Kenneth O Morgan

Landscape Gardeners of the Centre Ground

Seeking a Role: The United Kingdom 1951–1970

By

Oxford University Press 658pp £30 order from our bookshop

Historians love labels. Post-1945 Britain has long been stereotyped as an Age of Austerity. The Fifties and Sixties resist such easy definition. Some historians see them as an Age of Affluence, the economy enjoying a Golden Age. For neo-liberal conviction politicians, they marked the road to serfdom, with dependency culture and debilitating consensus sapping the national will. David Marquand’s recent Britain Since 1918 viewed them in more dynamic terms, an ongoing dialectic between Whig imperialists and democratic collectivists. For Brian Harrison, in the latest volume in the New Oxford History of England [sic], this is an era of corporatism, Cold War and, above all, consumerism. Its icons are the consumer durables of One-Nation Toryism. Its rulers are bourgeois centrists planning for a better tomorrow. Its political model, if anyone, is Mr Butskell, ambiguous apostle of bipartisan approaches including an abortive incomes policy. Its key institutions are the nuclear family and the fabric of positivist planning, buoyed up by the educational upsurge after the Butler Act. Its essential importance is seen as lying in the evolving structure of society, the vibrancy of an English-language culture, and social equipoise marked by a new balance between the public and the private. This is a relatively harmonious and civilised world. The Winter of Discontent and the hegemony of Thatcherism seem far off. Only then could Roy Jenkins’s Dimbleby lecture fear for these landscape gardeners of the centre ground as ‘lacking all conviction’.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Englishmen Abroad in the Reign of Henry VIII'. Free lecture by Dr Susan Brigden, Thurs 18 Oct, 6.30pm Europe Hou… ,
    • It 'contains twists and near misses and bit-part players, everything you might expect from a true-crime story'. Ian… ,
    • Oh normally a week or two before the ceremony itself - so mid-November. ,
    • Ian Sansom reviews The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by… ,
    • 'It is hard to think of an economist who could craft such an elegantly readable account of postwar failure as this.… ,
    • Frederick Forsyth reviews The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by ,
    • . reviews What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain by James Hamilton-Paterson ,