to a rise in wages, export earnings and investment:

Indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good
Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see
a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime - nor indeed in the
history of this country.

Macmillan invoked the “rationing, shortages, inflation and one crisis after another” that had beset Britain immediately after the Second World War, and invoked the specter of socialism. He urged industry, government, and the public to collaborate, to moderate their demands, and to ensure Britain’s prosperity by cooperating on a policy to restrict wage increases (Middleton 1957). Wartime austerity was over; fueled by pent-up demand among the working classes for access to cars, refrigerators, televisions, and washing machines, Britain’s economy was undergoing what would be known as a “golden age.”

Eleven years after Harold Macmillan’s speech, another Conservative politician gave a notable speech. When Parliament debated the 1968 Race Relations Bill, Enoch Powell, a member of the Shadow Cabinet (opposition party leaders who “shadow” the jobs of the Cabinet in power), warned in apocalyptic terms against unrestricted immigration (Telegraph 2007). He predicted that immigrant minorities would never assimilate, and that in allowing such immigration the British were building a funeral pyre for their own culture. He reported that a constituent had

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