This article is a history of the privatization of British Telecom. BT's privatization occupies a central position in histories of Thatcherism as a pivotal moment in Thatcherism's ideological focus on popular capitalism. These histories, however, overlook the important intersection of financial institutions and information technology policy in shaping BT's privatization. Financial institutions in the City of London formed a lobbying group, the City Telecommunications Committee, that pressured for BT's privatization and secured preferential treatment for the City from BT, ending a decades-long policy of uniform telecommunications services across Britain. Margaret Thatcher's government positioned BT's privatization as central to the success of two of Britain's information industries, electronics manufacturing and the City of London. Her government also cast BT's privatization as essential to an 'information revolution' that, through personal, networked computing, would further personal freedom and free markets. BT's privatization thus performed two important and related functions. First, it oriented Britain's telecommunications network to the City of London's needs, and secondly, it enacted an 'information revolution' that was portrayed as essential to the success of the City of London and British electronics. I label this fusion of City finance, neoliberal politics, and British telecommunications the 'London ideology', and this ideology shaped the broadly-held assumption that privatizing telecommunications was essential to reaching the 'information age'.
Selling small wares, novelties, and affordable luxuries manufactured from artificial silk, the South Asian door-to-door pedlar or 'travelling draper', and his compatriot the 'Indian toffee man', were once fairly commonplace figures in British working-class life and the object of fond childhood recollections for many. Unfortunately, they have now largely drifted from popular memory, having left little trace in the historical record. However, this article's reconstruction of their lives offers a new perspective on the pivotal role inter-racial social networks played in pioneering South Asian immigration, settlement, and trade in Britain. New research into this pre-Partition, pre-Windrush immigration, particularly in and around the English industrial city of Sheffield, provides a more detailed and more nuanced understanding of their quotidian experience, their relationship to British society, and their reception by the working-class neighbourhoods within which they lived and plied their trade. The article emphasizes the men's enduring sense of agency and economic autonomy, despite the attempts of various departments of state to prevent them from exercising their right, as British subjects, to live and work in Britain.
In 1977, the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) was blacklisted for breaching the Labour government's pay controls under the Social Contract. As the Callaghan administration struggled to establish economic credibility, extending its reach into the private sector emerged as a political priority. JLP became a test case of government resolve months before the Ford strike of autumn 1978 that ushered in the Winter of Discontent. This article uses JLP records to create a more nuanced picture of the tensions, contestations, and vacillations of pay policy in the late 1970s. By doing so, gaps between policy conception and implementation emerge and intersect; both the business and the government faced constraints in implementing policy, despite powerful beliefs about the integrity of their actions. The article is not primarily a case study, however, and aims to contribute to broader debates. The constitutional significance, rather than the commercial impact, of government sanctions became a keynote of critique of JLP's blacklisting, suggesting that contemporaries recognized this was a confrontation of the political moment between the state and the private sector. By looking from a business's perspective, we also gain insight into how organizations approached, negotiated with, and responded to the government. Recovering the JLP blacklisting episode further shows how business archives offer great promise as resources for political history.
Dorothy Crisp is known for being the militant Chairman of the British Housewives League (BHL) after the Second World War, but historians have failed to recognize that her views and actions were the culmination of over twenty years of right-wing journalism and political activism through which she tried to influence the Conservative Party. This article re-evaluates Crisp's Conservatism and her political career. It asks why such a powerful pro-Conservative female activist failed to secure a place within Conservative politics during the 1930s and the 1940s. In doing so, it shows that Crisp was not willing to conform to traditional gender roles inside the Party or the broader Conservative movement and that she was a vocal advocate for gender equality. It was the combination of her attitude towards women's issues and her older brand of imperialist, ultra-patriotic, anti-statist Conservatism that was unusual for a right-wing woman in this period. Crisp's views on women's issues did not fit the domesticity agenda of the BHL or that of the 'Tory women's tradition', which could not provide her with an opportunity to achieve her career goals. The article also explores how the Party handled challenges from independent right-wing activists, especially women, in a period when 'one-nation' Conservatism was dominant. It engages with recent debates about 'Conservative feminism' and argues that Crisp was also an important figure because she kept alive the model of the independent radical female Conservative, which would become the hallmark of Margaret Thatcher's politics a generation later.
In the 1980s, prostitution resurfaced as the object of feminist politics as second-wave activists grappled with Thatcherism, prostitute rights, tenant activism, anti-violence movements, and changes in the street sex trade and in policing. These conflicting imperatives converged on King's Cross, London. Events in King's Cross highlight some general trends, especially shifts in policing and in the geographic dispersal of the street sex trade. King's Cross also possessed singular features. It was the epicentre of street prostitution in London and the destination for hundreds of northern women migrating to the metropolis to sell sex. Intensified policing of the street trade provoked a heated neighbourhood dispute between council tenants and a media-savvy prostitute rights group. The year 1982 also marked a new configuration in local politics: the control of Camden Council by Labour Left and the formation of the Camden Women's Committee. In this challenging environment, newly elected municipal feminists in Camden set out to devise a feminist practice around prostitution. They found themselves embroiled in local disputes over public space, gender justice, policing, municipal progressivism, and resident action.
Abstract This article argues that, by the 1970s, people in Britain were increasingly insistent about defining and claiming their individual rights, identities and perspectives. Using individual narratives and testimonies, we show that many were expressing desires for greater personal autonomy and self-determination. We suggest that this was an important trend across the post-war decades, and of particular importance to understanding the 1970s. This popular individualism was not the result of Thatcher; if anything, it was a cause of Thatcherism. But this individualism had multiple political and cultural valences; desires for greater individual self-determination, and anger with the ‘establishment’ for withholding it, did not lead inexorably to Thatcherism. There were, in fact, some sources for, and potential outlets for, popular individualism on the left—outlets that explicitly challenged class, gender and racial inequalities. With this, we suggest the possibility of a new meta-narrative of post-war Britain, cutting across the political narrative that organizes post-war British history into three periods: social democracy, ‘crisis’ and the triumph of ‘neoliberalism’. The 1970s was a key moment in the spread of a popular, aspirational form of individualism in post-war Britain, and this development is critical to our understanding of the history of the post-war years.
This article uses the audio recordings of sexual counselling sessions carried out by Dr Joan Malleson, a birth control activist and committed family planning doctor in the early 1950s, which are held at the Wellcome Library in London as a case study to explore the ways Malleson and the patients mobilised emotions for respectively managing sexual problems and expressing what they understood as constituting a 'good sexuality' in postwar Britain. The article contains two interrelated arguments. First, it argues that Malleson used a psychological framework to inform her clinical work. She resorted to an emotion-based therapy that linked sexual difficulties with unconscious, repressed feelings rooted in past events. In so doing, Malleson actively helped to produce a new form of sexual subjectivity where individuals were encouraged to express their feelings and emotions, breaking with the traditional culture of emotional control and restraint that characterized British society up until the fifties. Second, I argue that not only Malleson but also her patients relied on emotions. The performance of mainly negative emotions reveals what they perceived as the 'normal' and sexual 'ideal'. Sexual therapy sessions reflected the seemingly changing nature of the self towards a more emotionally aware and open one that adopted both the language of emotions and that of popular psychology to articulate his or her sexual difficulties.
Due to the difficult methodological issues it presents, political historians are wary of using television - the most important mass medium of the later twentieth century - as a means of exploring vernacular political thinking. Attempting to show how television audiences were encouraged to think politically, the article outlines a method generated through an engagement with the work of disciplines beyond history, to help political historians more systematically assess the medium's popular impact. The article takes as its case study Britain during the 1970s, one of the most ideologically contested periods in the country's history. It analyses how television critics employed by the Daily Mirror and Daily Express encouraged their millions of readers to respond to the dramas of socialist playwrights Jim Allen and Trevor Griffiths, thereby giving historians an insight into the shape of those conversations spawned by their work, such private dialogues being the place where the full political meaning of television was ultimately created.
The Leadmill, a cooperative arts centre and nightclub in Sheffield, opened in 1980. The venue sought to provide an accessible leisure space for the economically and socially marginalized, and received funding for this from Sheffield City Council. Focusing on the cultural policies of the new urban left Labour Council in Sheffield during the 1980s, this article explores the relationship between Sheffield City Council and the Leadmill. It builds on recent scholarship on the 1980s that has sought to look beyond Thatcherism as an explanation for the decade, and sheds light on the everyday experiences of living through this period. This article argues for the reinvigoration of local history, and demonstrates that an exploration of a site of community leisure unveils cooperation and engagement between groups with disparate and contradicting aims. It tells a different story of the 1980s, one that recognizes how Thatcherism allowed and in some cases enabled the creation of spaces within which its critics could thrive. It shows how a range of political dialogues were present in shaping the policies of local government, and how the longer tradition of state and market interaction was shaped by the specific social, economic, and political contexts of the decade. Above all, it challenges presentations of the 1980s that favour the hegemonic power of Thatcherism and the decade as one of the triumph of individualism.