27 reasons WHY we should JOIN the EU: Nationalisation


‘British socialists have often been attracted by the notion of government control of the nation’s main industries. Such an idea was a part of the policies of the Independent Labour Party and the *Fabian Society at the end of the nineteenth century and became accepted by the Labour Party in its 1918 constitution, Clause 4 (later 3d) of which committed Labour to the ‘socialisation of industry’. Yet it was perhaps fortunate that the Labour Party was unable to form a majority government during the inter-war years, because it had obviously not properly thought out its policies in connection with nationalisation. Indeed in the 1930’s, Hugh Dalton operated through various committees, publications, and party conference in order to produce a short list of industries which it was agreed, in Labour’s ‘Immediate Programme’ (1937), would be the basis of Labour’s nationalisation programme. This work had immediate relevance at the end of the Second World War when Attlee headed two post-war majority governments, 1945-51. The 1945 party conference had insisted on a commitment to nationalisation being placed in Labour’s election manifesto, though party organisers like Morrison thought that this was a vote-loser that might even cost Labour the election.

There were already some state owned industries and services in existence in 1945. Asquith’s Liberal government created the Port of London Authority, and in 1914 provided £2 million for a more than 50 percent stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil company (now British Petroleum). In addition, inter-war Conservative governments formed the Central Electricity Board to supervise the generation of electricity and to operate the national grid, and created the British Broadcasting corporation, the London Passenger Transport Board, and Imperial Airways. The Attlee government built upon this. Base by implementing an extensive programme of nationalisation. The main industries and services nationalised were the Bank of England (1946), civil aviation (1946), coal (1947), inland transport and railways (1947), electricity (1948), gas (1948), and iron and steel (1949). Labour felt that publicly owned industries could better serve the interests of the nation than private industry, largely on the basis that private industry was often wasteful. Indeed, this was partly recognised and it is clear that in most cases the Conservative opposition to nationalisation in the 1940’s was little more than ritual, except in the cases of road haulage and of iron and steel. Any coal owners were, indeed, happy to be bought out of their loss-making enterprises by the state. Nevertheless, the processes of preparation, legislation, and implementation for such a huge programme of state ownership in only five years were a very considerable achievement. In this process, the key figure was Herbert Morrison, and the model of organisation adopted, a semi-independent body sometimes called ‘the Morrison public corporation’, owed much to his pre-war experience with London Transport.

Having barley opposed these measures, post-1951 Conservatives did little to return nationalised industries back to private ownership until the 1980’s. They privatised the iron and steel industry and the goods section of road transport but left the other industries much as they were before (though the introduction of commercial broadcasting in 1944-5 was a sort of privatisation). Conservatives did, though, campaign against further nationalisation, for example in 1959, and the impact they made helped persuade Gaitskell to seek the abandonment of Labour’s commitment to Clause 4, but his party would not then accept the removal of the book of Genesis from labour’s bible (as Harold Wilson puts it). The Labour’s government of 1964-70 then extended the public sector in a minor way, most notably with the formation of the National Bus Company in 1968. The Heath government of 1970-4 party nationalised the aero-engine business of Rolls Royce after the firm went bankrupt but privatised other small units like the Thomas Cook travel agent. In 1974-5 Wilson’s government nationalised British-owned mass car producer from severe financial difficulties. There were some other small additions to the pubic sector.

By 1979 almost two million people were employed in nationalised industries, which accounted for about 10 per cent of British output. However, during the 1970’s the financial burden on public finances of nationalised industries rose to about £3,000 million, largely in order to keep prices low and to maintain services, while the strikes of public sector workers against Heath and in the ‘winter of discontent’ did the idea of nationalisation some damage too. When Margaret Thatcher came into power in 1979 it was obvious that the public sector would be reduced. Indeed, from 1981 real privatisation began, if at first only tentatively and with the object of raising money to fund tax reduction. In 1981 Cable and Wireless and part of British Aerospace were sold, From 1983, British Airways, British Gas, British Leyland, British Shipbuilders, British Steel, British Telecom, the National bus Company, and the water and electricity industries were all privatised. The pace’ (or ‘race’) ‘of privatisation gradually slackened but continued under John Major in the 990’s and had been accepted in advance as a fait accompli by Tony Blair’s government, which came into power in 1997. This is not perhaps surprising, given that, in April 1995, a special Labour conference accepted a revised Clause 4 which effectively an end to labour’s commitment to public ownership’.

(see also, *Diana, Princess of Wales)

*Diana, Princess of Wales:

*Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-97):

‘Diana’s marriage to’ HRH ‘*Charles, Prince of Wales in 1981 heralded the revival of popular interest in the throne. Their separation ten years later led to an equally sharp drop in popularity as well as the most serious republican debate for more than a century. Her death in Paris provoked unparalleled scenes of public grief as well as angry demands for reform of the monarchy. As such she may be the most significant figure in the history of the monarchy of the century’.

From, John Ramsden, Professor of Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London.

From, … university of Huddersfield.

References: E. Eldon Barry, ‘Nationalisation in British Politics’, London, 1965.

References: Norman Chester, ‘The Nationalisation of British Industry, 1945-1951’, London, 1975.

References: Keith Laybourn, ‘The Rise of Socialism in Britain 1881-1951’, Stroud, 1998.

References: Ramsden John, The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century British Politics, Oxford, 2002.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s