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World wars I and II brought about an era of social change, economic recession and large scale unemployment in europe and in britain. after the first world war british women gained the right to vote in 1928; the working class became unionised, and labour relations deteriorated. the culmination was the general strike in may 1926, when 2 milion key workers went on strike over plans to reduce wages and lengthen working hours. in the 1930's unemployment reached its highest peak. in those days few saw the threat of hitler's rise to power. germany was re-arming at a frightening rate, but britain had neither the inclination nor the money to follow hitler's increased spending on armaments. eventually hitler's expansion went too far. the german invasion of poland led britain by traty to declare war on germany. in 1939 word war II started. the british army in europe soon lost to the germans, who quickly conquered most of continental europe. after the evacuation of the british troops from dunkirk in france back to england in 1940, britain stood alone against hitler. germany tried to conquer britain by first gaining air supremacy, but the germans lost the battle of britain, the first battle to be fought solely in the air. with the eventual american entry into the war, folowing pearl harbour, britain gained virtal reinforcements in men and supplies, and the enemy was forced to retreat. the planned invasion of france and italy by the allies took place in 1944 and within a year World War II was over, but europe lay in ruins. Britain underwent a harsh economic crisis after the Second World War: one by one the colonies became independent - starting with india and pakistan in 1947 - and the british had to experience food rationing well into the 1950s. the conservative wartime prime minister, winston churchill, was voted out in favour of a labour government whose "welfare state" was founded on the creation of a national healt service and on the nationalisation of coal, railways and other important companies. the 1980s were characterised by Margaret Thatcher's strong conservative leadship with the privatisation of state companies, whic resulted in a more competitive britain, but also in two milion unemployed all over the country. tony blair's new labour party won the elections in 1997, 2000 and 2005. major constitutional reforms were introduced, among which devolutin in government for scotland and wales was the most important

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