1950’s BritainPost-imperialism, Multi-culturalism, Facismand start of the Cold War
The war in Europe ended in May 1945 andChurchill wanted the wartime coalition governmentextended until Japan was defeated.The 1945 British General Election was held in theaftermath of the Allied victory in Europe and theresult was a huge shock to wartime leader,Winston Churchill.The Labour victory was a landslide and broughtabout the Welfare State’ which established theNHS (The National health Service) which is seen asthe jewel in the crown of British social reform.Churchill said Britain was too poor to set up aWelfare State yet and wasnt in favour of it.The failure of Churchill had also been linked to hisapproach to the Labour Party during the campaignHe compared the Labour Party to the fascist statesin Europe that had just been defeated. To move toa socialist state, Churchill claimed – disastrously –that the Labour Party would have to move to someform of Gestapo-state.
1950s Britain was still pockmarked by bombsitesand wearing the heavy features of a nationrebuilding after the Second World War.After the difficulties of rationing and shortages,Britain enjoyed an economic boom in the neverhad it so good years of the second half of the 50s.Edmund Hilary scaling of the worlds highestmountain, Mount Everest.The decommissioning of the rationing book.Homes started to be filled with refrigerators,televisions and washing machines; the dawn of thehousehold durable goods began.Britain was becoming a fully fledged consumeristsociety.
The Kings passing and the coronation ofQueen Elizabeth II was the decadesconstitutional supernova.2nd June 1953Three million people lined the streets ofLondon.The BBC rallied every piece of broadcastequipment it could find for what would be itsbiggest outside broadcast to date. Millions were watching at home, or crowdedround their neighbours television set. If everBritain needed an excuse for a post-War streetparty then this was it.This cultural legacy is still seen today, mostrecently with Prince William and Kate’swedding.
Between 1948 and 1970 nearly half a millionpeople left their homes in the West Indies tolive in Britain. The West Indies consists of more than 20islands in the Caribbean, including Jamaica,Barbados and Trinidad.These people changed the face of modernBritain.They were all British citizens and, although theyhad never lived in Britain before, they had theright to enter, work and settle here if theywanted to.Some were seeking better opportunities forthemselves and their children. Some came towork for a while, save money and return home.Some had been recruited because Britain wasshort of workers to run the transport system,postal service and hospitals. Other WestIndians were returning soldiers who had foughtfor Britain during the Second World War (1939-1945).
The growth in the British economy in the 1950s and 1960swas relatively slow compared with the other majorEuropean economiesExperienced crises over the balance of payments, the roleof sterling as an international currency and by worries aboutinflation.A realisation by British leaders and people of their countrysdeclining world status.In this situation immigration was seen rather as an addedburden than as a valuable asset.In 1957 prime minister Harold Macmillan famously said,“Most of our people have never had it so good.”But this was not the experience of either black or whitepeople living in the squalid slums of Notting Hill.Tensions started to increase and by far the worst incidentsof violence were the riots in Notting Hill and Nottingham in1958.Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement and other fascist groupswere already leafleting, holding rallies and daubing KBW(Keep Britain White) on walls around Notting Hill.Notting Hill riots started with racists outraged that blackand white people were mixing.
Although the riots became a blueprint forgenerations it also resulted in the Notting HillCarnival, a celebration of diversity and music.Organised by Claudia Jones (blacknationalist, journalist, activist and local) as aresponse to the race tensions of ’58, thefestival was a huge success, despite beingheld indoors..
A post-war Europe was divided between East and West.The dark shadow of the nuclear bomb grew longer.The Soviet Unions partitioning of Germany and theirnuclear arsenal signaled the start of the Cold War.Britain added its to the arsenal, keeping it to this day.Britain announced it had a nuclear weapon Feb 1952On the 15th October 1957 a British V-Bomber droppeda hydrogen bomb on Christmas IslandAs the 1950s drew to a close, Britain was ready toshake off the austerity of its post-war refit.. The nuclear age which had taken root was to bechallenged by the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament(CND),The peace movement would soon gather pace. Twomen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had met. The1960s soundtrack would be radically different.