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 7 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 but they won 321 seats. From 1955 to 1959 Anthony Eden held the reign of the party and 1959 to 1964 Harold Macmillan was the leader of the part. 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 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 seven years.
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. In 1951 after Clement Attlee stepped down as leader of the position was taken over by Gaitskell. 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to socialism and caused division because the Bevanites wanted to keep its policy but the Gaitskellites found the Claus outdated and wanted a change of policy which was more in time with a changing society and their views.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.
The Conservative leadership as a strength to explaining their political dominance has problems. In 1951, when the Conservatives won their first general election after the Second World War, they then went to dominate a period of time which is labelled as ‘seven wasted years’ or ‘never had it so good’ by historians. 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. 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. 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. He quickly held another election which increased his majority. 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 took nationalised of the canal which was the main export of British oil and then the British and French fought to gain it back but then withdrew making the British forces look weak. Harold Macmillan was best known for his TV appearances, made him victim of many satires. He is best known of his ‘never had it so good speech and also ‘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 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 included the Russian spy scandal and Profumo affair
Douglas Home became leader of the Conservatives because Macmillan selected him using the tory boy network. He didn’t want Butler to succeed him. However this method of selection showed the public that the Conservative were traditionalist. This showed that the Conservative leadership was important because when they had an experienced leader then the public would vote for them.