top of page

Thomas Kelsey


Twitter Handle: @_Tom_Kelsey

Picking Losers: Concorde, nuclear power, and their opponents in post-war


Who was in charge of state decision-making in post-war Britain? A common view

is that until the Thatcher governments, Whitehall ran the show, or at least officials

worked in partnership with ministers. Another strand of commentary suggested

that state technocrats wielded extraordinary power.


My thesis challenges these arguments of civil service dominance and makes a claim for the influence of ministers. In doing so, it opens a new conversation about the exercise of power in post-war Britain. My cases are the Anglo-French supersonic jet Concorde, civil nuclear power policy and defence procurement under the Thatcher governments. While showing that those in the technical civil service were critically important as lobbyists, I also show these programmes met sustained opposition within the state, as well as outside. This was the context in which ministerial and political power, and ideology, mattered.


My focus on oppositions is a deliberate methodological choice, as concentrating on the losers of policy debates brings into the foreground the issue of power, of who was ignored and why. My work relies on unused source material, from the official state records (and in the Concorde case, the French national archives as well as the British) to the papers of politicians, civil servants, trade unions and political parties. The public debates are tracked through an examination of media discussion and the archives of broadcasters, alongside the stories of oppositional groups, like the Anti-Concorde Project.


1st Supervisor: David Edgerton

2nd Supervisor: Richard Vinen



I graduated from the University of York in 2013 with a Starred First in History. In 2014, I was awarded the Hans Rausing 1+3 Scholarship to fund my MA and PhD at King's College London.



Book reviews for the British Journal for the History of Science, Twentieth Century British History and Reviews in History.


Public engagement:

Written for the Guardian, the Independent and Open Democracy. Also regularly appear as a newspaper reviewer on BBC Radio London.


Grants, Awards, and Prizes:

2017 – Winner of the Joan Cahalin Robinson Prize for the best paper by a first-time presenter at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Technology in Philadelphia with my work ‘The Force of Nuclear Nationalism: The internal debate over nuclear reactor choice in Britain, 1970-1979’.


2019 – Awarded the John Antcliffe Grant to support a By-Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge during Easter Term 2020.

Tom K.jpg
bottom of page