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Huw Thomas 13DT

Labour Party divisions and inability to present a viable alternative to Conservative rule accounts for the political dominance of the Conservative Party between 1951 and 1964. Assess the validity of this view (45)
Historically, the Conservative Party dominated the British political scene between 1951 and 1964 due to a plethora of reasons. Initially, historians such as Rowe uphold the opinion that the primary reason for this supremacy was the magnitude of Labours infighting and their inability to present a viable alternative to the electorate. Contrariwise, other political historians such as Lynch assert that the talent and policies of leading Conservative figures, such as Butler, Eden and Macmillan contributed more to Conservative dominance. Alternatively, many social historians agree that the Conservatives were fortunate that the economic climate was prosperous throughout the 1950s due to the post-war boom; an era that many economists refer to as the, Age of Affluence. In summation, this essay will assess the reasons why the Conservative Party subjugated British politics between 1951 and 1964. Initially, political historians agree that the exemplifying reason for Conservative dominance between 1951 and 1964 was because there were severe divisions within the Labour Party over the role and purpose of its politics. Moreover, Rowe upholds the opinion that the contrasting views between left wing politicians and those immersed in centre/right wing ideologies, was the most important reason for the Conservative dominance of 1951-64. Indeed, political analysts agree that the Labour left, who argued that Labour, with its unassailable majority, was in a position to bring about a genuine transformation of British society. A significant number of Labour MPs, some of whom were Marxists were strongly sympathetic towards the Soviet Union, criticised Attlees administration for throwing away the opportunity to bring around complete socialist reforms. Indeed, Rowe highlights that throughout the 1950s, there was a division over role and nature of the Party. Those on the left believed that Labour should represent a truly socialist Party and argued for a greater commitment to state control of the economy and society. They believed that they should govern outside of capitalism and achieve full economic ad social equality in Britain. Those in the centre or the right of the Party thought that Labour should work within the confines of capitalism and nationalising the main industries and distributing the wealth more equally around Britain, via a welfare system. This identity crisis discouraged voters, as they were unsure what the Labour Party actually represented and voted Conservative instead. Moreover, Rowe asserts that another accusation from left-wing critics was that, by borrowing heavily from the USA in order to meet its financial difficulties, Attlees government lost its freedom of action in foreign policy. Dependent on American loans, Britain found itself locked into a lasting Cold War hostility towards the Soviet Union. Moreover, the role and position of the Labour Party in British Politics was further questioned as writers such as Corelli Barnett provide evidence that many centre/right wing politicians criticised Attlees administration for, doing too much. In addition, Barnett argues that Britain made a priority not of industrial recovery but of social welfare. However, welfare was costly and Britain, being practically bankrupt at the end of the war, had to borrow heavily to fund it. Due to these financial burdens, Barnett highlights that Britain achieved only low economic growth and compares Britains financial woes to those of West Germany, a nation that delayed its welfare state until it had achieved industrial recovery. Another key example of Labours infighting was Britains entry into the Korean War in

Huw Thomas 13DT 1950, which angered Labours left wing; they argued that, although technically British forces fought as part of a United Nations force, in reality the Labour government sheepishly followed the USA in a Cold War engagement. In summation, the political infighting over the role and nature of the Party contributed greatly to the Conservative dominance and this is proved in latter years due to Labours defeat in the 1959 election. Contrariwise, Lynch argues that there were other reasons for the Conservative ascendancy such as the re-organisation of the Conservative Party under Lord Woolton and R.A Butler, inevitably forming a more efficient political machine that could function more effectively at local and national levels. With this increased efficiency, the Conservatives were seen to be more, in touch, with the electorate, offering appealing policies and a viable alternative to the exhausted strategies of the previous Labour government, further contributing to the Conservative dominance of this era. Alternatively, there are other historians, including the likes of Pugh that believe the political supremacy of the Conservative Party was not solely due to their attractive policies but more to do with the prosperous economic environment of the time. Indeed, economists agree that the year 1951 saw the beginning of economic growth with the end of austerity and the long post war boom. However, more importantly, from 1952 onwards, the, Age of Affluence, saw an increase in living standards, mens wages, private savings, car and ownership due to the availability of credit. This increased the disposable incomes of many low-income families and allowed them to purchase more consumer goods and services, inevitably increasing the productivity capacity of the United Kingdoms economy. Secondly, Rowe agrees that divisions within the Labour Party did play an important role in Conservative dominance as infighting between the Bevanites and Gaitskellites over NHS prescription split the Labour Party, ensuring Conservative dominance as Labour failed to provide a viable alternative to the electorate. Historians agree that political infighting occurred when the Labour government backtracked on its electoral promise to provide free healthcare and introduced prescription charges, as well as charges on dental treatment and the provision of spectacles. Rowe asserts that this move resulted in the resignation of Anuerin Bevan, the man who had constructed the NHS, but more importantly, formed a formidable opposition to the Gaitskellites as they protested that the charges contravened the founding principle that the NHS should be free to all at the point of treatment. However, other historians suggest that there were other reasons for the Conservative dominance, including the conversion of the Conservative Party to welfarism. Lynch asserts that the Conservatives recognised the extent of public approval for the legacy of the Attlee governments and as a result, were viewed as, in touch, with the electorate. In addition to their appealing policies, the popularity and talent of leading Conservative figures such as Churchill, Eden, Butler and Macmillan further contributed to the Conservative ascendancy of this era as the Party as they were able to persuade mass amounts of voters as they exuded charisma and political flair. Alongside popular figures and policies, the Conservatives were politically dominant throughout this era as they met a great number of their electoral promises, most notably, with the building of 300,000 new residential homes and an ending to rationing. Both electoral promises improved the social and economic conditions of some of Britains most deprived families and allowed them to escape the depths of poverty. Contrariwise, historians such as Marr believe otherwise and uphold the opinion that Conservative dominance stems directly to the, Age of Affluence, as the majority of voters were happy with a rise in living standards and directly affiliated this, feel good factor, with the workings of the Conservative Party. As a result of the prosperous economic conditions,

Huw Thomas 13DT economists agree that there was a surge in the ownership of consumer goods such as TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, and new furniture bought on credit. In summation, Marr suggests that the Conservatives association with this era of prosperous economic growth was one of the main reasons for Conservative dominance as voters were willing to support the Party in return for greater economic prospects and the ability to purchase higher quality consumer goods.

Furthermore, Rowe agrees that divisions within the Labour Party did play a significant role in Conservative dominance because political cracks remained within the Party, including infighting between the Gaitskellites and the Bevanites. Political historians agree that after 1955, when Gaitskell was appointed Labour leader, conflicts within the Party intensified, assuring Conservative supremacy as Labour failed to provide a viable alternative to the electorate. Indeed, Rowe highlights that in 1957, Bevanites and Gaitskellites publically quarrelled over unilateral disarmament and association with the violent CND. During these years, the CND faced significant political challenges. Many CND supporters were Labour Party members and when CNDs unilateral line gained majority backing within the Party, it provoked a violent reaction from the leadership. Additionally, there had also been internal arguments about whether it was ever legitimate to break the law. Supporters of non-violent direct action (NVDA) wanted the campaign to include mass civil disobedience actions such as sit-ins and blockades. Moreover, in 1961, Rowe states that Labour had a very public split about membership of the EEC as many in the Party believed that Britain should join and take advantage of the economic opportunities provided by membership. However, political historians further suggest that other politicians were against the idea as they viewed it as a loss of sovereignty and control of British Affairs. Again, public disagreements did not present Labour as an attractive alternative to the Conservatives and contributed greatly to their defeat in 1959. In stark contrast, Lynch upholds the opinion that there were other reasons for the Conservative subjugation during the latter years of the 1950s, including the remarkable talent and leadership of former Conservative leaders such as Eden and Macmillan, alongside key personalities such as Boyle, Mcacloed and Butler. Indeed, Edens progressive policies, from 1955 onwards, of a property owning democracy and industrial partnership appealed to the public. Although the Suez Canal crisis hampered the reputation of the Conservative Party and led to the resignation of Anthony Eden, true direction was shown as Macmillan, a very talented politician was appointed Prime Minister in 1957 and used his abilities to repair the image of the Conservative Party after the Suez crisis. Additionally, Rowe suggests that during the years 1956-57, Labour were still embroiled in their own Party divisions to take advantage of Edens Suez fiasco. Under the leadership of Harold Macmillan, the British economy saw continued prosperity and affluence, keeping the voters contented with Conservative rule. Lynch highlights the most significant economic strategy used by the Conservatives was the granting of 134 million pounds in tax cuts before the General Election in 1955, once again used with equal success before the 1959 election, in which the Conservative government granted tax cuts of over 370 million pounds. These effective strategies were in tune with the electoral opinion and were timed masterfully as many voters were attracted by the prospects of massive tax cuts, inevitably adding to the success of the Conservative Party during this era. Alternatively, historians such as Marr come to the consensus that there were other reasons for Conservative dominance such as the long post-war boom that continued to see a rise in living standards and disposable incomes, inexorably resulting in a continuous increase in consumer prosperity which kept voters content and aided Macmillan to a resounding election victory in 1959. Furthermore, economic historians assert that

Huw Thomas 13DT affluence was still spreading, even in 1959, and Macmillans administration were associated with this, further contributing to their success between the years 1951-1964.

Conclusively, there are a magnitude of reasons that suggest that it was Labours political rifts, such as the infighting between Bevanites and Gaitskellites over prescription charges, alongside conflicting views between the Labour left and centre/right-wing politicians over the role and nature of the Party that ultimately led to Labours inability to provide a viable alternative to the electorate. However, historians such as Lynch postulate that the Conservative supremacy between the years 1951-64 was because the Conservatives offered attractive economic and social policies, which were in tune with public opinion. Additionally, the outstanding abilities of key Conservative figures such as Churchill and Macmillan, to spearhead the Party in the direction of success in British Politics was vital in the Conservative ascendency of this era. Alternatively, economic historians such as Marr uphold the opinion that the prosperous economic environment provided a solid fundamental voting base for the Conservatives as they were directly associated by the electorate for increases in living standards and disposable incomes, as well as the overwhelming ability to purchase consumer credits due to the availability of credit.