In 1951 Winston Churchill's Conservative party, won the general election, and this would be the start of 13 years of Conservative rule pning three prime ministers. This rule was ended in 1964 by Harold Wilson’s reunited Labour party. In this essay, I will look at the factors which led to the Labour victory.Whilst in power the Conservative government made many mistakes, a key example of a Conservative mistake would be the 1957 Suez crisis in Egypt, when its leader (Nasser) wanted to nationalise the Suez Canal, an important trade route from Northern Africa and Middle East for France and Great Britain, which would force any ships using it to pay large taxes. This led to Sir Anthony Eden having to take military action to secure the canal, and stop the nationalisation.
However he could not just invade the Suez Canal, so instead he hatched up a plan with France and Israel secretly. This plan involved Israel invading parts of egypt and France and Great Britain acting as peace keepers, securing the Canal for themselves. The plan went off militarily perfect and the Canal was secured. However, Great Britain did this without the consent of the US and UN.
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The US, perhaps seeing this as Imperialism, threaten to halt economic aid unless Eden was to withdraw his troops from Egypt, of which GB was reliant on, so reluctantly Eden was forced to remove his troops. Meaning a failure to stop the nationalisation of the Suez canal and leading Great Britain isolated on the world scale, and Anglo-American relations at a low. It was now clear that GB was no longer a dominant power in the world, and could not do much without the support of the Americans and would have to stop its Imperialism.
However it is likely that the crisis would have had a much less domestic impact, as the labour opposition were unable to capitalize on this Conservative failure without looking unpatriotic and Harold Macmillan was quickly able to mend Anglo-American relations in his time in power, leaving little lasting effect. This realisation of the UK losing its world power status, however was accepted by Harold Macmillan, who is quoted saying “The dinosaur was the largest beast, but it was inefficient and therefore disappeared. The bee is efficient, but it is too small to have much influence.
The British Empire was a dinosaur and didn't last. Britain's most useful role is somewhere between bee and dinosaur. ’’ This meant that Macmillan saw that Great Britain had to strike up a role powerful enough to have an influence, but know when to let things go and when to not get involved, it would no longer have to play the role of world policeman like it did in times of empire. This was a success of the Conservative government in acknowledging this and Macmillan viewed it as a defeat, but one from which the country could learn from like Dunkirk in 1940.
Britain did learn from this, as it reduced its defence budget (which was 10% of its GDP), one significantly higher than other similar european countries and pushed towards decolonisation of its empire. Another key mistake of the Conservative government was its abuse of the economy, resulting in stop go economics which is expanding economy with low interest rates and rising consumer spending meaning the economy overheats with wages and imports exceeding productivity and exports meaning the economy has to go through a ‘’stop’’ phase or need for slowing down or deflation through higher interest rates and spending cuts.
This lead to investors being unsure on what the economy would do, and therefore did not invest as much as other more stable economies and therefore Britain economic growth being much lower than countries like Japan, Germany and France that had only years before been devastated by World War II.
This stop-go economics was caused by the government not being able to decide on a budget, and them being too often used as short term measures to buy votes in general elections, for example before elections the conservative government would reduce taxes and after they won the election, would be forced to raise them again and policy lagging behind events. This in the end led to the failure of the government to develop policies that encouraged consistently performing economies, resulting in ‘’Stagflation’’ meaning the economy felt both the impacts of industrial decline and inflation.
This would have led to the people feeling worse off, and when it comes to elections, its not foreign policy that wins, its whether the government has made them richer or poorer than counts, and if it has made them poorer, it is unlikely that they will vote for that party again. Macmillian’s plan to improve the economy was to get Great Britain into the European Economic Community, or EEC, which would later become the European Union.
This would make it easier to trade with Europe, increasing exports, something that was in deficit as at the time Britain had a balance of payments issue, exporting much less than imported. This could have worked, but Macmillian failed to get entry into the EEC because France’s President De Gaulle vetoed against GB’s entry, because he felt that it would be an awkward member, and that it already had strong ties to America and the Commonwealth, and did not want them getting involved in his EEC.
However it is also argued that De Gaulle vetoed against GB because he was still spiteful of the jokes made to him by British and American Generals during World War II and the occupation of France by the Nazis. In the end, this failure to gain entry, meant that Macmillians one stop pill for curing the economy was scraped and GBs balance of payments issue was not resolved. This was criticized a lot by the labour opposition, and faith in Macmillian was decreasing both in his party and the public, meaning it was likely this lead to increased numbers of labour voters.
The 60s were a much more liberal decade than the 50s and a lot of the people we starting to get more left wing in their political views. Events such as the Ally Pally Potheads Rally and emergence of Hippy culture and the cultural revolution showcased this shift in beliefs. The Labour party were able to take advantage of this shifting in the spectrum, by having Roy Jenkins promise to make society much more ‘’Civil’’ by removing the death penalty, legalizing abortion and homosexuality over the age of 21 and reducing media censorship.
This would have gained a lot of the younger voters and showed that the Labour Party was able to keep up with this revolution in the British culture, unlike the Conservative Party which was unable to fully understand why scandals such as the Profumo Affair and Vassal Spy Scandal were so interesting to the media and general public, leaving the conservatives looking out of touch and out dated. The Labour party was also much stronger in 1964 than it was in previous
elections. Harold Wilson was a much stronger leader than Gaitskell, and a more skilled campaigner. The split between the party of Bevanites and the Gaitskellites ,which once meant that Labour had many conflicts in ideology and therefore policies in earlier elections which caused weakness post atlee, was reduced giving the Labour party clearer directions for the future and more direct policies to vote on.
This meant that the Labour party had a much better chance for winning the election than previous ones, regardless of the conservative mistakes. In conclusion, It could be argued that ‘’thirteen years of conservative misrule’’ was a factor in the Labour victory, especially since the conservatives failed at optimising the economy and dealing the the balance of payments issue and inflation, which lead the people to feel worse off, and it is how well off the people feel under a government that decides elections.
But the labour party were not able to capitalize on other failures such as the Suez Crisis meaning the victory cannot all be blamed on the conservative misrule as the labour party were a much stronger and more focused opposition that was adapting to the times much better than the Conservatives this election, winning them the majority of the younger voters and therefore the election.
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