The Contemporary History of Britain Part I

By | September 7, 2021

Iraq war

Following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 9, 2001 and the subsequent “War on Terror”, Britain joined the United States in the Iraq war in 2003. The United Kingdom was the United States’ foremost political and military partner, a war Prime Minister Tony Blair termed as the last resort after diplomatic opportunities was exhausted. But the Iraqi engagement was disputed, causing shaking in the Labor Party as well. Investigations that showed that the war started on failing premises were a significant burden. Blair finally regretted having misinformed the British people, but maintained that the war was necessary.

In the 2004 local elections, Labor received its lowest turnout in over 90 years, and it was the first time a ruling party came in third. However, the decline in the parliamentary elections the following year was no greater than the renewal of the mandate of the Labor government. Blair thus became the first Labor prime minister in history to record three electoral victories in a row. The party’s strongest card in the election campaign was a period of economic growth that had lasted just as long as Labor’s reign. Unemployment, inflation and interest rates had fallen to historic bottom levels.

The Conservatives still had trouble finding a unifying course, and made only a marginal progress in the election. Michael Howard resigned as party leader and was succeeded by David Cameron; the fifth Tory leader in eight years. The Liberal Democrats made the greatest progress, having positioned themselves to the left of a center-oriented Labor in the struggle for competition and privatization.

On July 7, 2005, London was hit by a terrorist attack. Islamist suicide bombers hit three locations on the subway network and in a bus. 55 people were killed and around 700 wounded in the worst bombing in the country since World War II. The killing was done by second-generation immigrants, apparently well integrated into British society, but belonging to a so-called dormant cell in a terrorist network. Anti-terrorism laws were tightened further, but during a battle in parliament over expanded access to imprisonment without charge, the government suffered its first defeat since its accession in 1997.


Growing EU skepticism in the population formed the backdrop when the United Kingdom decided to put the new Constitutional Treaty to the referendum, a decision that had a ripple effect in a number of other member states. However, after a no-majority in France and the Netherlands in 2005, the British chose to put their own vote on ice – to criticism from the EU. The Blair government agreed to a significant reduction in the “membership discount” introduced by Margaret Thatcher, which has been disputed in the EU.

In Northern Ireland, the extreme forces, on both sides, strengthened their position in both local elections and in the British parliamentary elections in the early years of the new century. In 2005, however, the IRA ordered the surrender of weapons and proclaimed that the fight should continue with legal, political means. An independent commission could, in turn, confirm that the disarmament had been carried out, which led to a new optimism. Both the international Islamist terror, including the London attack, and the general decline in support for the Northern Irish people formed the backdrop of the historic decision, which gave hope that the 36-year-long conflict – which has claimed 3600 deaths – could finally be over.

After lengthy negotiations and new elections, a new unifying government was established in the spring of Northern Ireland, where formerly irreconcilable opponents Ian Paisley of the ultra-loyalist DUP and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness joined the same government. This was Tony Blair’s last major political triumph.

The decline for Labor continued in the years following the 2005 election, with some significant losses in both local elections and supplementary elections to the Lower House; London, too, was lost when “Red Ken” Livingstone had to hand over the mayor’s office to Conservative Boris Johnson. Several corruption and other scandal cases contributed to a noticeable wear and tear within the government and the party – and in the relationship between politicians and the people in general. In an affair where Labor was alleged to have “sold” noble titles and space in the Upper House against the millionth contribution to the party fund, even Blair, as the first reigning prime minister of British history, had to go in for police questioning. In the spring of 2009, extensive abuse of an extra housing allowance scheme was discovered, a scandal involving both people in the government apparatus and in all parties.

On June 27, 2007, Finance Minister Gordon Brown took over as prime minister, marking the rounding of the more than ten-year Blair era with budgetary lifting in areas such as railways and kindergartens and border control – and with a more independent British course towards the United States; in the new government, skepticism about the Iraq war was a visible move. With a broad majority, but opposed by strong forces within Labor, Parliament decided to upgrade the British nuclear arsenal, with a cost limit of £ 250 billion. In climate policy, as the first country, it was decided to legislate 60 percent C0 2 cuts by 2050; which is to be implemented through five-year budgets.

Relations with Russia were approaching a time of freezing when former KGB agent and now British citizen Aleksandr Litvinenko was poisoned and dead, and four Russian diplomats were expelled from the United Kingdom. In March 2008, the Lower House ratified the EU Reform Treaty (Lisbon Treaty), with 346 against 206 votes, after the referendum demand was rejected – later the European Parliament decided that the British should keep the units of miles and pints.

The Contemporary History of Britain 1