Preface to the Fourth Edition
Martin Pugh, July 2011
When this book originated in the early 1990s, the commissioning editor put two requests before me. The first concerned the balance of the book. He felt that whereas most textbooks were either basically political with some material on economic and social aspects thrown in, others were essentially social-economic with some concessions to politics. He wanted a book that treated both aspects seriously. The second condition was unusual but not unwelcome. Feedback from schools and teachers suggested that they felt that many textbooks were so neutral as to be bland and uninteresting. Instead he wanted a textbook with attitude – and that is what he got!
These conditions influenced the structure of the book. Most chapters focus on a theme in political, social, economic or external affairs. The overall organisation also reflects a broad interpretation on my part. The first section from the 1870s to the crisis engendered by the Boer War in 1902 reflects the questioning of Victorian assumptions and the uncertainties and new directions of the late-Victorian period. The second focuses on the initiatives and innovations in politics and the role of the state during the Edwardian period and the First World War. This is followed by the partial unravelling of those trends and the story of Britain's relative stability during an era of economic distress and division up to 1939. The fourth section deals with the positive consequences of the Second World War and the emergence of consensus in British politics through to the 1960s. This brings the book to the dwindling of that consensus in the 1970s, a period of decline in the Thatcher and Blair era and the gradual rise of internal divisions as Britain struggled to adapt to being a post-imperial, medium-sized, European country.
The new chapter dealing with the premiership of Gordon Brown, the banking crisis, the coalition government, rising inequality and problems of national identity, seems to me to fit comfortably into the existing section five; in effect we are seeing the further ramifications of the trends and problems raised previously: the two main political parties are losing support, Britain has largely ceased to be the supreme manufacturing power that she was in 1870, British consumerism has reached its climax – or its nadir – in the chaos of household indebtedness and home-ownership, the multicultural society has continued to arouse controversy, and the demise of the United Kingdom itself looms larger than ever.