History of Great Britain

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The years between 1982 and 1988 were economic boom years in Britain. The living standards of most Britons rose and the rate of unemployment gradually ebbed. British industries became more efficient, and London maintained its role as one of the worlds top three centers of finance. The economic role of government declined as Thatcher promoted privatizationthe turning over to private investors of government monopolies such as British Airways, the telephone service, and the distribution of gas and water. Public housing tenants were strongly encour********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************ble-digit inflation, the enactment of an unpopular poll tax (as a substitute for local government real estate taxes), and the alienation of some members of her cabinet over the prime ministers increasingly critical attitude toward cooperation with her EC colleagues.

John Major

Thatcher was succeeded as Conservative Party leader and prime minister by John Major, who continued Thatchers policy of maintaining close ties with the United States. British troops fought as part of the multinational coalition led by the United States in the Persian Gulf War (1991). In 1992, despite an economic recession, Major led his party to victory in the April general elections, though with a reduced majority. Opposition leader Neil Kinnock, who had gradually moved his Labour Party back from the left toward the ideological center, resigned after the election. Following the Conservatives election victory, Majors government faced a growing financial crisis as the pound weakened in the currency market, inflation and unemployment grew, and the nation entered a recession. As a result, Major received the lowest approval rating, 14 percent, of any prime minister in British history.

One of John Majors main accomplishments in office occurred in 1993, when he was instrumental in opening a dialogue between the British government and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Major and Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds issued a statement requiring the IRA to cease terrorist activities for three months, after which time Sinn Fein, the organizations political wing, would be invited to join talks on the future of Northern Ireland. In August 1994 the IRA announced a cease-fire, bringing to a halt the violence that is estimated to have killed more than 3000 people in the previous 25 years. In May 1995 representatives from the British government and the IRA met face-to-face for the first time in 23 years.

Despite this breakthrough, the Conservative Party continued to lose ground. Though beset by low opinion polls, large defeats in local elections in April and May 1995, and a series of scandals, its most serious problem was the growing rift within the party over policy toward Europe and the European Union (EU). Many Conservatives felt that closer British relations with the EU would undermine British sovereignty, and the constant internal conflict over this issue severely damaged the party. In July 1995, in an attempt to solidify the party, John Major resigned as leader of the Conservatives, forcing an election for a new leader. Major won against an anti-European opponent, but one-third of the party voted against him or abstained. Dissatisfaction with the progress of the Northern Ireland talks led the IRA to resume its campaign of violence in February 1996 by setting off a large bomb in London that injured more than 100 people.

In March and April of 1996 the government disclosed that a link may exist between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease), an infection that had been found in some British cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a degenerative human brain disorder. This disclosure led the European Union to ban British beef, which devastated the British cattle industry, further damaging the Conservatives popularity. In April the Conservatives suffered a substantial loss in local parliamentary elections to the opposition Labour Party, headed by Tony Blair. This loss trimmed the Conservative parliamentary majority to just one seat.

During the second half of 1996 and early 1997 Major struggled to regain support for his party, but was unsuccessful. The split within the party over the issue of European relations, most specifically the question as to whether the economic and monetary union (EMU) proposed by the European Union would damage the British economy, continued to widen. In national elections in May 1997 the C

: 14/02/2008