The defence economy, the left and the ‘second Cold War’
in The British left and the defence economy
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"The influence of the left and its ability to unify behind a single candidate propelled the unlikely figure of Michael Foot to the party leadership. The left continued to occupy central positions on the National Executive Committee while the annual party conference expressed its influence by committing the party to unilateral nuclear disarmament and industrial conversion. International relations between the superpowers had entered a dangerous phase, sometimes referred to as the ‘second Cold War’. This vision for peaceful production also chimed with the lengthening dole queues that had been apparent since the late 1970s, but dramatically increased in length during Thatcher’s first few years in Downing Street as the Conservatives’ free-market ‘monetarism’ came at the cost of over three million people out of work by 1982. Despite the economic downturn during Thatcher’s first two years in government, there was evidence to suggest that a form of economic recovery was on the horizon. Then there was the so-called ‘Falklands factor’, where the Conservatives received a boost in the polls after victory in the war in the south Atlantic. Despite the attempts to make the case for a conventional defence, the left struggled to achieve a clear or persuasive narrative on national security, something that the Conservatives pounced on mercilessly. The landslide defeat in 1983 was an unedifying end to the campaign for socially useful production. With its origin traced back to the early 1950s, the 1983 general election is an appropriate point on which to conclude."

The British left and the defence economy

Rockets, guns and kidney machines, 1970–83

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