Published on April 10, 2008
Slide1: In 1707, the Parliament of the Kingdom of England and Wales and the Parliament of the Kingdom of Scotland each passed the Act of Union. This act joined the two kingdoms under one government as a "united kingdom of Great Britain," now called the United Kingdom. By 1707, the English Parliament had won a controlling influence over the monarchy, and the Tory and Whig political parties had developed. England controlled the seas and possessed the beginnings of an empire. Anne, the first British monarch, died in 1714. Her second cousin George, a German prince, was her closest Protestant relative and became king. British law prohibited a Roman Catholic from being monarch. George I did not speak English well. He chose his council of ministers from the Whig Party and seldom attended council meetings. His chief minister, Sir Robert Walpole, took control of the council-and the British cabinet system of government began to develop. Walpole is considered Britain's first prime minister. George I's son became king in 1727. George II was also a German and, like his father, left much authority to his Cabinet. Slide2: George III succeeded his grandfather George II in 1760 and reigned until 1820. George III was born in England. He wanted to regain some of the king's powers and tried to build up his following in Parliament. But after the Revolutionary War in America broke out in 1775, Parliament began to lose faith in the king's policies. A sickness that made George appear to be mentally ill further weakened his influence. Since George's reign, no monarch has had such a direct role in the activities of the British government. England and France had begun to challenge each other for commercial and colonial control of North America. Troops, traders, and settlers of both nations battled in the New World. British and French trading companies also competed for control in India. In Europe, England had fought France in a series of wars. But none of these conflicts had settled the rivalry between the two countries. Another war was inevitable. The Seven Years' War began in Europe in 1756. It had already begun in North America in 1754, when British and French troops clashed. In Slide3: America, the war was called the French and Indian War. In Europe, Britain and its ally, Prussia, fought France and its allies, Austria and Russia. Prussia did most of the fighting in Europe, while Britain battled France in North America and India. The war ended in 1763 in a brilliant triumph for Britain. France lost almost all its territories in North America and India. Britain won Canada and all French possessions east of the Mississippi River. The Revolutionary War in America cost Britain the most valuable part of its empire-the American Colonies. One of the war's main causes was taxation. The colonists insisted that Britain had no right to tax them without their consent. King George III and his Tory advisers disagreed. Britain sent troops to support its authority, and the colonists met force with force. As the war dragged on, Parliament increasingly urged George to give up. The king refused. He feared that if Britain lost the colonies, it would become a second-rate power. Britain did lose the war, and in 1783 it recognized the independence of the American Colonies. But Britain did not become a second-rate power. It soon had a more prosperous trade with the independent United States than it ever had with the American Colonies. Slide4: The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1700's. It made Britain the world's richest country. The revolution started in the cotton textile industry and spread to mining, transportation, and other fields. Before the revolution, people had worked at home, spinning cotton into yarn and weaving the yarn into cloth. Machines gradually replaced hand labor, and the factory system developed. At first, water wheels and horses on treadmills powered the machines. By the late 1700's, steam engines provided much of the power. Steam engines needed coal, and coal mining expanded to meet the demand. Coal was also needed to smelt iron ore. Factory towns sprang up around the coal fields. Better transportation was needed, and an era of road and canal building began. In the early 1800's, steam railways started operating. The Industrial Revolution was one part of a general economic revolution that swept over Britain. Agriculture improved as small farms were combined into larger units and scientific farming methods were introduced. The industrial and agricultural improvements, in turn, stimulated trade. The need for larger amounts of cash led to the growth of banks and Slide5: joint-stock companies, businesses owned in shares by stockholders. The French Revolution began in 1789. At first, many British approved the revolution as a triumph of liberty for the French people. But they changed their mind after the revolution grew more violent. Then the new French government seized Belgium and threatened the Netherlands. Britain protested. In 1793, Britain and France again went to war. Britain feared a strong power in Europe. Its foreign policy was based on keeping the balance of power so that no European nation could control the others. To maintain this balance, Britain often aided weak countries and formed various alliances. By keeping the balance of power, Britain protected its own freedom, trade, and sea power. In addition, the nation's rulers-like those of other European countries-feared the democratic ideas of the French revolutionaries. Beginning in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte, a man of endless ambitions, led the French. At the height of his glory in 1812, Napoleon controlled most of Europe. In 1803, he began a plan to Slide6: invade Britain. But in 1805, the British Admiral Horatio Nelson won a great victory over the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, off the southern coast of Spain. The Battle of Trafalgar crushed Napoleon's naval power and ended all his hopes of invading Britain. Napoleon next tried to defeat Britain by striking at its dependence on trade. He ordered all countries under his control to close their markets to Britain. Britain struck back with a naval blockade of France and its allies. But British interference with United States shipping brought on the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 in the Battle of Waterloo. Ireland for centuries, but the Irish hated English rule. Most of the people in Ireland were Roman Catholics, and most of the English were Protestants. Although Ireland had its own parliament, Catholics were not allowed to serve in it. In 1798, the Irish rebelled unsuccessfully. British Prime Minister William Pitt then persuaded the British and Irish parliaments to pass the Act of Union. The act ended Ireland's parliament and created the United Kingdom of Slide7: Great Britain and Ireland. The act went into effect in 1801, and the country became known as the United Kingdom. As part of the United Kingdom, Ireland began sending representatives to the British Parliament. But Catholic men, as well as women of any religion, could not serve in the British Parliament or hold public offices. Catholic men won these rights in 1829. Women did not gain full political rights until 1928. The era of reform. Social, economic, and political reform had been needed in the United Kingdom for many years. After the Napoleonic Wars, the people's demands for reform became so strong that Parliament had to act. The United Kingdom's criminal laws badly needed reforming. People convicted of crimes were whipped or given other brutal public punishment. Dreadful conditions existed in prisons. About 200 offenses-even stealing a rabbit-were punishable by death. During the 1820's, many of these abuses were corrected. In 1824, Parliament struck down the laws forbidding workers to form trade unions. In 1833, it passed the Factory Act. This act Slide8: provided that no child under 9 years of age could work in a factory, and no one under 18 could work more than 12 hours a day. But the most burning issue was for Parliament to reform itself. Great landowners controlled most seats in Parliament, and few citizens had the right to vote. Some members of Parliament represented districts that had few or no voters. On the other hand, many districts with large populations had little or no representation. In 1830, the Whig Party came to power. The Whigs had promised parliamentary reform. In 1831, they introduced a reform bill in Parliament. The Tories fiercely opposed it. The struggle over the bill became so great that people rioted and revolution almost broke out. Parliament finally passed the bill, which became the Reform Act of 1832. The Reform Act of 1832 redistributed the seats in the House of Commons. Property qualifications to vote were lowered, so that most men of the middle class received the right to vote. In addition, the act made the right to vote a matter of national law, rather than of local custom. Yet only about 15 percent of the Slide9: United Kingdom's adult males could vote because the act ignored the working class. The Victorian Age. In 1837, an 18-year-old woman named Victoria became queen. She reigned for 63 years, until 1901-the longest reign in British history. This period is called the Victorian Age. During this period, the British Empire reached its height. It included about a quarter of the world's land and about a quarter of the world's people. Wealth poured into the United Kingdom from its colonies. British industry continued to expand, and the country was called the workshop of the world. Railways and canals covered the United Kingdom, and telephone and telegraph lines linked the big cities. Literature and science flourished. Establishment of free trade. The Victorian Age began during hard times. Farmers had poor harvests, and a depression swept across the United Kingdom. Many people blamed their troubles on the Corn Laws, which taxed imports of grain (called corn in the United Kingdom). The taxes protected landowners by helping keep foreign grain out of the United Kingdom. But the taxes also raised the price of bread. Slide10: In 1841, Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, became prime minister. Like many other government leaders, Peel came to believe that restrictions on trade hurt the economy. He ended all export duties and ended or reduced import duties on hundreds of items. But the Corn Laws remained. Peel did not repeal these laws because many members of his party strongly favored them. Then, in 1845 and 1846, the potato crop failed in Ireland. In addition, the English had a bad wheat harvest. Peel felt he had to repeal the Corn Laws and let foreign wheat come into the United Kingdom. In 1846, he did so-and split his party and ended his career. But the United Kingdom prospered under free trade as never before. Political confusion followed Peel's fall from power and lasted until about 1865. Tories who agreed with Peel's free trade policy were called Peelites. They refused to work with the members of their party who favored tariffs. The Whigs were also split into a liberal and a conservative group. During this period, many shifts in politics occurred. Finally, the Peelites joined the Whigs in forming a new party, the Liberal Party. Meanwhile, the Tory Party became known as the Conservative Party. Slide11: The outstanding statesman of the period was Viscount Palmerston. Palmerston served as foreign minister almost continuously from 1830 to 1851 and as home secretary from 1852 to 1855. He was prime minister from 1855 to 1858 and from 1859 to 1865. Palmerston cared mostly about defending the United Kingdom's colonies, stopping Russian expansion, and restoring good relations with France. During the 1830's, he supported Belgium in its revolt against the Netherlands. In the 1840's, he forced China to open its ports to British trade and acquired Hong Kong. From 1854 to 1856, he led the United Kingdom in the Crimean War against Russia. Although Palmerston supported political reform in other countries, he promoted only minor reforms in the United Kingdom. In spite of his conflicting policies, he was very popular, which helped keep the political situation confused. After Palmerston's death in 1865, a strong two-party system was born with the battle between two political giants-William Gladstone, a Liberal, and Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative. Gladstone and Disraeli had much in common. Both came from wealthy families and were well educated, hard working, and courageous. They Slide12: were also bitter rivals. Their brilliant debates in Parliament made them the centers of political storms. Gladstone and Disraeli alternated as prime minister from 1868 to 1885. Their rivalry began over the Reform Act of 1867. In 1866, Gladstone introduced a reform bill to give more people the right to vote. His bill was defeated. Disraeli knew that a bill had to be passed because of public pressure. In 1867, he introduced his own bill, which Parliament passed. The Reform Act of 1867 nearly doubled the number of voters by giving the vote to many small farmers and city workers. Disraeli hoped the new voters would gratefully elect Conservatives in the next election. Instead, they voted overwhelmingly in 1868 for Liberals. Gladstone became prime minister. Gladstone's first term, which lasted until 1874, brought some of the most liberal reforms of the 1800's. Under the Irish Church Act of 1869, the Irish no longer had to pay taxes to the Church of England, which had few Irish members. The Education Act of 1870 set up locally elected school boards, which could require children to attend school until the age of 13. In 1870, the civil service system was improved by making tests the basis for employment. Government Slide13: officials could no longer simply give civil service jobs to friends or relatives. In 1872, the secret ballot was introduced. Gladstone angered various groups with each of these reforms and lost the election of 1874. Disraeli then served as prime minister until 1880. British imperialism reached its height under Disraeli, who tried to extend the United Kingdom's control over its colonies and over other countries. In 1875, he bought a controlling interest in the Suez Canal from Egypt's ruler. In 1876, he declared Queen Victoria empress of India. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Disraeli helped block Russian expansion in the Balkans, a region in southeastern Europe, and he won Cyprus for the United Kingdom. British people of all classes watched proudly as the United Kingdom expanded its influence in China, the Middle East, and Africa. Disraeli also desired social reforms to help the working class. But his party, which included many wealthy people, supported only minor reforms. In the election campaign of 1880, Gladstone attacked Disraeli's imperialistic policies. The election brought the Liberals-and Slide14: Gladstone-back to power. Disraeli died the next year. Gladstone's second term as prime minister lasted until 1885. It produced the Reform Act of 1884, which gave the vote to almost all adult males. Gladstone served twice more as prime minister-in 1886 and from 1892 to 1894. He shattered his party and went down to defeat during his third and fourth terms because he supported more home rule (self-government) for Ireland. The Irish question split the Liberal Party into Gladstonian Liberals, who supported home rule, and Liberal Unionists, who opposed it. The Unionists later combined forces with the Conservatives. At the turn of the century, the United Kingdom fought the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. The war was costly, and general worldwide reaction against it left the United Kingdom isolated. The nation had followed a foreign policy of splendid isolation. But with the rise of Germany in the late 1800's, the United Kingdom began to feel that it needed allies. In 1902, it made an alliance with Japan. In 1904, the United Kingdom signed a treaty of friendship, the Entente Cordiale, with France. This agreement became the Triple Entente in 1907, when Russia joined. Slide15: In 1906, the Liberal Party won a great election victory. The Liberals then put through a sweeping reform program to aid the working class. In 1909, the Liberals introduced a budget calling for sharply increased taxes. The House of Lords rejected the budget. A political struggle followed over the veto power of the Lords. The struggle ended in 1911, when the Lords agreed to a bill that allowed them to delay-but not to veto-bills passed by the House of Commons. World War I began in 1914. The Allies-the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and other countries-fought the Central Powers-Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. The war was caused chiefly by political and economic rivalry among the various nations. Part of this rivalry was between the United Kingdom and Germany. German industry was growing rapidly, and Germany also had built a powerful navy. The United Kingdom entered the war on Aug. 4, 1914, after German troops invaded neutral Belgium on their way to attack France. The fighting lasted until 1918, when the Allies finally defeated Germany. Slide16: David Lloyd George, a Liberal, served as prime minister during the second half of the war. He helped write the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war with Germany. The treaty set up the League of Nations, a forerunner of the United Nations, and gave the United Kingdom control over German colonies in Africa. The Treaty of Sevres, signed with the Ottoman Empire, gave the United Kingdom control over some of the Ottomans' possessions in the Middle East. The war had a shattering effect on the United Kingdom. About 750,000 members of the British armed forces died. German submarines sank almost 8 million short tons (7 million metric tons) of British shipping. The war also created severe economic problems for the United Kingdom and shook its position as a world power. Postwar problems. British industry thrived briefly after World War I, but the prosperous times ended in 1920. During the war, the United Kingdom's factories produced war goods, and the country lost some of its markets to competitors. Two of the United Kingdom's best customers before the war-Germany and Slide17: Russia-could not afford its goods after the war. In addition, the United States and Japan had taken much of its export business. With the decline in foreign trade, a depression swept the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the Irish question had become explosive. In 1919, Irish leaders declared Ireland independent. Bitter fighting followed between the Irish rebels and a special British police force called the Black and Tans. In 1921, southern Ireland agreed to become a British dominion. That is, it would be a self-governing member of the British Empire, while maintaining its allegiance to the Crown. The new dominion was called the Irish Free State. Most of the people of northern Ireland were Protestants, and they did not want to be part of the Roman Catholic Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom, which was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The rise of the Labour Party. In January 1924, a new party, the Labour Party, came to power under James Ramsay MacDonald. The party represented socialist groups and trade unions. It began to develop in the late 1800's and gathered strength through the years. While the Slide18: Labour Party grew stronger, the Liberal Party declined. Many voters could see little difference between Conservatives and Liberals. They saw the Labour Party, with its socialistic aims, as an alternative to the Conservative Party. The Labour Party held office only until November 1924. It lacked a majority in the House of Commons and needed the Liberal Party's support. The Liberals soon withdrew their support. The Conservatives, under Stanley Baldwin, then held control of the government until 1929. In the 1929 elections, the Labour Party became the largest party for the first time. MacDonald returned as prime minister. A few months later, the worldwide Great Depression began. In 1931, MacDonald formed a government of Labour, Conservative, and Liberal leaders to deal with the emergency. The government raised taxes, abandoned free trade, and cut its own spending. But by 1932, about 3 million British workers had no job. "Peace in our time." In 1933, in the depth of the depression, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party won control of Germany. Germany began to rearm, but few leaders in the United Kingdom, or elsewhere, saw the danger. Slide19: Meantime, the United Kingdom faced an unusual problem at home. King George V died in 1936, and his oldest son became King Edward VIII. Edward wanted to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson. The government, the Church of England, and many British people objected. Edward then gave up the throne to marry "the woman I love." His brother became king as George VI. Neville Chamberlain, a Conservative, became prime minister in 1937. In 1938, Hitler seized Austria and then demanded part of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain and Premier Edouard Daladier of France flew to Munich, Germany, to confer with Hitler. They gave in to Hitler's demands after the German dictator said he would seek no more territory. Chamberlain returned to the United Kingdom and said: "I believe it is peace in our time." But he met sharp attacks in the House of Commons. Winston Churchill, a Conservative, called the Munich Agreement "a disaster of the first magnitude." World War II. In March 1939, Germany seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. On September 1, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. Two days later, the United Kingdom and Slide20: France declared war on Germany. In April 1940, German troops invaded Denmark and Norway. Chamberlain resigned on May 10, and Churchill became prime minister. That same day, Germany attacked Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands and advanced toward France. Churchill told the British people he had nothing to offer but "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" to win "victory at all costs." Germany conquered France in June, and the United Kingdom stood alone against the Nazi war machine. The United Kingdom prepared for invasion, and Churchill urged the British people to make this "their finest hour." He inspired them to heights of courage, unity, and sacrifice. Hundreds of German planes bombed the United Kingdom nightly. German submarines tried to cut the United Kingdom's lifeline by torpedoing ships bringing food and other supplies to the island country. Severe rationing limited each person's share of food, clothing, coal, and oil. The British refused to be beaten, and Hitler gave up his invasion plans. In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In December, Japan attacked Pearl Slide21: Harbor, in Hawaii, and the United States entered the war. The United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the other Allies finally defeated Germany and Japan in 1945. Near the end of the war, the United Kingdom helped establish the United Nations. About 360,000 British servicemen, servicewomen, and civilians died in the war. Great sections of London and other cities had been destroyed by German bombs. The war had shattered the United Kingdom's economy. The United States and the Soviet Union came out of the war as the world's most powerful nations. The welfare state. The Labour Party won a landslide victory in 1945. The party had campaigned on a socialistic program. Clement Attlee became prime minister, and the Labour Party stayed in power until 1951. During those six years, the United Kingdom became a welfare state. The nation's social security system was expanded to provide welfare for the people "from the cradle to the grave." The Labour government also nationalized key industries by putting them under public control. The nationalized industries included the Bank of England, the coal mines, the iron Slide22: and steel industry, the railways, and the trucking industry. Although the Labour government struggled to restore the United Kingdom's economy, conditions improved little. Rationing and other wartime controls continued. The United Kingdom borrowed heavily from the United States. Decline of the empire. World War II sealed the fate of the British Empire, though the United Kingdom had begun loosening control over its empire earlier. In 1931, the United Kingdom granted independence within the empire to Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa. The countries became the first members of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of countries and dependencies (now called overseas territories) that succeeded the empire. After World War II, the peoples of Africa and Asia increased their demands for independence. The United Kingdom could no longer keep control of its colonies. In 1947, India and Pakistan became independent nations within the Commonwealth. In 1948, Slide23: Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became an independent Commonwealth country. That same year, Burma (now Myanmar) achieved independence-and left the Commonwealth. In 1949, the Irish Free State declared itself the independent Republic of Ireland and also left the Commonwealth. That same year, Newfoundland became a province of Canada. South Africa was not a member of the Commonwealth from 1961 to 1994 because the United Kingdom had criticized its racial policies. Blacks made up a majority of the population in South Africa, but whites controlled the government. Also, the South African government had an official policy of racial segregation called apartheid. South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth when it ended its apartheid and gave blacks greater voice in the government. Since the early 1950's, many more British possessions have become independent nations. They include Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda. In 1965, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) declared its independence from the United Kingdom. There, as in South Africa, whites controlled the government even though Slide24: blacks made up a majority of the population. The United Kingdom had refused to grant Rhodesia independence until blacks were given a greater voice in the government. In 1980, after a long struggle for more power, blacks gained control of the government, and the United Kingdom recognized Rhodesia's independence. Rhodesia's name was changed to Zimbabwe. Generally, the British Empire was disbanded in an orderly way. Most independent countries stayed in the Commonwealth. European unity. While the United Kingdom was breaking up its empire during the postwar years, other nations of Western Europe joined together in various organizations to unite economically and politically. The United Kingdom was reluctant to join them. Throughout history, the United Kingdom had preferred to stay out of European affairs-except to keep the balance of power in Europe. By joining the new organizations, the United Kingdom feared it might lose some of its independence and felt it would also be turning its back on the Commonwealth. In the 1950's, the United Kingdom refused to join the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community Slide25: (Euratom). Most important, it did not join the European Economic Community (EEC). This association, sometimes called the European Common Market, was set up by France and five other nations. After the EEC showed signs of succeeding, the United Kingdom set up the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) with six other nations. But EFTA was only a mild success, and the United Kingdom later regretted its refusal to join the EEC. In the years after World War II, the United Kingdom's foreign policy was closely allied with that of the United States. The United Kingdom joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-a defense alliance of European and North American nations-and fought in the Korean War (1950-1953). In July 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, which was owned mainly by the British and French. In October, Israel invaded Egypt, its enemy. The United Kingdom and France then attacked Egypt in an attempt to retake the canal. The attempt did not succeed. Pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations forced the United Kingdom, France, and Israel to withdraw from Egypt. Slide26: Conservative government had returned to power in 1951 under Winston Churchill. The Conservatives accepted most of the changes the Labour Party had made. By 1955, rationing and most other wartime controls had ended. Industry was thriving, jobs were plentiful, and wages were good. Churchill retired in 1955, and Sir Anthony Eden succeeded him as prime minister. Eden resigned in 1957. He had been greatly criticized for his decision that the United Kingdom should join France in trying to seize the Suez Canal in 1956. Harold Macmillan succeeded Eden. The British economy continued to expand until the early 1960's. Hoping to improve the economy, the United Kingdom applied for membership in the European Economic Community. By joining the EEC, Macmillan hoped the United Kingdom would be able to expand its export trade. But in January 1963, the United Kingdom's application was rejected, largely because of opposition from French President Charles de Gaulle. The rejection was a defeat for Macmillan. That year, the government was shaken by a scandal involving the secretary for war. The 1964 election Slide27: brought the Labour Party back to power under Harold Wilson. Wilson faced mounting economic problems. The United Kingdom was importing far more goods than it was exporting, and its industrial growth rate was too slow. The United Kingdom's financial reserves shrank, and the nation had to borrow more and more money from other countries and international agencies. In 1966, the government began an austerity program by raising taxes and putting a ceiling on wages and prices. The EEC, the European Coal and Steel Community, and Euratom merged their executive agencies in 1967 and became known as the European Community (EC). That year, the United Kingdom was again rejected for membership in the EC. The government devalued the pound in response to the serious economic situation. In the 1970 elections, the Conservative Party regained control of the government. Edward Heath became prime minister. In 1971, agreement was reached on terms for the United Kingdom's entry into the EC. The United Kingdom joined the EC in 1973. But continuing inflation, fuel shortages, strikes, and other matters caused serious problems for the Slide28: government. Elections in 1974 brought the Labour Party back to power, and Harold Wilson again became prime minister. Wilson retired in 1976. James Callaghan succeeded him as prime minister and Labour Party leader. Long-standing conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland became a serious problem for the United Kingdom during the late 1960's and the 1970's. In 1969, the United Kingdom began sending troops to Northern Ireland to try to stop riots there. But the violence continued. The unstable situation caused a series of political crises in Northern Ireland during the 1970's. The United Kingdom established direct rule over the country, while attempts were made to form a stable government in which Catholics and Protestants shared power. Many people in Scotland and some in Wales demanded complete independence from the United Kingdom. Many others believed Scotland and Wales should have their own legislatures. Still others favored no changes in the relations between Scotland and Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. In 1979, the British government allowed the people of Scotland and Wales to vote on the question of Slide29: whether they should have their own legislatures. The voters in both areas failed to approve the establishment of the legislatures. Thatcher. Elections in 1979 returned the Conservatives to power. Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher replaced Callaghan as prime minister. She became the first woman ever to hold the office. She served as prime minister for the next 111/2 years, longer than any other person in the 1900's. As prime minister, Thatcher worked to reduce government involvement in the economy. For example, the government sold its interests in many industries to private citizens and businesses. It also sold thousands of public- housing units to their tenants, promoting home ownership. In addition, direct taxes were reduced. In 1982, Thatcher won praise for her decisive handling of a conflict with Argentina. Since 1833, the United Kingdom has ruled the Falkland Islands, which lie about 320 miles (515 kilometers) east of the southern coast of Argentina. But Argentina has long claimed ownership of the islands. In April 1982, Argentine troops invaded and occupied the Slide30: Falklands. The United Kingdom then sent troops, ships, and planes. British and Argentine forces fought air, sea, and land battles for control of the islands. The Argentine forces surrendered to the United Kingdom in June 1982. In 1985, Thatcher and Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald of Ireland signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, an agreement that established an advisory conference for Northern Ireland. The conference, consisting of officials of the United Kingdom and Ireland, gave Ireland an advisory role in Northern Ireland's government. By the mid-1980's, the United Kingdom's productivity had improved, but unemployment, inflation, and other economic problems continued. During the late 1980's, unemployment declined, but inflation began to rise. Roads, hospitals, and schools were declining through lack of public investment. The number of homeless people was increasing. In 1990, the economy entered a recession. Unemployment rose. Thatcher resigned as Conservative Party leader and prime minister in 1990. She had been under growing pressure from her own party to Slide31: do so. Her party was divided over two issues-Thatcher's reluctance to seek further economic and political union with the European Community and her support of a new household tax. John Major succeeded Thatcher as party leader and prime minister. He had been serving as chancellor of the exchequer, which involves managing the economy. As prime minister, Major abandoned the household tax. He also negotiated with the European Community for closer union. In 1993, the United Kingdom and the other EC countries formed the European Union (EU) to increase their economic and political cooperation. Many people began to accuse Major of failing to protect British interests as he sought closer ties with the EU. Disagreements over the EU caused divisions within the Conservative Party and weakened Major's government. However, gradual economic growth continued during the middle and late 1990's. Recovery from the economic recession had begun in mid-1992. Labour returns to power. In 1997 elections, the Labour Party defeated the Conservatives by a landslide. Labour leader Tony Blair became Slide32: prime minister. He called for referendums to be held in Scotland and Wales to allow these areas to vote on whether or not they wanted their own legislatures. In September 1997, Scotland and Wales approved the plans. Also in September 1997, the first peace talks began that included all parties involved in the Northern Ireland conflict. The talks concluded in an agreement in April 1998. The agreement was put to referendums in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the voters supported it. The agreement committed all parties to using peaceful means to resolve political differences. It called for the establishment of three bodies: (1) a legislative assembly for Northern Ireland, (2) a North-South Ministerial Council that would include representatives from Northern Ireland and Ireland, and (3) a British-Irish Council that would include representatives from the Irish parliament and the various legislative assemblies of the United Kingdom. After many months of negotiations, full implementation of the peace plan for Northern Ireland began at the end of 1999. Also in 1999, elections were held in Scotland for members of the new Scottish parliament, Slide33: and in Wales for members of the new Welsh assembly. Both legislative bodies convened shortly after the elections. Recent developments. In elections in 2001, the Labour Party again won control of the government. Blair retained his seat as prime minister.