Ideological Difference and Consensus in Britain Since 1945
Why is the study of political ideology important? This opening chapter seeks to answer this question by reference to British politics in the post-war period. One view suggests that British politics has been more characterised by consensus (or agreement) than ideological differences. This view is critically examined in terms of three periods. The first is the period popularly associated with consensus politics, from the end of the war until the late 1960s. The second covers the period of apparent ideological polarisation in the 1970s and early 1980s. The third relates to the presumed establishment of a new ideological consensus from the late 1980s and more particularly the 1990s. The implications of the (real or alleged) consensus are explored, particularly the notion that it involves the end of ideology. The argument advanced here suggests, by contrast, that political behaviour and public policy can only be understood in terms of the underlying ideological assumptions of participants in the political process, and this is as true in periods of apparent consensus as it is in terms of overt ideological conflict.
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