Post-war Economic Change and the Beginning of Labour Decline

The Labour government of 1945-1951 immediately saw Welsh Labour MPs like Aneurin Bevan and James Griffiths promoted into critical roles in establishing the National Health Service and other areas of the wel?fare state, as well the subsequent creation of the Welsh Office in 1964. However, the period from the end of the Second World War up to the 1980s also saw the industries which underpinned Labour’s local dominance either closed or seriously reduced in size. Beynon et al. (2012: 208) describe the decline of these industries as follows:

In 1921, there were 271,000 coal miners in South Wales alone. In 1947, on nationalisation, the number had reduced to 109,000. Before the miner’s strike of 1984-5, there were 24,000 working in 28 collieries. Today, none of the old ‘National Coal Board’ (NCB) mines remain open...[and] steel production has also been much reduced by the closure of works at Ebbw Vale, Shotton and East Moors in Cardiff.

As Beynon et al. (2012: 208) make clear, it is during the 1960s that most of the closures to coal industries took place. The counterbalance to this was the incentives offered to make Wales, along with other deprived regions, attractive to investors. In the same decade, branch plants of multinational corporations like Hoover and Ford located in South Wales. As was the case in Scotland, this combination of new manufacturing employment and a larger and decentralised public sector provided new forms of work for young people in Wales. By 1968 there would be more people working in car manufacturing, clothing or household goods industries than in coal or steel, and by 1970 the number of coal pits had been reduced to 50 from the 300 mines that had been in operation when coal was taken into public ownership in 1947 (Day 2002: 44). In addition, the expansion of the public sector, coupled with raised standards of education, would provide new forms of professional employment for the upwardly mobile section of the working class and the middle class, especially in local government, education and other UK public bodies. Along with attempts to incentivise private manufacturing industries, post-war governments also created new forms of public-sector employment in Wales by relocating some of its activities to Wales. This included the establishment in 1965 of a centralised Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) located in Swansea, and in 1967 a regional branch of the UK Passport Office in Newport, along with the relocation of the Royal Mint to Cardiff and Passport office to Newport. By 1968 unemployment in Wales had fallen to just 4 %. Changing support for political parties in Wales needs to be set in the context of this major industrial and occupational change.

These industrial changes deepened economic relations between Wales and England. In Wales, in particular, manufacturing firms tended to be ‘branch-plants’ with, in the case of British companies, headquarters located in London or the South East of England. Links between plants and branches of industries promoted the development of the M4 and Severn Bridge of this period. As a result, the majority of the manufacturing jobs in Wales were low-skilled jobs, sometimes referred to as assembly or ‘screwdriver jobs’ (Day 2002: 188). In contrast, at least until the 1980s, the higher skilled technical and managerial work would remain at company headquarters in England. Concomitantly, economic policies aimed at redeveloping rural Wales through small-scale manufacturing industries encouraged the in-migration of skilled workers. After the 1960s, English settlement in Wales came to be associated with second- home owners, whose first homes were mostly in England. Similarly, demographic changes, notably an increasing proportion of older people, made Welsh seaside towns and rural villages popular places to which to retire. Over the same period, rural parts of Wales experienced the settlement of ‘countercultural’ English migrants wishing to escape urban pressures, attracted to Wales by the prospect of an environmentally friendly lifestyle with relatively cheap property prices compared to the South of England (Halfacree 2006).

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