Conservative dominance in the years 1951 to 1964 Essay
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The main reason for conservative dominance in the years 1951 to 1964 was labour disunity?” Access the validity of this view I agree with this statement as the labour party leaders were ageing. The labour leaders were from the pre-war era therefore it meant that they were not in touch with the population. This led to labour disunity throughout the years as it caused Attlee to retire, he found that he couldn’t understand what the young wanted. For the public they left their trust with the labour party and put it in the conservatives as they felt that labour had failed to create the consumer revolution that everyone had hoped for.
By 1951 the public were also fed up with the rationing that they still had to endure even though the war had ended 6 years ago therefore this helped the conservative dominance in those years. Another reason as to why labour disunity was to blame for labour dominance was the growing split in the party caused by the Bevanites and Gaitskillites.
The split in the party was due to Gaitskell introducing prescription and dentistry charges. Bevan supported the left wing of the party whereas Gaitskell supported the right wing of the party and followed Attlee in becoming the next leader of labour government. The split led to disunity as Gaitskell didn’t have the full support of the party; his ideas were always going to be argued against. Another reason why the split caused disunity in the labour party was to do with the trade unions. The trade unions were supporting the left wing of the party; this was a problem particularly during the Scarborough conference in 1960.
Frank Cousins was the leader of the one of the most powerful unions, TGWU (transport and general workers) and was an extreme left wing. He led fierce opposition to Gaitskell over Britain’s nuclear weapons. Gaitskell wanted Britain to have nuclear weapons because of the looming threat of Russia, during the cold war; they could wipe out countries at any time. At the party conference in Scarborough Frank Cousins opposed Gaitskell’s leadership over the labour party and in particular nuclear weapons. He challenged Gaitskell over his decision not to refect unilateral disarmament. This caused disunity in the party because it showed to the public how weak the labour party was if a trade union leader, who had no power within the party was able to dictate what they did. It showed to them that someone who was a small minority was able to gather a lot of power. It was humiliation for Gaitskell because it showed he wasn’t able to control what was happening to the party. Also disunity in the party was due to the fact that the left wing of the party was closely associated with CND (campaign for nuclear disarmament). The left wing side of the labour party were in favour of nuclear disarmament and being connected with nuclear disarmament scared many labour supporters. Many people were not in favour of nuclear disarmament as it was at the height of the cold war and they were scared of a nuclear war happening; this link between the CND and the labour party could have led to many voters turning away from the labour party in the 1959 election.
Another reason which could have turned people away from voting for the labour party in the 1959 election was the association of CND being anti-government. Their ‘unilateralism’ became a powerful magnet for anti-government protest in some ways it almost was seen as a substitute for opposition in government. With many labour left-wingers associated with one of the most powerful pressure groups in Britain it made people question the ideas that the labour government had and their ability to run the country. The final reason for a split in labour disunity was clause four. Clause four was the commitment to nationalisation of everything which was a step towards socialism and communism. Gaitskell put forward the idea to abolish this clause and labours commitment to nationalisation to nationalisation. He was impressed with the way Germany had dumped their commitments to Marxist ideas in their party conference in 1959. Many people including the left wing of labour opposed this idea and Gaitskell had to back down from his idea. With events happening in the world connected with socialism and communism, the abolishment of clause four was linked to the ideas of radical socialism which scared people as it was too close to communism for their liking. However it wasn’t just the labour disunity that caused the conservative party to remain dominant. The conservatives had strengths of their own that they used to the best of their ability. When conservatives came into power in 1951 it marked the end of the austerity era and the start of the post war boom. From 1952 most economic indicators pointed upwards with the boom in car ownership, home ownership increased, helped by the easy access to cheap mortgages and food rationing ended completely in 1954.
Harold Macmillan who was then the housing minister fulfilled the election pledge of getting new homes constructed above 300,000 per year. The age of affluence helped keep the conservatives dominant in politics as it meant the public saw that party as the ones who could make a change. Also the conservatives keeping their promises meant the public would respect them. In the run up to the 1955 election Butler was able to boost conservative election prospects with a ‘give-away’ budget. This meant for people in the middle classes would be provided with £134 million in tax cuts. For these middle classes it meant an overwhelming support in favour of the conservatives because of the classes that might not have been able to afford the consumer goods were given a chance to. For the conservatives in the 1955 general election the public mood was what was described as a ‘feel good’ factor. They wanted the continuation of the consumer goods and therefore they would continue to vote for the conservatives as they saw them as the party who would be able to offer them it. Another reason for conservative dominance was that the national press was overwhelmingly in favour with the conservatives. During the 1955 election this helped win support and it also helped during Macmillan’s time as prime minister. Macmillan seemed to have the media in the palm of his hand using the new political opportunities that were provided by the television. With the conservative party gaining wide spread coverage throughout the country and labour not, it meant people knew more about the conservative party. With the national press focusing on the conservatives it gave them enough attention to win the elections crushing labour in every defeat. An important reason for the conservative dominance was the personalities that led the party.
Winston Churchill gained his reputation for leading Britain to victory during the war. However during his post war leadership he was very much absent and Anthony Eden the acting prime minister led the conservatives. Eden was the first prime minister that the public felt they could understand what they wanted. Anthony Eden was said to have ‘represented contemporary manhood.’ This led the public to believe that for the first time after the war they would receive the benefits that they wanted. Eden has also many progressive ideas in domestic affairs however in the end this was his downfall. The Suez crisis split the conservative party and for the first time it looked like they would be weakened and labour would take power however it didn’t. Eden was resigned in 1957 and Harold Macmillan who led the campaign to abort the Suez crisis emerged as prime minister.
He restored the party unity and in the 1959 led the conservatives to another win in the election. Macmillan from 1957 showed his aura of confidence and political mastery. This showed to the public that the politicians and leaders in the party were strong willed and would do anything in their power to protect their country. This gave the conservatives the respect that they needed to go on and win the elections. Overall I think that although the labour party were weak, and this weakness led to the conservatives dominating politics and government; conservative dominance was due to the power that the leaders had. The people saw that this party was able to give them everything they wanted with the age of affluence. Also conservatives made sure that labour supporters would change sides as they gave respect to the labour’s post war consensus. With keeping with the post war consensus it showed to the people they were leaders who knew what they party wanted and not the ageing leaders in the labour party.