Reform and Reconstruction:
Britain after the war, 1945-51

Stephen Brooke

Manchester University Press 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
Reform and Reconstruction is a documentary history of the 1945-1951 Attlee government, offering a thirty page overview followed by over a hundred extracts from contemporary documents. Taken from newspapers, books, cabinet papers and other government documents, diaries, letters, and opinion polls, these are short, many of them just a single paragraph, and prefaced by an introductory comment, often a single sentence.

Brooke's introduction gives a brief overview, covering the history of the Labour Party going back to 1931, the unexpected victory in 1945, financial difficulties and other constraints, economic and social reforms, foreign policy, and the winding down of empire.

The documentary extracts are divided into five sections: economic and social reform, covering the need for a loan from the United States, the fuel/power crisis of 1947, central planning and nationalisations, and national insurance and the national health service; foreign policy, with a focus on tensions with the Soviet Union and the birth of NATO; colonial policy, looking at African self-government and Indian independence; class and society and culture, covering popular responses to peace, austerity, government policies and other issues; and judgements on the post-war reforms, including both radical and conservative criticisms.

Not much context is provided for the documents, and methodology and source handling are only briefly touched on in the introduction. The materials are biased towards those areas where short excerpts are informative, and don't extend to statistical information or economic history — there are many pieces illustrating the ideology of and responses to central planning, for example, but little that sheds light on its actual success or failure.

This kind of documentary approach, simplified as it is, gives a broader perspective than simple narrative. Reform and Reconstruction may be pitched at school students, but it should appeal quite broadly — it offers a mosaic portrait of how Britain responded to a socialist government sixty years ago.

March 2008

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%T Reform and Reconstruction
%S Britain after the war, 1945-51
%A Brooke, Stephen
%I Manchester University Press
%D 1995
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0719045053
%P 159pp