The Second Elizabethan Age Leaves a Legacy Just as Glorious as the First
In a long, hot summer when the cost of living crisis, energy price shock and industrial disputes dominated the national agenda, one could easily have imagined that “Great” no longer described the Great -Brittany.
On a slate gray day, when the rain stopped playing the Ring and tearful images reached us from Balmoral, it became possible to step back and see the UK for what it really is after 70 years of the Queen’s service to the nation.
Our new Prime Minister, a Liz to a Lilibet, has dared to echo an often forgotten truth. “Our nation has grown and prospered” under the calm leadership of Elizabeth II.
Queen’s industry: It was fitting that one of the Queen’s last symbolic acts, showcasing Britain as an economic powerhouse, was the opening of Crossrail, the Elizabeth line
The late Queen’s 15 prime ministers, countless chancellors and policy makers have delivered a country far better than people care to acknowledge.
It was fitting that one of his last symbolic acts, showcasing Britain as an economic powerhouse, was the opening of Crossrail, the Elizabeth line, in May this year. Dug beneath London in the 21st century, it is a magnificent tribute to national skills in engineering, architecture and technology.
Such technical feats are just the tip of an iceberg of change and innovation. From the cinema stages being built at Elstree in Hertfordshire, to the space exploration center of excellence at Stevenage, to the video game industry at Dundee and pharmaceutical research at Cambridge, the new Elizabethan era has seen a rise just as impressive as its predecessor Tudor.
In 2008, during a visit to the London School of Economics, the Queen may have embarrassed the town with her “Why didn’t anyone notice?” question about the financial crisis. Yet in the 14 years since, a stronger Square Mile has emerged, making it the most valuable source of national prosperity and the moneymaker that funds sometimes ossified public services.
As someone born a few years before the start of Elizabeth II’s reign, I was fortunate enough to have had a front row seat to the fantastic changes in our economy.
The thrill of traveling to London to witness the coronation celebrations in 1953 is still fresh in my mind.
The descent into the bowels of the earth at Victoria station for my very first subway ride. Then it was lunch at Lyons Corner House in Marble Arch.
The London Underground is still around and one of the great legacies of the nation’s paternalistic, liberal and imaginative Victorian ancestors.
Many still regard the 1950s as a happy time for the UK
As for J Lyons & Co, the first company in Britain to adopt computers to manage its business, it is no longer with us. Like so many great British brands of the second Elizabethan age, it has been swallowed up by modern capitalism. It first merged with Allied Breweries to become Allied Lyons. After a merger with Domecq, the Lyon name was exorcised and the rump bought by Frenchman Pernod Ricard in a £7.4bn takeover in 2005.
Many still regard the 1950s as a golden age for the UK. Across the country, a sense of optimism reigned as food rationing ended on July 4, 1954.
The legacy of the post-war Attlee government was the nationalization of our great industries – coal, electricity, steel and even aerospace – providing job and production security that supported a great prosperity in the industrial strongholds of the Midlands and the North. Cars rolled off the production line – Jaguars for the sportsmen, Rovers for the established classes and Morris, Austin, Ford, Vauxhall and Hillman for the middle classes and workers. Conservative Patrician Prime Minister Harold Macmillan felt confident enough to declare in 1957 that “most of our fellow citizens have never had it so well”.
New houses, many of which were built by councils, were produced at the rate of 200,000 a year. The cradle-to-grave protection welfare state and the NHS were implemented quickly.
But while Britain focused on public investment in wellbeing, other countries focused on industrial recovery.
The Marshall Plan in Europe in 1948 – as well as the cancellation of German debt from both world wars – saw funds freed up for investment in modern steel, automobile manufacturing and shipbuilding.
In Japan, reconstruction with American support has seen the emergence of a new wave of world-class automobile and shipbuilders. Britain’s underinvested pre-war manufacturing industry became increasingly uncompetitive and West Germany, Japan and Europe rose like phoenixes from the ashes of war.
The new Elizabethan era saw an equally impressive flourishing as its Tudor predecessor
Britain’s oldest industries struggled. The UK’s underinvested education system produced fewer skilled workers and our banks were more interested in trade and international expansion than supporting domestic industries. After the industrial disputes of the 1960s, Britain was handed over to the International Monetary Fund in 1976 and government support for industry collapsed.
Shipyards closed, auto factories were on perpetual strike and runaway inflation hurt competitiveness.
When Margaret Thatcher declared war on unions in the 1980s, first the coal mines and then many steel mills were closed.
Northern towns such as Bishop Auckland have become brownfields with no opportunity. From this wasteland a new economy has developed. Manufacturing, which accounted for 33% of national output when the Queen came to the throne, had fallen to just 10% by the turn of the millennium.
The 1980s saw a transformation. The attraction of London and finance and public demand for services has propelled it to the rank of the most important economic sector. Britain sold insurance, banking and other professional services.
Under the benevolent supervision of the Queen, the Thatcherite Revolution made the UK a more enterprising and entrepreneurial society
A second industrial revolution in technology saw city centers crowded as online shopping supplanted traditional retail. The department store, the social core of many regional towns, is destroyed.
The old industrial cities are back. In the 1980s Michael Heseltine’s support of Liverpool saw the restoration of its waterfront. Manchester was transformed into a modern metropolis. Leeds became a financial and commercial center of the North. Britain is a much richer nation than it was in 1950.
Remarkably for a small, overcrowded island, it is the fifth largest economy in the world. The Queen’s reign was marked by great leaps forward in the 1950s and early 1960s, and setbacks in the 1970s and 1980s.
But under his benevolent watch, the Thatcherite revolution has made the UK a more enterprising and entrepreneurial society and our great research universities, with their skills in the life sciences and technology, a source of great hope.
The second Elizabethan age could be considered by historians to leave a legacy just as glorious as the first.
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