Unit title: Disunited Kingdom?: aspects of contemporary British history

Unit tutor: Dr Roger Middleton

Unit structure: 10 seminars, each of one and a half hours

1 assessed essay of 5,000 words

Unit outline:

This unit explores the fragility of Britain's postwar settlement, that of a managed-mixed economy/welfare state and an uncooperative bargain struck between organized labour and capital, and the challenges to which it was to be subjected in the ensuing half century. An understanding of the eventual collapse of Keynesian social democracy, and of its eclipse by the New Right and 'Little Englander' conceptions of Britain's destiny in Europe, is sought through an examination of the key debates in British contemporary history: those of relative economic decline, geo-political reorientation and decolonization, domestic political fragmentation and the collapse of consensus.


  1. Introductory meeting: the major themes; administrative matters.

  2. Relative economic decline: fact and fiction.

  3. Understanding the growth of government.

  4. The welfare state and consensus.

  5. Capital vs. labour: state traditions and uncooperative bargaining.

  6. Britain as a great power, or not.

  7. Britain and European integration.

  8. Domestic politics and conceptions of nationhood.

  9. The collapse of Keynesian social democracy and the New Right.

  10. Conclusions: explaining relative economic decline from the perspective of the 1990s.

Introductory Reading:

Crouch, C. (1993) Industrial relations and European state traditions. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gamble, A.M. (1994) Britain in decline: economic policy, political strategy and the British state, 4th edn. London: Macmillan.

Gourvish, T.R. and O'Day, A. (eds) (1991) Britain since 1945. London: Macmillan.

Greenleaf, W.H. (1983-7) The British political tradition, 3 vols. London: Methuen.

Hennessy, P. and Seldon, A. (eds) (1987) Ruling performance: British governments from Attlee to Thatcher. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Kavanagh, D. and Morris, P. (1989) Consensus politics from Attlee to Thatcher. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Lowe, R. (1993) The welfare state in Britain since 1945. London: Macmillan.

Marquand, D. (1988) The unprincipled society: new demands and old politics. London: Fontana.

Middlemas, K. (1986-91) Power, competition and the state, 3 vols. London: Macmillan.

Middleton, R. (1996) Government versus the market: the growth of the public sector, economic management and British economic performance, c.1890-1979. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Morgan, K.O. (1990) The people's peace: British history, 1945-1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Obelkevich, J. and Catterall, P. (eds) (1994) Understanding post-war British society. London: Routledge.