Britain emerged victorious from World War Two, but battered, her cities bombed and with hundreds of thousands of casualties. Soon the government allowed parts of the Empire to declare independence. There was a sense that society could never be the same as it was prewar, and the popular Beveridge report in 1942 proposed ‘cradle to grave’ social security.
When Labour under Clement Atlee defeated Winston Churchill by a landslide on a manifesto promising full employment, high state spending to ‘curb the excesses’ of capitalism, nationalization and greater workers rights the Overton window saw a sea change. The state expanded even more than it had due to World War One and intervened much more.
Churchill, when he became PM in 1951 again, largely left the reforms in place as did the next 4 Conservative PMs. Harold Macmillan was even reported to say ‘you’ve never had it so good’ in 1956. Conservatism now incorporated worrying signs of socialism in a time when communism seemed inevitable without a vociferous defence of capitalism.
But high oil prices, high inflation and slow growth (stagflation) and trade union militants who wanted more and more for working ever less, turned the dream sour. Then in 1975, Margaret Thatcher became the first female leader of the Conservative Party and promised monetarism, deregulation and greater promotion of individualism as the answers.