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Keynes and after: a seminar devoted to modern British politics and economic policy

Convenor:  Dr Scott Newton
Reader in Modern British and International History, Cardiff University.

Cardiff University School of History and Archaeology is launching a new seminar programme, to take place over a period of  2-3 years, designed to re-examine fundamental assumptions about the post-1945 era.

Keynes. © Public Domain.


Outline of seminar programme

We start from the position that the dominant ideas in today's debates about politics and economic policy were framed in the 1970s.

It is frequently alleged that this decade saw the 'end of the Keynesian era', meaning that the post-1945 consensus in British politics based on the ideas of the economist J.M Keynes collapsed in the face of domestic and international crises which these ideas were unable to resolve.

The Keynesian consensus was based on a shared commitment by both leading political parties in the UK to the view that the role of the State in economic policy was to foster growth and preserve full employment. The tools designed to achieve these objectives were high levels of public expenditure, a mixed economy,  progressive taxation, incomes policy, and co-operation between the State and both sides of industry.

It has become conventional wisdom that this consensus started to break down in the 1964-70 period and collapsed over the next few years. Its failure has become identified with the domination of British politics by the 'old Labour' governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan.

It is now routinely argued that these administrations indulged in profligate spending while they grappled at the same time with one sterling crisis after another,  leading to persistent dependence on external financial support. Britain the 1970s saw hyper-inflation, penal taxation which was killing enterprise, dysfunctional incomes policies and ungovernable unions. The inability of traditional Keynesian policies to counter these crises culminated in the IMF visitation of 1976 and the 1978-79 'Winter of Discontent'. In these years, Britain's relative decline became absolute. The Thatcher government, elected in May 1979, only achieved an economic and political renaissance for the UK when it broke the Keynesian mould, replacing it with a free market strategy based on reductions in government spending and in taxation, and on deregulation, privatisation, and trade union reform.

The rehabilitation of Keynesian ideas in the wake of the current economic crisis provides the opportunity for a new look at this version of recent British and international history, one that is frequently repeated and re-rehearsed in the media. The aim of this seminar series is to explore alternative ways of looking at the era of Keynes and after, based not on mythology and polemic but upon careful historical analysis, with a view to encouraging a revision of the way the political and economic history of this country's last four decades is written about, and discussed.

To that end, we have invited a number of distinguished speakers, with backgrounds in journalism, public policy, banking and the academic world, to talk to the seminar during the next two sessions.

For further information please see the Programme of talks.

For enquiries please contact Dr Scott Newton: