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UK Politics 1951 - 2007

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Ossie Fikret

on 2 June 2013

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Transcript of UK Politics 1951 - 2007

1951 - 1957, Conservative Dominance
Labour won the largest proportion of the vote it ever received (48.8% to Cons. 48%) but only achieved 295 seats (Cons. 321).
Why did they win? 1. After the shock defeat of 1945 the Conservatives re-arranged the party machine. 2. Labour was divided (Bevanites and Gaitskellites). 3. End of austerity in 1951. 4. Conservatives recognised the extent of public approval for Labour policies.
Conservatives not willing to reverse majority of nationalisations (excepting steel and road transportation), or the NHS or welfare state.
1930s and WW2 had made people accustomed to state planning and intervention. So much so that the conservatives (One Nation tories) supported the role of 'big government'.
Conservative majority was slim. UK Politics 1951 - 2007 Churchill, 1951 - 55
Churchill was an 'absentee-PM'. He suffered a stoke in 1953.
Limited on the domestic front, saw himself as more international statesman.
Day-to-day issues left to acting PM, Anthony Eden. The 1955 election
Cons: Anthony Eden (49.7%/345 seats); Lab: Clement Attlee (46.4%/277 seats)
Press favourable to the Tories, rising living standards, relaxed campaign.
Conservative victory. Clement Attlee resigns, Gaitskell elected Labour leader. Anthony Eden, PM 1955 - 1957
Hopes for Eden, representing a real post-war conservative leader.
Progressive in domestic affairs, believed in a property owning democracy (Harold Macmillan as Housing Minister had created 300,000 houses per annum) and good industrial relations.
Suez Crisis, 1956 - despite all his foreign policy experience.
Lied to the House of Commons about collusion with the French and Israelis.
Divisions within the party (Chief Whip, Ted Heath was anti-Suez).
Amplified UK's post-war weakness: run on the pound.
Resigned in 1957 due to ill-health and was replaced by 'Supermac', Harold Macmillan. Harold Macmillan, PM 1957 - 1963
Conservatives had no means of choosing new leader.
Macmillan chosen over Rab Butler because of his support within the rank and file of the party and the lack of enemies.
Macmillan was very effective (i.e. as Housing Minister).
More of a showman than Butler. Butler had minimal support within the Cabinet and on the back benches, and was 'too clever by half'.
Of note: Suez had minimal impact upon Conservative dominance at home. Conservative dominance, 1957 - 1962
Age of affluence, 'never had it so good'.
Macmillan very confident and a master of his own political agenda for five years. Press were very supportive.
Labour Party was divided.
Considered by one journalist was one of the most left-wing PM's the UK had during this period (1951 - 1979).
Cabinet was in-touch with the public's mood at the time - all were very efficient.
In 1959 he called an election and was returned with a 100 seat majority.
There were domestic difficulties at the time - mainly economic (see other slides): stop-go economics, 1957 run on the £. The Labour Party, 1957 - 1963 In the 1950s many Labour activists believed they would soon be returned to power.
But there were deep internal problems, which had escalated in 1950s. Bevan resigned from Gov't in 1951, opposed to Gaitskell's prescription charges.
Gaitskell was leader from 1955 onwards - on the attack during Suez.
Labour was confident in the 1959 election, however the party was bitterly disappointed with the result and the splits came back to the surface from two sources: 1. Opposition to party leadership from TUs. 2. Divisions over atomic bomb (CND formed in 1958 - 'unilateralism').
1960 'fight and fight again to save the party we love' - after losing nuclear disarmament vote.
1959 attempted to reform Clause IV for the labour Party - abolish it.
Modernise along the lines adopted in Germany: SDP removed Marxist elements.
In UK opposition from TUs and Labour left.
Gaitskell backed down.
He died suddenly in 1963. Harold Wilson then became leader. The end of Conservative dominance, 1962 - 1964
'Events dear boy, events'.
Macmillan's hold over the gov't weakened - economic issues again (stop-go, EEC, IMF loan, etc...)
Balance of power between two parties was shifting.
Night of the long-knives, 1962 - instead of re-energising the party, it actually weakened it.
French veto humiliating.
Profumo Affair! Macmillan old and out of touch.
Macmillan believed he was terminally ill and so resigned.
Compromise candidate (not Butler or Lord Hailsham) - Lord Home (Sir Douglas Home, once his peerage was renounced).
Conservatives out of touch? The 1964 general election
Close, Labour majority only 3 seats (44.1%/317 seats)!
Despite scandals of Conservative gov't; power vacuum following resignation of Macmillan; Wilson was an able communicator, but long-winded; split between Gaitskellites and Bevanites over; 'Thirteen years of tory misrule'.
Liberal revival: tipped the balance in favour of Labour (they doubled their share of the vote). Labour in government, 1964 - 1970
Goals were lofty ('white heat of technology') but the economy got in the way.
Devaluation of 1967 and lagged behind conservatives in the polls from 1966 - 1970.
Comprehensive schools, Open University, liberal laws on abortion/homosexuality and capital punishment.
New Department of Technology.
Economic policy was unsuccessful initially - balance of payments problems inherited.
Election called in 1966 to overcome small majority: 47.9% received = 363 seats (98 seat majority, largest since Clement Attlee). Easily beat the stiff Ted Heath.
Despite the victory Wilson was still not very confident - relied more upon a 'kitchen cabinet' than the real thing.
Difficulties with the TUs and economy were its undoing (see other slides).
By 1970 Roy Jenkins, Chancellor, was credited with creating a balance of payments surplus and resolving some of the underlying problems in the economy. The decline of one-nation Conservatives, 1970 - 75 Claimed not to be surprised by his own election in 1970.
Had been Leader of the Opposition for five years, longer than any Conservative Leader except for Churchill.
Stiff and prickly, unlike Wilson.
Divisions beneath the surface within Cabinet - especially on economic policy: Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher.
Heath spent time whilst in opposition planning for government. This inbcluding industrial relations and economic modernisation, both of which would be aided by EEC membership.
Meeting at Selsdon, to approve Heath's proposals, resulted in a number of tough economic aims (led by Keith Joseph): incl letting businesses go bust.
Undermined by 1972 U-Turn: aid state industries, incl Rolls Royce, in order to maintain full employment.
Weakened - but Heath still part of the post-war consensus. Full employment crucial, one-nation toryism.
1972 Negotiations for entry in EEC were relatively straightforward - problems were parliamentary approval (some Tory doubters, Labour split: Wilson promised a referendum).
1973 OPEC oil hike and 1974 miners' strike.
Serious problems in N Ireland - political solution of Sunningdale Agreement failed - distracted by economic and political crisis at home (early 1969/70 Wilson Gov't had sent in British Army to keep the peace).
The 1974 elections 'Who governs Britain?' - not Ted Heath.
The result was, although, very inconclusive - there was sympathy for the government.
Hung parliament = reinforces political and economic crisis (compare with now).
Labour the largest party by five seats (37.1%/301 seats).
Liberal party continued to grow. Heath attempted to make a deal but failed. The result was that Labour had been returned to power.
This election saw the rise in regional parties (Unionists as distinct from Conservatives, rise of Scottish National Party).

Labour 1974 - 1979 Labour was very limited in what they could do in 1974 - dependent upon other parties.
Economic situation was very weak, Labour more divided than ever.
Abolished the Industrial Relations Act - sign that the government did not want to fight.
Two budgets, by Denis Healey, (March and July) tried to avoid confrontation with the TUs.
By October 1974 Wilson felt strong enough to call an election (returned with 319 seats/39.2%) - majority of 3.
Conservatives still associated with TU weakness and a three-day working week.
Main aims: self-preservation and avoidance of conflicts.
EEC referendum in 1975 (17million yes / 8 million no).
1975 - 9: slow decline of party unity: government in a weak position, inflation was high (20%), wage settlements unsustainable.
Divisions on the fault line of party (right: Healey/leadership and left: Foot/Benn).
Sunny Jim Callaghan as a safe pair of hands.
UK to IMF (loan).
Devolution debate - Conservatives against it (Scots referendum did not reach the required support level).
1979: Winter of Discontent, Thatcher triumphs. Labour in Opposition 1979 - 1997 1979 - 1992 Internal divisions boiled over - descended into its worst crisis since 1931. Press coverage was almost universally hostile.
Labour vote split, some became Thatcher Conservatives, others joined the Liberals. Anti-Conservative vote was no-longer Labour's.
Social Democratic Party formed in 1981.
In 1983 Labour's share of the vote plunged to 27%.
Demographic change reinforced this shift. Labour in terminal decline?
SDP 'Gang of Four' - Owen, Jenkins, Williams, Rodgers.
Did not believe there was a point fighting the Bennite wing of the Labour party internally, better to attempt a realignment from outside.
Militant Tendency, deselection of Labour moderate Dick Tavern.
Early attempts to stop the drift were carried out by the Manifesto Group.
Obvious candidate to succeed Callaghan in 1980 was Healey, but he was beaten by Foot (CND/Bevanite).
Healey narrowly beat Benn in the contest for Deputy Leader.
Conference in Wembley in 1981 confirmed the need for moderates to leave.
John Major 1990 - 1997 Surprise to Major, and the Conservatives, when he succeeded Margaret Thatcher.
Honeymoon effect, jumped ahead in the polls.
Major called for party unity - maintained big characters within Cabinet (Clarke, Hurd).
Wanted to place UK at heart of Europe.
Maastrict Treaty - big dividing point - opt outs from single currency and social chapter.
Poll tax abandoned, after delay, for the Council Tax.
Election of 1992 - looked unfavourable to the Conservatives.
Kinnock had restored party unity, John Smith had made Labour look competent on the economy. Margin for Tories was quite large (336/271 Labour) when you consider how close polling was predicting it to be.
Kinnock was welcomed as a victor before having had the victory... Conservatives ran a solid campaign - Major won support for his 'soapbox politics'.
Memories of the 1980s still very strong.
Black Wednesday (1992, post-election).
Divisions within the Conservative Party - EU, weakness of major.
Much success however on N. Ireland.
Sabotage (rebel MPs attempted to block Maastricht, authority damaged, 1995 leadership election - gamble, but very weak - John Redwood), sleaze (in contrast to 'back to basics approach) and satire (easy to spoof) - prescence of Thatcher also undermined him - back seat driver. New Labour in Opposition and Government New Labour as undermining extremism of the party in 1980s.
Attract Middle England votes - the 'Blair project'.
Kinnock went a long way to dragging the party back to the centre ground - took on Bennites. John Smith seen as economically competent, especially in light of Black Wednesday.
Shift away from TU block to one member, one vote.
Abolition of Clause IV - outdated.
Party unity high - Gordon Brown united with Blair at this point.
Focused upon opinion polls (Philip Gould). Good relationship with the press (Alastair Campbell).
The 1997 election: no government lasts forvever - natural that Conservatives would leave power eventually. Conservative safe seats not safe (Hove, Portillo).
Conservatives were reduced to a rump of their formerselves - 31% of the vote and 165 seats.
Conservatives damaged by internal divisions; Tory sleaze an issue (Martin Bell v Neil Hamilton), Referendum Party drew votes from tories, economic situation had improved, national papers support for Labour, Labour a formidable fighting force, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown's economic competence (stick to Tory spending plans), widespread tactical voting.
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