Cheat Sheet

British Politics For Dummies

If you don’t know left wing from right wing (or think they live on a KFC menu) it’s time to get clued up! Get the lowdown on British political ideology, discover how the country is governed, and find out how laws are passed. Like it or not, politics affects pretty much every aspect of daily life. So it’s an incredibly useful topic to know about, and a little knowledge goes a very long way.

Post-1945 British Governments

Red, blue, blue, blue . . . since 1945, the Conservatives have been the dominant political force in Britain. The biggest political animal of them all was undoubtedly Thatcher, who managed to win three consecutive elections. Here’s a list of British governments since 1945:

Years in Office Party of Government Prime Minister
1945–1951 Labour Clement Attlee
1951–1955 Conservative Winston Churchill
1955–1959 Conservative Anthony Eden (1955–1957)
Harold Macmillan (1957–)
1959–1964 Conservative Harold Macmillan (–1963)
Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963–1964)
1964–1966 Labour Harold Wilson
1966–1970 Labour Harold Wilson
1970–1974 Conservative Edward Heath
1974–1979 Labour Harold Wilson (1974–1976)
James Callaghan (1976–1979)
1979–1983 Conservative Margaret Thatcher
1983–1987 Conservative Margaret Thatcher
1987–1992 Conservative Margaret Thatcher (–1990)
John Major (1990–)
1992–1997 Conservative John Major
1997–2001 Labour Tony Blair
2001–2005 Labour Tony Blair
2005– Labour Tony Blair (–2007)
Gordon Brown (2007–)

Major British Political and Social Events Since 1900

Britain’s political and social scene has changed dramatically over the course of a century, with the result that it’s barely recognisable today. Here are just a few of the important events that have shaped our lives today.

Year Event
1907 Legalisation of trade unions
1908 Introduction of the state pension
1914 Outbreak of world war one
1918 Votes for women over 30
1919 Formation of League of Nations
1924 First Labour government
1928 Women given the vote on same terms as men
1929 Wall Street Crash
1939 Outbreak of world war two
1945 The United Nations is created
1944 Butler Education Act, creating publicly funded system of grammars, comprehensives and technical schools
1948 National Health Service is set up
1957 Suez crisis
1962 Cuban missile crisis
1963 Profumo affair
1967 Abortion is legalised; homosexuality is decriminalised
1969 The voting age is lowered to 18
1973 Britain becomes a member of the European Economic Community (EEC)
1984 Start of the miners’ strike
1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall signals demise of Cold War
1998 Good Friday Agreement
2003 UK and USA invade Iraq
2007 July bombings in London

Quick Definitions of Political Ideologies: the -isms

Let’s face it, ideologies are confusing things. The -ism bit seems to makes them so very forgettable. But not anymore! Here’s a quick alphabetical guide to the major (and not so major) political ideas that inspire people to get involved in politics.

  • Anarchism: Can be grouped around socialistic or individualistic strains. Anarchists believe that the state and forms of compulsory government are harmful or unnecessary to people’s lives.

  • Communism: Communists believe that capitalist system is damaging to interests of masses, and that workers must unite and overturn it by revolutionary means. Communists also believe in the state ownership of all land, natural resources and industry.

  • Conservatism: Conservative thought is coloured by the belief that – over time – history has produced institutions and modes of government that function well, and which should be largely preserved for the future. They also believe that political change should be organic and gradual, rather than revolutionary.

  • Environmentalism: Key political concern is protecting and improving the condition of the natural environment. Many believe there is a need for much greater regulation of humans’ interaction with the environment, and aspects of our lifestyles are environmentally unsustainable.

  • Feminism: The belief that society and the political system is patriarchal. Feminists seek to improve the political and particularly, the social and economic position of women.

  • Liberalism: The belief in protecting the rights of individual, so as to ensure their maximum freedom. There have been shifts in liberal thought, the most prominent of which was the move from classical liberalism (minimal role of state, unsecured liberties) to progressive liberalism in early twentieth century. Progressive liberals argued that civil liberties and freedoms must be safeguarded and actively protected by state.

  • Socialism: Socialists are motivated by the desire to improve quality of life for all members of society. They believe in a political system characterised by strong state direction in political and economic policy. Another key idea is redistribution of resources to redress inequalities inherent in free-market economy.

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