The Affluent Society - 1951-1964


Conservative governments

  • The Conservative party won the 1951 general election and remained in power until 1964. 
  • Winston Churchill - 1951-1955
  • Anthony Eden - 1955-1957
  • Harold MacMillan - 1957-1963
  • Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1963-1964
  • Reasons for political dominance: Continuation of the PWC - minimal unemployment, the maintenance of the mixed economy, continuation of welfare spending and significant increases in standards of living. 
  • Conservatives were associated with economic prosperity, aided by consumerist appetites. 
  • Britain seemed a world power - Korean War 1950-1953, Mutual Defence Agreement 1958. 
  • Opening of the M1 in 1959. 
  • Churchil built 300,000 new homes each year. 
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The post-war consensus

Bretton Woods Agreement 1944: set the £ at $2.80. 

The post war consensus was what had characterised the Attlee era. This was continued by successive governments albeit for the good of the nation. Important elements of the PWC were: 

  • Influenced by Keynesian economics: the mixed economy (private and national enterprise), full employment, steady economic growth, government intervention, controlling growth and demand etc. 
  • Maintenance of the welfare state i.e spending on the NHS, improvements in housing etc. A more paternalist approach i.e looking after the people. 
  • Foreign policy - decolonisation, maintenance of the special relationship (pro-USA), anti-communist. 
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Winston Churchill - 1951-1955

  • Churchill was elected as PM in 1951, at the age of 77 having followed a stroke. 
  • He acted as more of a ''figure-heard'' and let important cabinet ministers such as Rab Butler do the work. 
  • ''Butskellism'' = overlap between Conservative and Labour polices, characterised the post-war era. However, Butler managed the economy through rates whereas Gaitskell would've done through taxes. 
  • Churchill decided best to continue the PWC. E.g continued the 11+ scheme in education and spending on education continued after the Korean War 1953. Welfare spending was increased (NHS) and prescription charges expanded. A report in 1956 said that the NHS was the most efficient and cost effective it had ever been. Churchill promised a whopping 300,000 new homes every year. They exceeded this target with 318,750 homes in 1953. Maintained full employment and Keynesianism. Sold off iron, steel and road haulage in 1952. Created the Atomic Energy Agency in 1954. 
  • Paused decolonisation with the Korean War. Defence spending remained high. 
  • Rationing ended in 1954 - showed a new sign of prosperity. 
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Economic developments

  • Defence spending was high. 
  • Between 1950-70, Britain grew at less than half the rate of other European nations. After the war Britain could not afford to build a competitive economy. Also during this period, Britain's share of world trade halved. 
  • A consistent balance of payments issue and the British budget was always in deficit - in 1957 (after Suez) Britain had a budget deficit of £564 million and in 1964 - £800 million. 
  • As inflation rose, unions demanded higher wages in excess of price rises. In 1961 a ''pay pause'' was issued but failed. 
  • Followed a policy of ''stop-go'' growth. Involved engineering interest rates. If the economy was growing too quickly - interest rates were raised to prevent excess borrowing and if the economy was growing too slowly, interest rates were reduced to boost demand and encourage borrowing to stimulate the economy. 
  • Suez caused a run on the £. 
  • Stagflation - growing inflation and prices despite economic downturn (bad). 
  • 1957 - Peter Thorneycroft resigned over stop-go methods as he preferred those of monetarism. 
  • Election economics - Conservatives often cut taxes before elections to boost support. 
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Anthony Eden 1955-57

  • Had been Churchil''s foreign secretary. 
  • 1956 - Suez Crisis occurred when Colonel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, preventing British and French influence there. 
  • Great embarrassment to Britain - the public had thought Eden would've been better at handling the crisis. Eden's persistence didn't pay well to his reputation.
  • USA already tied up in other things e.g Hungarian Uprising 1956. Eisenhower viewed the invasion as unnecessary and imperialist. He didn't want to get tied up in it since he believed it would disrupt America's superpower status. Israel became involved because it wanted potential allies and weaponry. Eisenhower threatened to sell British government bonds unless Britain withdrew - this would lead to a run/crash of the pound. 
  • Saudi Arabia posed oil sanctions on Britain (meant six months of petrol rationing) and the West. America survive though since she already had her own oil supplies in Texas. 
  • America refused to lend the British supples which meant Eden had to withdraw and the British could no longer occupy the Suez Canal. 
  • Consequences: Budget deficit of £564 million c.1957. Eden resigned from office in Jan 1957. Petrol rationing was introduced for 6 months. Foreign goods like oil became much more expensive to buy. 
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Harold Macmillan: Intro

  • Harold Macmillan was a charismatic, pragmatic, good humoured and well respected leader. 
  • His memories of the Great Depression shaped his thinking. 
  • He stressed on the importance of rebuilding the special relationship with America, especially after the failures of Suez. 
  • His government was heavily characterised by nepotism. He had 35 Etonians in his cabinet. This didn't seem to reflect well for the Conservatives. Their party didn't seem very representative of the ''New Britain'' and almost all their important ministers were born into a world of wealth privilege. Most were upper class older men who didn't seem to reflect Britain, but more the dogged nature of the establishment. Douglas-Home was appointed on the traditional method privilege which only emphasised the lack of inter-party democracy. 
  • Macmillan continued the PWC and favoured stop-go economic growth. 
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Macmillan and Economic Policy

  • The 50's were characterised by a rise in living standards although in 1961, German living standards overtook British living standards and Britain did not ever recover from this. 
  • Britain's share of world trade halved during the period 1950-70 and Britain's economic growth grew at a rate of half its European counterparts. 
  • In 1961 - the budget deficit was £95 million (although it had been reduced after Suez and Macmillan had done well considering he'd inherited an unfavourable economic fortune). 
  • Macmillan cut defence spending drastically since Britain no longer needed to spend so much on defence. 
  • 1957 - in the midst of rising wages (and inflation) Macmillan sacked important ministers when they suggested adopting a more monetarist approach (cutting government spending to manage the crisis and thus reduce inflation). Peter Thorneycroft (Macmillans Chancellor) resigned over the conflict. 
  • The economy did grow nonetheless and was relflected by Macmillan's ''you've never had it so good'' speech. 
  • A focus on credit fuelled consumerist appetites and more consumer products became available to buy. More were borrowing money from the government. 
  • Advertising also helped in expanding the economy. 
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Macmillan and the Special Relationship

  • After Suez, Macmillan sought greater cooperation between the UK and the USA. 
  • In 1957, they detonated their first H-bomb which enticed US cooperation in nuclear weapons building programmes. 
  • 1958 - the Mutual Defence Agreement - Britain kept 60 American nuclear Thor missiles on its soil. 
  • Britain acted as an important ally in crises such as the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 and Macmillan developed a strong working relationship with Eisenhower and JFK. 
  • He also sought to reduced defence spending (defence spending was 8% GDP). He cut army contribution by 1/3, put an end to national service and made the RAF a defence only force. 
  • In 1963, Britain negotiated the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with other world powers which stated that nuclear weapons could not be tested outside the atmosphere or in space. 
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  • Macmillan believed that colonialism was dead and recognised the need for decolonisation. 
  • It was Macmillan who started this trend since his predecessors (Churchill and Eden) had fought for British territory. 
  • Ghana was the first African country to be decolonised in 1957, most of this was finished by 1968. 
  • However, this was not always peaceful and Britain saw itself tied up in the Malayan Emergency during the 50's and the Mau Mau rebellion from 1952-1960. 
  • In 1960 - Macmillan proposed his ''Winds of Change'' speech in Johannesburg, South Africa saying ''the winds of change are blowing all over this continent''. 
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  • In 1957 - the EEC was formed consolidated by the Treaty of Rome. It featured six powers - Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg the Netherlands and West Germany. These were known as ''The Six''. 
  • Britain had not previously seen benefits to joining the EEC and joined the EFTA instead, however, when the European powers began enjoying unprecendented economic growth and a better facilitated trade network. Britain wanted in. 
  • Britain first applied to join the EEC in 1961, but was vetoed by Charles de Gaulle who believed that Britain would bring American influence with it and demanded that Britain cut all ties associated with the special relationship. 
  • Macmillan believed that joining the EEC would develop better ties between Europe and Britain as well as bettering economic trade and a worldly influence. Britain tried again in 1963 and was once again vetoed by Charles de Gaulle. It is reported that Macmillan believed he had failed and cried upon hearing the news of the rejection. 
  • Nevertheless, while these failures did perhaps contribute to the Conservative downfall in 1964, they managed to regain their credibility when Heath joined the EU in 1970.
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Social and Demographic Change

  • The '50's were a time of affluence and economic prosperity. Austerity had ended with rationing in 1954, the economy grew at a steady rate and there was an unprecedented rise in living standards. 
  • This was mainly due to a rise in consumerism (fuelled by credit) which perhaps best characterised the 50's. 
  • New inventions such as Formica, washing machines etc. greatly reduced the domestic workload. Refrigerators meant the introduction of supermarkets where fresh produce could be bought and less food wasted. 
  • More people were borrowing money from the government because there was new technology to buy. People generally seemed ''richer''. Wilson called this technological advancement 'the white heat of technological change'. 
  • Advertising became more influential and further fuelled consumer appetites with the introduction of ITV in 1950. 
  • Car ownership rose from 3 million to 7 million. By 1961, 80% of households had a television. 
  • TV ownership also changed peoples' lives. Since they spent their evenings at home watching television, there were fewer people visting the cinema or the theatre. Instead they watched their favourite soaps such as Coronation Street which was introduced in 1960. 
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The Role of Women

  • Women were still emphasised to remain in their traditional positions as housewifes and mothers. However figures such as Dora Russell emphasised that there was a life outside of domesticity for women. She campaign for better birth control and the rights of women and was a keen supporter of the Labour party. 
  • Career opportunities were limited and more than often the father was the principle provider of the household. 
  • Women who did work recieved 40% less than men were paid. Equal pay was introduced in 1958 in the civil service. 
  • Girls were expected to achieve less than boys at school. 
  • In the 1950s there were approximately 25,000 a year. 
  • 1947 - the baby boom. 
  • Each family had around 2.4 children. 
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Class Divisions

  • In the 1950s, Britain was still prominently divided by class. Around 60% of the population did manual labour while the richest only made up 10%. The Tory party seemed to reflect class divisions and the establishment - ruled by elderly upper class men who'd had the opportunity to go to Eton. 
  • WWII saw some levellings out of society since many viewed they were ''all in it together''. 
  • However, the NHS saw significant improvements in the welfae of people. 
  • There was still a growing affluence and rise in living standards. 
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Cultural Change

  • Introduction of new social groups such as Mods, Rockers and Teddy Boys. This led to an increase in ''hooliganism'' and the tension between social groups was often publicised on TV. Most young people decided whether they identified with Mods or Rockers. Many elderly people blamed these new social groups for an increase in crime however crime levels remained merely the same. 
  • Social tensions due to immigration from Commonwealth countries e.g MV Empire Windrush 1948. There was an increase in racial abuse towards spectators e.g 1958 - Notting Hill Riots and 1963 - Bristol Bus Boycott. 
  • There was a large North/South divide with the North being very industrial whereas the south was more middle class. 
  • Immigrants were blamed for a lack of housing in the 50's and landlords began displaying notices in their windows saying things like ''No blacks, no Irish, no dogs''. 
  • 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act sought to solve these issues and limited immigration. 
  • Slum housing still remained. 
  • 1957 Rent Act removed rent regulations so rent prices went up leaving many homeless. Notorious landlords like Peter Rachmann were famous for ripping off tenants. 6 million homes became available to buy and there was a decline in pub culture. 
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Labour Divisions

  • Labour divisions between Hugh Gaitskell and Nye Bevan, left vs right. 
  • Disputes over the CND, union involvement in the party and social spending. 
  • Bevan believed that the party should mainly be comprised of union members whereas Gaitskell as leader believed he had the power to set the tone of party policy. 
  • 1955 election - Gaitksell blamed the left for putting voters off. Conservative defeats made Labour more and more bitter. 
  • Labour were not as credible as the paternalistic Tories. 
  • The electorate were satisfied with Conservative rule. Their 1959 election campaign was too hurriedly put together. Voters believed that Labour would increase taxes to fund their new pensions scheme. 
  • Labour faced issues beyond its control. Gaitskell suddenly died in 1963. 
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13 Wasted Years?

  • Harold Macmillan dubbed the 13 years of Conservative rule as 13 wasted years... 
  • 1951-1964 did not represent 13 wasted years... Affluence, ''you've never had it so good'' - higher standards of living, an end to rationing etc. Britain seemed a world power e.g Korean War, Mutual Defence Agreement. High welfare spending - ''paternalism'' of the Tories. 
  • Evidence 1951-64 did represent 13 wasted years.... The Tories were not representative of the New Britain - party characterised by nepotism and privilege. Economic issues, always in budget deficit (£800mn by 1964). 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act dubbed as ''cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation''. Foreign decline e.g Suez. Macmillan had sacked many of his most competent ministers in the ''Night of the Long Knives'' in 1962, represented disunity in gvt. Resignation of Peter Thorneycroft in 1957 and failure of stop-go to control the economy. 1963 - Profumo Affair. Failure to join the EEC in 1961 and 1963. Douglas-Home appointed in 63, didn't have enough time to establish himself as leader. 
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