How far was the strength of Conservative leadership the main reason for their political dominance of the period 1951-1964?
From 1951 to 1964 the Conservative government won 3 general elections and spent 13 years in power. From 1951 to 1955 Winston Churchill was the leader of the Conservative party despite getting 48% of votes to Labours 40.8% in the general election they won 321 seats getting a majority of . From 1955 to 1959 Anthony Eden held the reign of the party. In the 1955 general election he won the conservatives and 1959 to 1964 Harold Macmillan was the leader of the party. All these leaders became Prime Minister. The Conservative run ended when Douglas Home became the leader of the party and lost his election to Harold Wilson on the Labour party. The Conservatives won their first general election after the Second World War, they then went to dominate a period of time which historians debate as ‘thirteen wasted years’ or ‘never had it so good’.The factor of strong Conservative leadership strength is important when discussing why they were politically dominating but there are other factors which we can also judge as potential main reasons for why they were in power for thirteen years.
The Conservative leadership as a strength to explaining their political dominance has problems. In 1951, Churchill led the party and was very favourable with the public because he was a key individual who helped in the efforts to win the Second World War link to 1951 election. He had a supportive cabinet which included R.A Butler (chancellor and deputy Prime Minister), a key figure helping Churchill when he was ill. This may have made Churchill look more like a figurehead than an efficient leader. Churchill retired in 1955 because he was getting old and frail as he had taken the position of Prime Minister for the second time when he was 77 (CUT). He was a traditionalist and had a forward thinking mind who only saw his ideas as the right step which showed how out of touch he was with the British public and their opinions. Another leader who showed that the Conservative where dominating British politics was Anthony Eden who was Churchill’s successor in 1955. Eden was a much younger politician and attractive which was a contrast to the previous leader, this allowed him to gain a lot of support from younger voters and especially women who were charmed by him. A couple of weeks after being Conservative leader he won his first general election and became Prime Minister gaining a 60 seat majority by winning 345 seats.. However his service as Prime Minister was short lived. His reputation perished from his actions of the Suez crisis and also tarnished the reputation of Britain, making the once powerful empire now look expendable. The Suez crisis started when Nasser nationalised the canal which was the main route of export of British oil and route to India and when the British and French fought to gain it back they were forced to withdraw making the British forces look weak. The humiliation was too much for Eden and he resigned in January 1957. Harold Macmillan was the next conservative leader and he was best known for his TV appearances which made him victim of many satires and also for his ‘never had it so good speech and ‘wind of change’ which mentioned the loss of the British Empire but he attempted to convince many that Britain would soon recover and leave its period of post war austerity. However his term ended on a negative which brought scandals to the media’s attention. Coverage of Conservative scandals came out between 1960-64 which damaged the reputation of the party which swayed the public opinion to them not supporting the Conservatives because they were being dishonest and deceitful, this his included the Russian spy scandal and Profumo affair. These affairs showed that Macmillan couldn’t control his party and didn’t have impenetrable measures to prevent what was a major threat to national security. Another event which caused controversy during Macmillan term was ‘the night of long knives’ in which he replaced 6 of his cabinet members, this angered many politician and implied that he was acting in panic in order to show voters that the conservatives weren’t an old party. He resigned due to these issues in This lead to consequences in 1963 when Douglas Home became the leader of the Conservative party. He was selected in by Macmillan using the Tory Boy Network which showed that the old values still existed which emphasised the difference between the politicians and the public. The party looked traditionalist which is supported by the general election results of 1964 where the Conservatives won 12.M votes but Labour just managed to gain 12.2M votes and secure a small 4 seat majority. However conservative leadership factor is a weaker reason to explain why the Conservatives were dominating British politics between 1951-64, labour division can be seen as a stronger reason because even though conservative leadership showed weaknesses people would choose a party that is clear in their aims and manifestos even if there is a weak leader instead of a party with no clear agenda and progress. REVISIT! – not a narrative.
It could be argued that the weakness of the Labour party unity was the main strength for the Conservative party which allowed their political dominance between 1951-64.. The most notable divisions of the Labour party was the struggle between the Bevanites (fundamentalists) and Gaitskellites (revisionists). Bevan was influenced by marxist ideology and supported the left of the party who believed that Britain should be a socialist nation with state control. State control is government control in industry such as the nationalisation of iron and coal mines. They also believed that unions should have more power and influence of the development of the party which is a potential factor which allowed the trade unions grow in power. On the other hand, the Gaitskellites believed that Labour was in desperate need of modernisation so disliked unnecessary state control. Another issue which split the Labour party was the nuclear policy. The left of the party wanted nuclear disarmament so the money which was saved could be used on social reforms instead of weapons. Clause IV was another issue which the party couldn’t agree on. Clause IV was a part of the Labour Party Constitution which was a statement of the party’s commitment to socialism and caused division because the Bevanites wanted to keep its policy but the Gaitskellites found the Claus outdated and wanted a change of policy which was more in time with a changing society and their views. The uncertainty of the Labour unity isolated the public from the party. If the party was internally divided it would mean that there would be conflicts of interest so the ability to create an effective, promising manifesto would be highly unlikely. In the 1959 general election the Labour party was viewed as disorganised and inefficient. The public opinion was that Labour was out of date. These issues allowed the Conservative party look more established and compared to the Labour party their internal problems were hidden to the public. WHY did LABOUR win the 1964 ELECTION?- refer to the 1955, 57 elections too.