From Empire to Europe: The Decline and Revival of British Industry Since the Second World War

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9780006387503: From Empire to Europe: The Decline and Revival of British Industry Since the Second World War

Renowned industrial expert Geoffrey Owen analyses the complex reasons behind the delayed modernisation of British industry.

In 1945, following the economic hardship of the war years, British industry looked forward with confidence to re-establishing links with its traditional trading partners in the Empire, and in the years of reconstruction which followed enjoyed unprecendented growth and prosperity. But the emergence of an economically vigorous and fiercely competitive Europe forced Britain to come to terms with some fundamental industrial weaknesses and to question where her economic destiny lay as the ‘miracle economies’ of France and Germany began to overtake her own.

Through case studies of key industries from textiles to pharmaceuticals, steel to electronics, Owen offers a vivid account of Britain’s industrial progress, and argues that since the late 1970s British industry has undergone a painful but necessary transformation which has rapidly modernised the UK economy.

At the start of a new millennium, as Britain once again debates its relationship with an ever more unified Europe, Geoffrey Owen provides a timely appraisal of the often troubled path that Britain has taken from Empire to Europe.

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Review:

Why did British industry develop such a bad reputation after the Second World War? What happened to the country's mighty manufacturing base? The usual suspects are complacent and incompetent management, belligerent trade unionism or misguided government. Geoffrey Owen, former Editor of the Financial Times, examines the evidence and dispels many myths.

There have, he points out, been successes as well as failures, with chemicals exemplifying the former, cars the latter. And now British industry is coming back. If trades unions played a part in failure, so did poor management. And if governments had adopted different policies earlier, with a greater involvement in Europe and a willingness to create competitive industries rather than manage nationalised ones, things could have been different.

If you are looking for material to help grind a political axe, you'll be be disappointed, for Owen, masterfully marshalling facts in support of a clear narrative, argues that many elements were beyond British control. The country's industrial legacy made it reluctant to give up older industries such as cotton and shipbuilding; unlike France and Germany it felt no need for a radical new start after the war; it was bound to take time to evolve from major power with imperial markets to a medium-sized industrial nation. --Kim Fletcher

Review:

‘Engaging and knowledgable…A very well-written volume.’ Lord Hanson, Management Today

‘Thoughtful, serious and convincing.’ Martin Taylor, Sunday Telegraph

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