The Return of the Conservatives: 1951-56

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The return of Churchill! 26th October 1951

  • Churchill was, at 77, 9 years older than Attlee. Described as a Maverick! 
  • "Consensus Prime Minister"- accepting of the Welfare State, the need for a massive house-building programme, conciliation not confrontation with the trade unions, and even a large nationalised segment of the economy.
  • Appointed notable liberal tories, such as Clement Davies, to join his cabinet.
  • Doctor= Lord Moran, Secretary= John Colville
  • Foreign Secretary= Anthony Eden
  • Richard Austen Butler (RAB)- Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Harold Macmillan= Minister of Housing
  • Junior Ministers- Reginald Maudling, Edward Heath, Edward Boyle + Enoch Powell~ all beginning to climb the "greasy pole".
  • Consensus Politics- attitude to industrial relations and the trade unions. Churchill- wanted to avoid the impression of "union bashing". No use of troops to break unofficial strikes- Attlee had done so in 1949.
  • Sir Walter Monckton= Minister of Labour
  • Early stages of "the British disease"- low productivity growth, poor industrial relations, and wage demands above the level of economic growth- leading to inflation.
  • Powerful trade unions resisted technological innovations in a desire to protect jobs and existing work practices.
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Conservative continuation

  • Without an incomes policy (control the rise in incomes and salaries), there was bound to be a result of inflation.
  • The Welfare State- Safe in Tory hands. New Minister of Health= Ian Macleod- not inclined to alter Bevan's work.
  • Macleod- Tried to get more hospital funding- recognised the need for modernisation, BUT housing prioritised.
  • Bevan was initially suspicous, but then became friends... the two became PAIRED
  • 1950 conference- pledge to build 300,000 new houses a year- a target not met by the Attlee government. Macmillan acquired an excellent team to assist him. Evelyn Sharp- his senior civil servant. Ernest Marples- Junior minister.
  • 1952-53, achieved + succeeded housing goal. Reduced the high standards set under Bevan. Increase in building for private sale, but 80% still built by local authorities.
  • No great attempt to roll back the state and privatise industries. Iron + Steel largely de-nationalised in 1953 and road haulage returned to private lands with the break-up of British Road Services. However if 2 areas passed out of direct state control, one important new one moved into it, with the setting up of the Atomic Energy Authority in 1954, to manage and control the new technology of atomic power.
  • Education policy remained essentially the same, as laid down by the Education Act of 1944 by Butler.
  • Bot the Labour and Conservative party ignored the acts intention to create a Tripartite system.
  • Minister of EducationFlorence Horsbrough- disgusted Churchill eiyh concern over saving money in odd areas of the education budget. Plain minister- disappointing nature.
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Butler at the Treasury

  • BUTLER AT THE TREASURY 1951-1955
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer= R.A Butler- "Butskellism"
  • "Butskellism" suggested the similarities between the Gaitskell and himself. (The Economist, 1954)
  • Butler inherited the same difficulties, as did Dalton, Cripps, and Gaitskell.
  • Balance of Payments situation- Korean War outbreak had led exports to the USA to fall, as world commodity prices were raised.
  • Result... DOLLAR GAP+ a run on Britain's reserves to pay for imports. Reserves were never substantial, however  if the terms of trade moved against Britain.
  • Defence Committments drained money from the UK. Butler responded with IMPORT CONTROLS and CUTTING TRAVEL ALLOWANCES to £50. The Bank Rate was also raised. 
  • January 1952- tried to go further by cutting timber imports, but this cut across Macmillan's housing drive, and Butler lost the fight in Cabinet. Then came up with the idea to let the £ float, and not have a fixed exchange rate.
  • This was an attempt to escape from the constant cycle of balance of payment crises and the threat of devaluation. Once again, this was defeated in Cabinet as it was feared it would damage all those Commonwealth countries who maintained 'sterling balances'.
  • The scheme turned out to be unnecessary. Terms of trade swung in Britain's favour- fall in commodity prices + surge in exports to the USA. British reserves rose.
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Butler at the Treasury pt 2

  • By 1953, Butler cut both income tax and purchase tax. He could do this due to the currency reserves clearly being in a healthier state. Despite the cut, the standard rate of income tax remained at 45%. Butler appeared to be a well-considered future-leader.
  • Reputation remained high throughout 1954- rather dull but responsible Budget that year.
  • By 1955- signs that a boom was sucking in too many imports and wage demands were fuelling inflation. A Balance of Payments crisis loomed. Difficult position for Butler; a budget which raised taxes = unpopular + unacceptable with an election likely.Short term option taken= cuts  in Income tax and purchase tax. Contributed to election victory in MAY 1955.
  • Churchill resigns in APRIL 1955.
  • October 1955- Had to return with another budget- raising tax on household items- "Pots and Pans" budget.
  • December 1955- Eden reshuffled his cabinet- Butler's rival Macmillan moved to the Treasury, and Butler became Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal, but deprived him of a big department to run.
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The Labour Party in Opposition 1951-56

Labour Party- Attlee, backed with the powerful figure of Ernie Bevin, had held the party together. 

Bevin, through his grip on the most powerful trade union, the Transport and General Workers Union, now under his ex-deputy, Arthur Deakin, delivered the block vote- (Union leader decides how every union member would vote) Deakin and the leaders of the other giant unions supported the right of the party, hating Communists and fellow travellers, against whom they had battled in their unions throughout the 1930s. These Union bosses brought thier attitude of union discipline into politics; Bevin had famously ordered a group of striking dockers back to work. The rebbelion of the Bevanites in 1951 outraged Deakin and the union leadership, and, with Herbert Morrison, sought the Bevanites' expulsion from the party. Only Attlee prevented this. Attlee saw Bevan as a most suitable successor if only he learnt self-control/discipline.

  • Attlee, Morrison and Gaitskell controlled the party through the Trade Union block vote, but the Bevanites increasingly won places on the National Executive Committee (NEC) through the votes of the party members. They were always a minority on the NEC, but they did appear to enjoy the support of the party activists. Bevanites pressed for more nationalisation and more neutral foreign policy. Appearance of divisions/ weakness. Voting for the safe Mr Attlee, or the dangerous Nye Bevan?
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The Premiership of Eden, 1955-1957

  • Churchill resigned in April 1955. Had doubts about Eden who's experience was almost totally in foreign affairs + he was not well.( Operation in 1953)
  • Eden= highly strung, uncontrollable private rages, but excellent in public. Robert Rhode James gave accounts of Eden. He served as a clerk in the HoC, so knew what he was talking about.
  • General Election- 26th May 1955
  • 3 days after Butler's popular Budget- hoped to increase Conservative majority. Labour was badly damaged- split between the right wing (Morrison/Gaitskell) and the left (Bevanite)
  • TORY TRIUMPH- in theory, opened up a bright future for Eden- comfortable majority and a weak opposition.
  • BUT- Eden knew little of domestic issues, was heavily reliant on Butler, was highly strung and inclined to fuss, reshuffle- relatively junior Selwyn Lloyd was made Foreign Minister- someone who Eden could dominate.
  • By early 1956- growing campaign amongst Conservative backbenchers that Eden must go.
  • 1956- Suez Crisis- Nasser nationalised Suez Canal in July, but British military was not ready to fight in July. US hostility to military action. Secret deal- Israel, France and Britain made. Israel attacked Egypt on 29th October 1956. Butler and Macmillan were left to negotiate a deal with the USA. A loan was forthcoming but the price was a humiliating withdrawal from Egypt.
  • The crisis had little lasting impact on the British Government. It damaged Eden's reputation as a worlds statesman. It exposed that nothing could be undertaken without the USA's backing. Eden's successor, Harold Macmillan rekindled friendship with the US- Eisenhower + increased Conservative majority in 1959 election.
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The Premiership of Eden, 1955- Jan 9th 1957

  • Churchill resigned in April 1955. Had doubts about Eden who's experience was almost totally in foreign affairs + he was not well.( Operation in 1953)
  • Eden= highly strung, uncontrollable private rages, but excellent in public. Robert Rhode James gave accounts of Eden. He served as a clerk in the HoC, so knew what he was talking about.
  • General Election- 26th May 1955
  • 3 days after Butler's popular Budget- hoped to increase Conservative majority. Labour was badly damaged- split between the right wing (Morrison/Gaitskell) and the left (Bevanite)
  • TORY TRIUMPH- in theory, opened up a bright future for Eden- comfortable majority and a weak opposition.
  • BUT- Eden knew little of domestic issues, was heavily reliant on Butler, was highly strung and inclined to fuss, reshuffle- relatively junior Selwyn Lloyd was made Foreign Minister- someone who Eden could dominate.
  • By early 1956- growing campaign amongst Conservative backbenchers that Eden must go.
  • 1956- Suez Crisis- Nasser nationalised Suez Canal in July, but British military was not ready to fight in July. US hostility to military action. Secret deal- Israel, France and Britain made. Israel attacked Egypt on 29th October 1956. Butler and Macmillan were left to negotiate a deal with the USA. A loan was forthcoming but the price was a humiliating withdrawal from Egypt.
  • The crisis had little lasting impact on the British Government. It damaged Eden's reputation as a worlds statesman. It exposed that nothing could be undertaken without the USA's backing. Eden's successor, Harold Macmillan rekindled friendship with the US- Eisenhower + increased Conservative majority in 1959 election.
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