British Society During 1951-1975

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‘British society in 1975 was different in every way to the one seen in 1951’ Discuss.

The British society in 1975 was ‘certainly’ different from its own self in 1951. But, as radically the society changed, we cannot say that it was a total departure from the preceding ‘conformist’ state. The early 1970s British society is more or less a more ‘mature’ version of the gradually growing incoherent one that came into existence in the 1950s. Britain in 1951, though conservative, did acknowledge a new modern world of changes, social and technological progression rather than standing statically. To see the differences created by social transformation, we need to look at the aspect of continuity and changes that distinguishes the two.

In term of continuity, Britain in 1970s carries the legacy of increasing social mobility kicked off in the 1950s. It can be seen as a demographical change through a more geographical mobile system and migratory factors. One of the main features of social changes of Britain in this period was the development of a multiracial and multicultural society. Up until 1975, immigration and the social effects it brought posed to be a problem and at the same time, a benefit.

Before 1951, the symbolic arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948 opened the influx of immigration from New Commonwealth countries, notably from West Indies. In term of demographic change, immigration was not the most significant factor but it did come under public concern. Putting aside the close historically multiracial tie of Britain with the Commonwealth, economic benefits, arguably, were the governments’ rationale at time to let in immigration. This created fear in the home-grown community of loosing occupational and housing opportunities to the immigrants. Social tensions regarding racial relations were still a problem as of 1975.

Despite the general feeling of ‘getting along’, we cannot overlook the existing prejudices and unpleasant examples of outright racism of the host community. If the tension simply based on number merits, it would be rather exaggerating. The proportion of people of non-European origins has never been more than 6% of the overall population of Britain. By the late 1950s, the situation took a disturbing turn with the exploitation of the shortage of accommodation and jobs to blame on the immigrant community. The event of Notting Hill riots 1958 was an example of tension-turn-violence circumstances. The area of Notting Hill in west London oversaw mass riots of over 600 white males tried to batter their way into black-owned properties.

The immigration issue carried onto the 1960s. Not an example of racism, rather a sentimental imperialist one, the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell in February 1968 spoke out against the surging influx of immigrants into the country. It stirred up racist feelings in parts of Britain, coming from such a high profile figure.

Also, noted that estrangement of the immigrant community in Britain might also be an explanation of the problem. The two Commonwealth Immigrants Acts introduced in 1962 and 1968 was condemned as racist, regulating immigration on the ground of ethnic and racial backgrounds. But, at the same time, the Labour Government of Harold Wilson did try to outlaw racial discrimination with the establishment of the Race Relation Board.

Even seem to be a problem, immigration management of the British government proved to effective as of 1975. Given the situation of early 1970s when an influx of immigrants of Asians from Kenya, Uganda and ‘boat people’ from Vietnam, Britain coped well with the social consequences in balance with economic contribution. Coming back to Powell’s speech, the imagery was rather falsified.

Another point of importance is the breakdown of communities through urban development, modernisation of infrastructure and consumer affluence. In the early 1950s, there was enormous demand for new alternative housing to replace war...
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