Britain in the early 1950s

Britain in the early 1950s

Political Landscape

  • In the aftermath of World War II, Britain entered a period of economic hardship known as austerity. This was characterised by rationing, reconstruction and national debt repayment.
  • In 1951, the Conservatives, led by Winston Churchill, returned to power. They would dominate British politics throughout most of the 1950s, with leadership passing to Anthony Eden in 1955 and Harold Macmillan in 1957.

Economy and Living Standards

  • There was a shift from a wartime to a peacetime economy, and a drive to increase domestic production and exports to repay the national debt.
  • Rationing gradually came to an end in the mid-1950s, and the standard of living began to improve with more goods available and rising wages.
  • By the late 1950s, the British economy experienced significant economic growth and stability often referred to as the ‘post-war boom’ or ‘the long boom’.

Social Changes

  • The NHS, started in 1948 under the Labour government’s welfare state initiative, continued to provide free healthcare to all.
  • The 1950s were marked by the growth of consumer society, with more people buying goods such as televisions, cars, and household appliances on credit.
  • The decade also saw significant cultural change. The times reflected a break from traditional values and the rise of youth culture, exemplified by the ‘teddy boys’ and the emergence of rock and roll.

Foreign Relations

  • The early 1950s was a period of decolonisation, with several British colonies gaining independence.
  • Britain was a founding member of NATO, reflecting its continued commitment to western alliances.
  • The Suez Crisis of 1956 was a significant event that demonstrated the reduced status of Britain as a global power.

Technology and Infrastructure

  • There were significant advancements in technology and infrastructure during this period.
  • A new network of motorways began to develop, which revolutionised transportation.
  • The first commercial jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet, flew in the early 1950s, increasing travel opportunities.

Remember to relate all points to the themes of austerity, affluence and discontent when writing your answers.