chapter  7
24 Pages

Economic policy

Since 1945, economic policy has passed through three distinct phases. The period began with the election of a government committed to planning a ‘socialist commonwealth’ but which gradually allowed its more radical ambitions to lapse and become transformed into the ‘postwar consensus’. This persisted until the 1970s and its essential elements were the welfare state, full employment, a more equal society, trade union consultation, the mixed economy and the Anglo-American alliance. This policy-making regime came under increasing pressure for its failure to reverse the processes of relative decline and eventually collapsed when the long postwar boom petered out amid the national and international turbulence of the 1970s. New approaches to the role of the state had begun to develop in the 1960s but it was unclear until the Thatcher government came to power in 1979 whether the postwar consensus would be toppled from the left or right. The 1979 result brought to office a government with radical new ideas in industrial, labour, monetary and welfare policies. The Conservative experiment has undoubtedly contained pragmatic and fortuitous elements, but its core has remained strong into the 1990s despite the departure from office of its leading propagandist and architect, Margaret Thatcher.