This chapter presents a broad overview of the place of Europe and European questions in British political history. It establishes a sense of the historiographical context, considering in turn the ‘new’ political history of recent decades, the histories of party politics, diplomacy and its culture, Europe as Britain’s comparator, British identity, post-war attitudes to European unity, and structural tensions. Reflecting on this contextual framework prompts questions about the chronological parameters we use to assess the last two centuries of interaction with the Continent, not least about the historiographical role of the two world wars, their origins, and their impact. It also raises the issue of the generational phases through which the British polity has passed in its complicated dance with its European neighbours.
Traditionally, fascism in Britain has been seen in fairly narrow terms as a phenomenon of the 1930s associated with Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). This approach to the subject made it easy to account for the fortunes of fascism as a movement essentially marginal to British society and thus of limited significance. The Union Movement that Mosley founded in 1948 campaigned for imperial control of Africa, a united Europe, and an end to coloured immigration. But this did not amount to a full fascist programme; the movement found itself caught halfway between the conventional parties and the racist fringe. More extreme elements soon spawned a range of new groups including the National Party, the National Workers Movement, and Chesterton's League of Empire Loyalists, which proved to be influential as a training ground for a new generation of leaders of the far right.
This chapter examines the role of Great Britain in the Cold War. It describes the condition and experiences of Britain from 1945 to 1990 and explores how Britain managed to maintain its global influence during the Cold War, despite its decline. The chapter argues that although Britain was forced to operate within structure of the Cold War, the British state and its leaders were able to make their own political decisions. Examples of these include the war resolution against Argentina to recapture the Falklands Islands in 1982, the decision not to participate in the Schuman Plan negotiations of 1950, and the determination to develop a nuclear bomb shortly after the end of World War 2.
Joyce E. Chaplin
The phrase ‘British Atlantic’ brings together two terms that emerged rather belatedly (and perhaps unhelpfully) in the history of English colonisation. From the late seventeenth century onward, the English colonies underwent unprecedented population growth, which inspired new faith in colonists' ability to adapt to and dominate the New World. While other European empires may also have had either a degree of colonial autonomy or rapid population growth, only English-speaking colonists gained confidence from both characteristics. But this settler confidence was challenged, from the mid-eighteenth century onward, by the creation of a British empire with Atlantic dimensions. Because settlers in the English-speaking colonies had for a long time connected a non-British identity, meaning Englishness, to being an ocean away from England itself, the newly British and Atlantic empire was less inviting to them and the temptation to define Americans' political and natural interests as separate from Great Britain was eventually overwhelming. In Parliament and beyond, Britons and British Americans discussed the problems of slavery and openly contemplated how the slave trade and forced labour might not have an indefinite future.
Principally, Scottish historians have been concerned with three groups of questions. First, they have been exercised by the question of class: to what extent were popular politics, and radicalism in particular, a reflection of Scotland's experiences of industrialization and demographic expansion across this period; and how far do they provide a key to the exploration of class formation and inter-class relations? A second and related set of questions revolves around the issue of ‘stability’: was Scotland relatively more stable a society across this period, especially in comparison to England and Ireland; and, if so, what factors would explain this? A final set of questions runs throughout modern Scottish historiography: what do the politics of the period reveal about the relationship between England and Scotland, and the position of Scotland within the imperial state? This article examines the ‘Age of Reform’ along the line provided by the Napoleonic Wars and suggests what was distinctive about popular political developments in Scotland in each of these periods.
The existential challenge to the Union began with the election of a disciplined cadre of MPs from the Irish Party in 1880, and culminated with the election of a Scottish National Party majority government in 2011. The years from 1885 to 1921 have been described as the high age of primordial unionism. For a primordial unionist, the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, passed by an Act of Parliament in 1800 and taking effect in January 1801, was to be defended at all costs. Prime Minister William Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule in 1885 splintered the party systems throughout the British Isles, and in Scotland, created the Unionist Party, the dominant party until the 1950s. This article examines the challenges faced by the Union, focusing on efforts to kill the Home Rule during 1885–1924 and the passage of the Scotland Act 1998. It also discusses the Constitutional Convention, the Labour Party government and its policies, and the ‘West Lothian Question’ and ‘Barnett Formula’.
Despite current concerns with good governance and policy delivery, little serious attention has been paid to the institution vital to both: the Civil Service. This chapter places present problems in historical context. Starting with the seminal 1854 Northcote–Trevelyan Report, it covers the ‘lost opportunity’ of the 1940s when the Civil Service failed to adapt to rapidly rising demands on the state, as advocated by Beveridge and Keynes. It then examines the belated attempts at modernization in the 1960s, the Service’s vilification in the 1970s, the final destruction of the ‘old order’ during the Thatcher administration, and the subsequent restructuring of the Service and the (highly flawed) embracing of the ‘new public management’ ethos.
Michael J. Braddick
This chapter reviews recent work on the English civil war and English Revolution, and related topics, including the Scottish Covenanters’ revolution, the Irish rising of 1641, Confederate Ireland, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It sets the recent emphasis on the fluidity and dynamism of the politics in the context of the debate prompted by revisionist critiques of Marxist and Whig historiographies. It argues that close attention to fluidity has not been at the expense of consideration of the larger structures of political life and long-term transformations in them. Attempts to relate the crisis and its effects on constitutional development to social structural change and economic transformation have largely failed but, it is argued, the crisis had long-term effects on state formation, religious change, and political thought and culture in all Three Kingdoms, and on their mutual relationships in the nascent British state.
This chapter seeks to bring out the interrelated quality of twentieth century discussions of democracy, drawing especially on debates in the 1930s and 1970s. It locates these within the longer history of the British conversation about democracy, a conversation that was both influenced by discussions elsewhere and informed by comparisons with, and imaginings of, other polities. It starts with an examination of the history of debating democracy in Britain and then turns to the British way of doing democracy. It argues that the former is essential to making sense of the latter. It moves on to consider how the British have done democracy, drawing upon an emerging cultural history of democratic practices. The final section offers thoughts on the prospects for the historiography of democracy in Britain, and on what its development so far says about the state of modern British political history.
This chapter attempts to draw out comparisons and make sense of devolution as a UK-wide phenomenon. Devolution has taken a variety of forms at different times in different parts of the UK. A key aim of the chapter is to describe these varieties and explain why no common form of devolution emerged. Devolution may be a form of constitutional development but it has always been linked to wider socio-demographic and economic developments as much as to the sense of collective identities. Some interpretations emphasize the role of national identity in the demands for devolution in Scotland and Wales while others lay more emphasis on differences in political preferences that stimulated demands for self-government. No understanding of the politics of devolution is complete without an appreciation of the roles of identity, the party systems, political and public policy preferences, and how these changed over time.