History-Britain in the 60s-Section 1

Section 1-The political framework, 1959-1964

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Effect of post war prosperity:

  • More jobs available subsequent to WW2
  • More jobs available and virtually no unemployment
  • Post-war boom brought increased trade and exports
  • Population growth of 5% from 1951-1961
  • "state of prosperity"
  • people had "never had it so good" (Macmillan)
  • passed the deprivation of the war people were ready to indulge in leisure
  • this state of affluence was what met the beginning of the 60s


  • The rising income and rampant consumerism led to inflation
  • Macmillan failed to deal effectively with this
  • Instead he was trappes in a cycle of stop-go policies
  • He was forced to hold an election where he posed the question "Is it too good to be true?"
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1959 election and its significance:


  • Labour-"the Prime Minister blandly denies" the existence of British population who are not affected by the new found affluence
  • Conservative-"prosperity and oppurtunity for all", "full employment"
  • Liberal-Conservatives are too much for the upper class while Labour is controlled by the trade unions, they are for everyone

Why Labour lost:

  • Labour was associated with the working-class and did not appeal to the nation as a whole
  • The population was happy with the current nationalism but didn't want more
  • Workers were becoming aspirational voters
  • Labour wanted to prevent the break out of a nuclear war
  • Macmillan was favoured as a leader over Gaitskell
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1959 election and its significance:

Reasons that the Conservatives won the election:

  • Economic boom-unemployment as low as 1.6%
  • Increasing wages
  • People had "never had it so good" (Harold Macmillan)
  • The charismatic leadership of Macmillan
  • After WW2 people felt more prosperous and there was generally a good morale throughout Briatin
  • Lord Butler stated that the Conservatives were successful because Macmillan was "very able and competant" and was "very powerful in the House of Commons"
  • The economic growth meant that the Conservatives could afford to make tax cuts of £350 million in April 1959
  • They used the fact that since their rule economic growth had been 3% each year, wages had risen, inflation remained low and house prices were steady
  • The Conservatives contrasted their rule with the Labour rule subsequent to WW2 where rationing shortages, high inflation and crisis' with international trade were evident problems concerning the government
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1959 election and its significance:

Summary question: How far do problems with the Labour Party explain the outcome of the 1950 general election?

  • Although the Conservative government led the country through a prosperous decade where they had supposedly "never had it so good" (Macmillan), the outcome of the 1959 general election can largely hold the Labour government accountable.
  • Subsequent to the Second World War, the country was faced with rationing, shortages, inflation and problems with international trade and as a result, many people blamed the Labour government. This, additionally, contrasted with the current state of the country that was subconcsiously associated with the Conservatives now.
  • Additionally, the Labour government was associated with the trade unions and working-class and not the nation as a whole. Also, the working-class were now becoming aspirational voters, opting to vote above their social class in order to achieve social mobility. Finally, the government's leader Gaitskell was not favoured over the Conservatives Macmillan.
  • Conclusively, the Labour Party had a considerable impact on the outcome of the 1959 election due to preconceived, unshakeable images they had acquired. However, this was only one contributing factor; the Conservative government's rule had a large influence due to the economic boom and state of prosperity they were living through.
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The Establishment:

The Establishment refers to the small group of individuals who governed Britain. They were all educated at high standing universities such as Eton and Oxbridge and were all firmly upper class. They believed in old Victorian views on how Britain should be and planned to achieve this through the power they acquired through the "old school tie" network.

The leadership of Harold Macmillan:

Harold Macmillan became the leader of the Conservative government after the 1959 election. He was criticised because:

  • He acted as though Britain was still a major world power
  • 35/85 members of the Conservative party were related to Macmillan by marriage
  • Only 2 members were not educated at Eton or Oxbridge
  • This illustrated the close-mindedness of the Conservative leaders and the great emphasis on class
  • The establishment was "riddled with immorality and hypocrisy"
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The Establishment:


  • Macmillan did begin to show signs of change for aristocratic government as he forced the resignation of 7 senior ministers in his cabinet
  • After this he ensured that some of him new appointments came from outside The Establishment

The economy:

  • Although theoretically the country was in the best financial position between 1960 and 1964 it was trapped in a cycle of stop-go policies
  • A National Economic Development Council (NEDC) was created, responsible for organising long-term solutions to the economic problem
  • Additionally, Macmillan organised the application to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in the hope that it would be econically and socially beneficial
  • Although British entry was vetoed, the gesture was there which reassured the population that Macmillan was a man of action who had the ability to help the countries economy
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The Establishment:

The Profumo affair:

Christine Keeler, a "long-legged, dark-haired beauty", was declared missing in 1963. Simultaneously, John Profumo offered his resignation to the Prime Minister for "personal reasons". There was no coincidence here. Apart from Edgecombe and Ward, Profumo was also a former lover of Keeler. The Conservative government's reputation as a well respected establishment was in tatters. This was fuelled majorly by the media. Although they could not explicitly accuse them of an affair they made it clear what was happening. Christine Keeler herself used this as an oppurtunity to sell her story and make money whilst the satirical programme, "That Was The Week That Was", produced a parody, mocking the situation

Labour used this downfall to climb 20% in the opinion polls. Macmillan did little more than trust the wrong person yet in the climate of the early 60s that was crime enough. The Conservatives fall in opinion polls was influenced by the Profumo affair however it was also affected by the government's previous economic policies of 1961-2 that froze pay rises. The majorities were handed to Liberals and then Labour however by October 1963 the economic situation was improving and Labour's lead decreased.

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The Establishment:


  • Time of the Cold War
  • A time of a desperate fear of communism
  • The USSR had built the Berlin Wall in 1961
  • In 1962 the Cuban missile crisis brought that world close to extinction in nuclear war
  • In Britain, revelations of British officials acting as Russian spies spread fear and scepticism among many: George Blake was giving a 42-year sentance for spy charges whilst John Vassall was jailed for 18 years for being blackmailed into spying for Russians due to his indulgence in illegal homosexual activities.
  • Additionally, Kim Philby, the former head of the Soviet section of Britain's secret intelligence service, was revealed to have been working for the USSR for many years

All this humiliation and doubt that the government and public must have felt meant that any scandal was considered betrayal and was treated seriously

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The Establishment:

The leadership of Sir Alec Douglas-Home:

  • Macmillan appointed him with no chance for a general election
  • He represented everything that The Estblishment stood for which was currently being satirized by the media and in literature
  • His cabinet consisted of 23 members, 10 of which were old Estonians and just 3 had not been to public schools

Successes of Alec Douglas-Home:

  • shopkeepers had to sell goods at a price set by the retailer
  • pushed economy into a "go" phase by lowering the bank rate to encourage consumerism
  • Britain's growth rate rose from 4% in 1963 to 6% in 1964
  • Exports rose to 10% however imports remained about 20% higher

By 1964 the Conservatives were under attack by Labour for their outdated class system and mismanagement of the economy

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The Establishment:

The end to the Conservative rule:

  • The middle-class Harold Wilson represented everything the Conservatives didn't
  • He represented the working man and illustrated this by using a pipe and voicing his love for tinned salmon
  • Although there were some ambitious middle-class members in the Conservative party they were still uncomfortable with the way in which Alec Douglas-Home was appointed their leader. From now on any new Prime Minister must be appointed by the whole parliamentary committee
  • Considering the wide-spread discontent with the current Conservative government the 1964 election was close, with Labout winning by a fraction
  • This did not only see the end to the Conservative rule it represented the end to what it sybolised
  • This death of the old-style government had seemed to have been confirmed in 1965 when the Conservatives replaces Douglass-Home with middle-class Edward Heath
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Mac Shakib

Very Concise and useful, thankyou Daisy


This is really helpful! Thanks very much :)

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