Consumption has recently acquired key importance in re-interpreting post-war British politics. Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska has argued the Conservative construction of a popular alliance in opposition to rationing and controls was crucial to their electoral recovery after 1945 and in securing an advantage among women voters. A wealth of evidence indicates Labour, by contrast, had scant purchase on affluence in the later 1950s. It was not only, as Amy Black and Stephen Brooke would have it, “Labour's befuddlement at the problem of women and gender,” but that it was ambivalent, if not hostile, towards the goods, lifestyles and values associated with consumerism and the people obtaining and exhibiting them. Other factors blur differentiation between the parties. Both were affiliated to the world of production—through their business and trade union links. Richard Findley has contended the Conservative abolition of resale price maintenance (RPM, whereby manufacturers fixed retail prices) in 1964, aroused electorally deleterious opposition from manufacturers and backbenchers. And while Labour consumerists were rare commodities, as is argued here, Labour revisionism made an important contribution to the Consumers' Association (CA).
This focus on consumerism corrects the neglect of it by narratives like political consensus or historians' consuming passion with production and work. It arises from rethinking Britain's much vaunted “decline” as, for example, the transition to a post-industrial society. In Matthew Hilton's hands how the consumer “interest” was variously articulated and gendered becomes a means to unlock modern citizenship and the configuration of private and public spheres.