History of Great Britain from 1950-Today The first two years of the 1950’s were very eventful for Great Britain. After leading the British people through a devastating war Winston Churchill was reelected Prime Minister (he would serve for another five years) and the much loved King George VI would die in 1952. As the second son of George V, Prince Albert (as George VI was known then) had not expected to be King. It was his older brother Edward VIII who was in line to become the next king, but he abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson a divorced American woman.
When King George died on February 6th, 1952 his daughter Elizabeth became Queen and still reigns today after fifty years. In 1951 the Government organized a Festival of Britain to celebrate British arts and design and to stimulate trade after the economic dislocation of the Second World War. It was also an attempt to give Britons the feeling that recovery and progress was possible, promoting a better quality of design in the rebuilding of the country. New styles of pottery, ceramics and fabrics were introduced made from fiberglass, plywood, Formica and plastics.
In the early 1950’s Britain still had a significant military presence in and around the Suez Canal, but 1954 with the signing of the Bagdad Treaty all British military were removed from the region. However, two years later Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, still owned by France, and invited the entire Arab Peninsula to join Egypt in pushing all remaining British and other European interests out of the region. This was in retaliation to Britain and America withdrawing their offer of financial aid to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile.
Nasser planned to charge dues from passing ships, and therefore raise money for the building of the dam. The Suez Canal was very important to international shipping, as it was the only passage for cargo ships to travel from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. By October 1956 the British and French governments had a plan; they would support an Israel attack on the Egyptians and gain control of the Suez Canal. It only took a few days for the Egyptians to be defeated, but an international uproar about the situation caused the United Nations to cast a vote of condemnation against the British government.
The value of sterling collapsed and Britain was denied relief from the International Monetary Fund. Britain and France were forced to make an unconditional withdrawal from the canal and allow a multinational UN peacekeeping force into the region. The Suez crisis proved to be a humiliation for the British government and in January of 1957 after only a two year term as Prime Minister Anthony Eden retired from office. It was from this point that Britain realized it could no longer take independent action in foreign affairs with out the support and approval of the United States.
At the beginning of 1960 Harold McMillan is now Prime Minister and the British economy was having difficulties, and unemployment was on the rise. In 1961 McMillan persuaded his party to agree to Britain’s application to join the European Economic Community (EEC), a group of six nations formed to establish economic cooperation between France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Unfortunately, President Charles de Gaulle of France vetoed the British application in both 1963 and 1967.
Meanwhile the population of Britain was increasing maybe because of the government cradle-to-grave program of services, allowing families with two or more children a child allowance that supplemented the family income. To add to the expanding population was the million immigrants from the former African colonies that flooded into Britain in the early 1960’s. The passing of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act limited immigration to those who could prove they had a job. In many cities, nonwhite immigrants replaced working-class whites as the owners of corner shops and residents of low-income housing.
Racial tensions became commonplace in urban areas, and the passage of the 1965 Race Relations Act outlawing discrimination did not do very much to help the situation. In 1968, the government tightened up immigration restrictions once again, setting up a practice of race-linked controls that gave preferred treatment to white rather than nonwhite holders of British passports. India’s independence in 1947 became the turning point for the British Empire; there were still many colonies, especially in Africa, waiting to gain independence.
In 1965 Ian Smith led the Rhodesian parliament in a declaration of independence from Britain, by then little was left of the former colonies. British rule continued in Hong Kong, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, the British Honduras, and a few other scattered areas, but the notion of Britain as an imperial presence was long gone. “The Troubles”, a term used to describe the conflicts in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and Roman Catholics, a conflict that has been going on for years.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was founded in 1967; it called for equal opportunities for Catholics in education, housing, employment and electoral representation. Marches by the NICRA in 1968 led to clashes with Protestant mobs, resulting in riots. In 1969 the British Army was called in to bring order to the situation and they soon came under attack by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The situation did not get any better and on January 30, 1972 thirteen unarmed Catholic protesters were killed and seventeen were wounded by British soldiers.
This day was to be known as “Bloody Sunday. ” The 1960’s without recognizing the great influence that English musicians had on the world, namely the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. By 1964 when they left on their U. S. tour the Beatles had become a household name and over 4,000 screaming fans saw them off at the airport and just as many met them when they arrived in the States. They are attributed with starting the British Invasion of many popular British rock and pop performing artists to the U. S.
Edward Heath of the Conservative party was elected to Prime Minister in 1970 following Harold Wilson of the Labour party, who was in office from 1964 to 1970. High on the list of Heath’s priorities was making Britain a part of a larger European economy, and in 1973 he successfully persuaded the European Economic Community (EEC) to accept Britain as a member, while at the same time he was also trying to decrease the country’s dependent relationship with the United States. In 1972 a coal miners strike forced British industry, heavily dependent on coal rather than oil, into a temporary decline as the government declared a state of emergency.
Miner’s wages had actually increased ahead of inflation, but the miners as a group had a long and well known history of suffering at the hands of government and mine owners, and public opinion in 1972 was in favor of the miners. The miners eventually wrung major concessions out of the nationalized coal industry. Among the changes the British people saw during this time was the change in the familiar coins they were used to using in their daily life. The old guinea, half-crown, shilling, and pence were replaced with 100 “new pence” in each pound.
In 1974 Harold Wilson of the Labour party became Prime Minister of Great Britain, he retired unexpectedly in 1975 and James Callaghan replaced him as party leader and Prime Minister. By the end of 1979, it was clear that the Labour party was no longer able to stay in power. Year after year had seen desperate economic measures fail and inflation rise with a stagnant economy. Campaign posters in 1979 said “Labour Isn’t Working. Britain’s Better Off With the Conservatives. ” Enter the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher of the Conservative party.
The economic situation was still in poor shape; employment had risen to over 3 million. In 1980 and 1981 there were serous inner-city riots, the largely black population were angry over unemployment and discrimination and also by the paramilitary actions of the police. Hunger strikes by the IRA prisoners which ended in 9 deaths brought new attention to the problems in Northern Ireland. Rhodesia received its independence and is renamed Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the royal family was celebrating an exciting event. The marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer scheduled for Wednesday July 29th 1981.
It was a unique wedding taking place in St Paul’s Cathedral; traditionally, royal weddings are held in Westminster Abbey. The day of the wedding was a national holiday, with all the pomp and pageantry of a fairytale romance. More than 750 million television viewers worldwide watched the wedding. In 1983 Britain went to war with Argentina over control of the Falkland (Las Malvinas) islands. Argentina claimed the Falkland islands belonged to Argentina and wanted to Britain to give up their claim to them, on April 2nd the main islands were seized by the Argentinean military.
Britain embarrassed at how quickly the islands had fallen responded quickly by sending 44 warships, supporting airships and a fighting force of 10,000 men. With a sure victory and reclaiming the islands Margaret Thatcher’s popularity increased and the moral of the British population improved, it was a short “war” lasting just 74 days. Margaret Thatcher won three terms as Prime Minister; she enjoyed a close friendship with President Ronald Reagan. Thatcher’s popularity suffered with the introduction of the Poll tax.
The Poll tax was widely perceived as unfair because poor people paid as much as wealthy ones. Within two years of its introduction the tax was almost impossible to collect in many parts of the country. On November 28, 1990 John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Conservative Party and as prime minister, continuing most of Thatcher’s policies but he did put an end to the Poll tax. John Major supported the Maastricht Treaty which was signed by 12 countries on February 7th, 1992 in Maastricht Holland. It represented European economic, political and social, and monetary ntegration. Britain retained the right to opt out of a future European currency to be introduced in 1999 and also, Britain o could refuse to accept the package of workers’ rights and social benefits that would go into effect throughout Europe. Many in the party argued that any further economic ties to the Continent would inevitably weaken the position of British manufacturing and industry. Closer ties to Europe were inevitable especially with the completion of the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) which opened between Paris and Dover in 1994.
Relations with Northern Ireland were relatively peaceful, at least on the surface. By 1994, the IRA a total cease fire which was supported by the other Para-military organizations on the unionist side. In 1996m the cease-fire was broken with an IRA bombing incident in London’s Canary Wharf district, there were two fatalities and over 100 casualties. By 1998 the historic Good Friday Agreement was reached, and with guaranteeing a Catholic presence that reflected the population of Northern Ireland; it also established a north-south council responsible for security and other measures.
On May 27th, 1997 Tony Blair of the Labour party was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, replacing John Majors of the Conservative party. Just three months after his election a tragedy struck Britain with the death of Princess Diana ex-wife of Prince Charles, this was a devastating loss for the British people and for many around the world. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, on the United States, Tony Blair stood with the United States and President George W. Bush in the decision to invade Afghanistan and later in 2003 the decision to invade Iraq.
He was widely criticized in Britain for taking them into a war but he supported the fight against terrorism. On June 24th 2007 Tony Blair resigned his office of Prime Minister and his successor Gordon Brown assumed the role of Prime Minister the same afternoon. The current Prime Minister is David Cameron taking office in 2010. The wedding watched around the world between Prince William and Catherine Middleton took place on April 29th, 2011 at Westminster Abbey. “http://www. referenceforbusiness. om/encyclopedia/kor-man/maastricht-treaty. html” http://www. referenceforbusiness. com/encyclopedia/kor-man/maastricht-treaty. html “http://library. thinkquest. org/20176/suez. htm” http://library. thinkquest. org/20176/suez. htm “http://www. Britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/571713/Suez-crisis” www. Britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/571713/Suez-crisis http:/en. wikipedia. org/The_Beatles The History of Great Britain By: Anne Baltz Rodrick Copyright 2004 Britain Since 1789 A concise History By: Martin Pugh Copyright 1999 St. Martin’s Press