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The art of the possiblePolitics and governance in modern British history, 18851997: Essays in memory of Duncan Tanner$
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Chris Williams and Andrew Edwards

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719090714

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719090714.001.0001

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Defending the constitution

Defending the constitution

The Conservative party and the idea of devolution, 1945–74

(p.162) 8 Defending the constitution
The art of the possible

Matthew Cragoe

Manchester University Press

This essay explores the Conservative response to devolution in the United Kingdom. It falls into three sections, corresponding to clear phases of Conservative thinking about the problem of devolution, and related, in turn, to the perceived threats posed by socialism and nationalism. Section one deals with the years immediately after the war, when the threat of socialism was paramount. Between 1945 and 1951, the party turned to devolution as a means of halting what they saw as the dangerous centralisation of power under the Labour governments. The victory at the general election of 1951 saw these policies swiftly enacted; however, as the second section demonstrates, the Tories were better devolutionists in opposition than they proved to be in government. Between 1951 and 1964, as the socialist threat receded beneath the blanket of mid-century prosperity and ‘consensus’, and nationalism’s peripheral barks grew fainter, the Conservative party drew back from serious strategic thought on the subject of devolution. After their defeat in 1964, the Tories were obliged to fight on very uncongenial territory. Administrative devolution seemed to have reached its limit: the next step demanded by the increasingly viable nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales was the grant of genuine legislative assemblies.

Keywords:   Devolution, Conservative Party, Scotland, Wales, Centralisation

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