The reins of power


On this day, February 6, back in 1952, Elizabeth II became Queen of the United Kingdom after the death of her father George VI. Britain was on the cusp between 'postwar austerity' and (in the words of a future Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan) 'you've never had it so good'. There was much talk of a new beginning; a new Elizabethan Age presided over by the young Queen.

It was a year of some interest. Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that the UK had an atomic bomb. The Americans tested their own versions in the Nevada Desert. Nehru became leader of India. The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya led to martial law being declared. Former general Dwight D Eisenhower became President of the United States. The Mousetrap opened in London (it's still running).

One of the signs that Britain was indeed changing, however, was the abolition of Identity Cards. They had been introduced during the Second World War as an aid to national security. And people imagined that they would be ditched soon after. But the postwar Labour government of Clement Atlee found all sorts of reasons to keep them – mostly their ability to make life easier for state officials. Police would routinely ask for ID any time they stopped or questioned a motorist, for example, but in 1951 the Lord Chief Justice ruled that this was contrary to the purpose of ID Cards, and in March 1952, they went.

The last rationing, which had also hung on too long, went a few years later. Governments are never quick to give up their controls over our lives. But Churchill's government should be congratulated for doing so.