Britain emerged from the war elated but exhausted. The enormous personal prestige of Winston Churchill had done much to disguise the country’s declining world status. Overtaken by the superpowers of the USA and the Soviet Union, who were now locked into the Cold War, Britain would never again be a major player on the world stage. The haste to relinquish the nation’s remaining imperial possessions is but one symptom of these changed times. At home, the hardships were not over as rationing and shortages continued, with the winter of 1947–8 being worse than anything experienced during the war. Despite the deprivations, the mood was optimistic and there was a determination to build a new consensus to overcome the old divisions of the past. The 1945, first ever majority Labour government’s commitment to a comprehensive plan for social reform was a major aspect of this. By the end of the 1940s, exhortations to duty and sacrifice were wearing thin and the British people were more than ready for the benefits of consumerism which sustained economic growth would soon bestow on them. As austerity gradually gave way to affluence, cars, fridges, vacuum cleaners and many other consumer goods became part of everyday life for increasing numbers of the population.
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