Public Ownership and the Labour Governments of 1945-1951: The Case of Steel Nationalisation

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines for the first time the impact of steel nationalisation during the 1945-1951 Labour Governments across five key fields of study: The Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC), the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF), and disaffected ex-Labour MP Alfred Edwards.
It assesses the trajectory of nationalisation in the Labour movement and the impact of the policy on divisions within the Labour Party both inside and outside of the Cabinet. The thesis also examines three previously unexplored opposition campaigns waged against steel nationalisation by the Conservatives, the BISF, and Alfred Edwards, who was expelled from the Labour Party for his resistance to the nationalisation of steel.
Although there have been many works published on Attlee’s Labour Governments, only two have explicitly concentrated on steel nationalisation (Ross, 1965, McEachern, 1980). Moreover, these works fail to examine the impact of the policy upon the five case studies assessed in this work. The thesis complements the limited secondary literature with extensive archival research in each of the five areas examined.
Through these investigations it is argued that steel nationalisation was the crucial ideological divide between the two major political parties in this period. Labour advocated the nationalisation of steel due to prior inefficiency and monopoly within the industry. Whereas, the Conservatives believed that the steel industry was neither a failing industry nor a public utility and that these factors presented a critical watershed between nationalisation for ideological purposes and, as had been argued in other industries, nationalisation out of economic necessity.
Labour’s pursuit of steel nationalisation resulted in the largest anti-Government vote of Attlee’s 1945-1950 administration, led to heated debates within the Labour Party – highlighted by serious Cabinet disagreements over the policy, and 143 Labour MPs signing a petition demanding the immediate nationalisation of steel in 1947 - and caused major opposition groups to fight large scale anti-nationalisation campaigns against the Labour Government. The study of these Parliamentary and public debates surrounding the nationalisation of steel offers significant and original insights into the Labour Governments of 1945-1951.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorNigel Copsey (Supervisor) & David Howell (Supervisor)

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