A 'failed experiment'? Public ownership and the narratives of post-war Britain

Tomlinson, J. (2008) A 'failed experiment'? Public ownership and the narratives of post-war Britain. Labour History Review, 73(2), pp. 228-243. (doi: 10.1179/174581808X324289)

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Public ownership was a key part of Labour politics and British economic organisation for much of the twentieth century, but may now be regarded as a historical episode, rather than a feature of contemporary life. How is this episode to be evaluated by historians? One route is to incorporate it in the dominant 'decline' narrative, and refer to public ownership as a 'failed experiment'. This paper argues against such an approach, suggesting that the decline narrative is unhelpful and outmoded, and leads to a one-dimensional and overly normative approach. Instead, it is argued that public ownership needs to be analysed as closely rooted in a specific historical context (the 1930s and 1940s) but which came to be deployed in a wholly different one (the 1950s to 1970s). In that latter period its role was not as part of a socialist planned economy, as envisaged by its early advocates, but rather as element of a 'social democratic' economy, in which it played a diverse, unexpected role in underpinning the post-war settlement.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Tomlinson, Professor Jim
Authors: Tomlinson, J.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Journal Name:Labour History Review
ISSN (Online):1745-8188

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