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The efforts of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to stem the rising threat of Nazism in Germany failed with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Allied reverses in the Spring of 1940 led to Chamberlain's resignation and the formation of another coalition war cabinet by the Conservative leader, Winston Churchill, who led Britain through most of World War II.

Churchill resigned shortly after V-E Day, May 7, 1945, but then formed a "caretaker" government that remained in office until after the parliamentary elections in July, which the Labour Party won overwhelmingly. The new government, formed by Clement R. Attlee, began a moderate socialist program.

In 1951, Churchill again became prime minister at the head of a Conservative government. George VI died on February 6, 1952, and was succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth II. Churchill stepped down in 1955 in favour of Sir Anthony Eden, who resigned on grounds of ill health in 1957, and was succeeded by Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

In 1964, Harold Wilson led the Labour Party to victory. A lagging economy brought the Conservatives back to power in 1970. Prime Minister Edward Heath won Britain's admission to the European Community. Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first woman prime minister for the Conservatives in 1979.

Although there were continuing problems, an upswing in the economy in 1986-87 led Thatcher to win a near-unprecedented third consecutive term but by 1990 the Conservatives were losing the confidence of the electorate and in November, Mrs Thatcher resigned.

Even in the middle of a long recession, John Major called and won a national election in April 1992. After months of political maneuvering the U.K. ratified the Maastrict Treaty in August 1993.

Eighteen years of Conservative rule ended in May 1997 when Tony Blair and the Labour Party triumphed in the British elections. Blair has been compared to the former U.S. president Bill Clinton for his youthful, telegenic personality and centrist views.

He produced constitutional reform that partially decentralised the U.K., leading to the formation of separate Parliaments in Wales and Scotland by 1999. Britain turned over its colony Hong Kong to China in July 1997.

Blair's controversial meeting in October 1997 with Sinn Fein's political leader, Gerry Adams, was the first meeting in 76 years between a British prime minister and a Sinn Fein leader.

It infuriated numerous factions but was a symbolic gesture in support of the nascent peace talks in Northern Ireland. In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement, strongly supported by Tony Blair, held out the promise of peace between Catholics and Protestants, and talks continue.

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