Conservative dominance from 1951 to 1960
The Conservatives remained in power between 1951 and 1960 for many reasons, some of which being the social change and the economy and improving lifestyle in this time. However, there were also potentially more important reasons for their dominance, such as their avoidance of what could have been a disaster with the Suez crisis. As well as this, their economy had many critics and could be seen as not particularly successful at all. A major part of the Conservative manifesto preceeding their 1951 election victory was their welfare policies.
A major lifestyle improvement derived from their manifesto included the availability of credit: money that people could borrow instead of saving, allowing them to buy things they previously couldn’t afford and pay the money back on ‘easy terms’. Ordinary working class people could now access luxury items, sparking a consumer boom between 1950-65. People clearly enjoyed these changes and percieved the economy to be thriving under the Conservative rule, making it a reason for which they would continue voting for the Conservatives and keep them in power.
Another factor linking to their welfare policies were the housing policies. They vowed to build 300,000 new houses each year, much more than Attlee’s government achieved, and by 1964 had built 1. 7million new homes, 60% of them being private. What was dubbed by the Conservatives as a “property owning democracy” was sparked by mortgages becoming available and people now being able afford to buy houses, what with being able to repay the money over long periods of time (something which also links to the availability of credit).
This property owning democracy was also one of the things Macmillan was referring to when he said that the British people had “never had it so good” than they currently did under Conservative power. The greater availability of housing and an easier system was favourable for the public, which is why this was another reason why they continued voting for the Conservatives. During this time, there was also an arising issue of social tensions.
After rioting in 1958, Macmillan set up an official enquiry under Lord Salmon to discover the real reasons for it. He produced The Salmon Report, which listed reasons that Lord Salmon suggested to be most important, such as sexual jealousy (black males dating white women), bitterness at rising rent prices and anger of white males at the willingness of black males to work for lower wages. It was clear that not everyone was welcoming to immigrants.
As a result of The Salmon Report, the Conservative government brought in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962, something that despite being perceived as being racist (it primarily tried to cut down on immigration) and being highly controversial, also soothed the minds of people in Britain who were worried about immigration ‘getting out of control’. A lot of British people would have been pleased with this and therefore more likely to give the Conservatives their vote, making it another reason why they stayed dominant.
However, the economy was not working smoothly during this time. The Conservatives had no concievable long-term economic plan, usually sticking to what became known as “stop and go stagflation” and using the economy to manipulate votes. ‘Stop and go’ referred to when consumption prices rose too quickly, so the government increased taxes, but when the production and exports declined, they cut taxes and lowered interest rates. ‘Stagflation’ is a compound of stagnation and inflation, referring to when industry declines but inflation persists.
A common criticism was that they often switched their policies and used short-term measures in order to win over voters, and had simply used tactics that prevented the economy from getting worse rather than attempting to make it better. This disagrees with the idea that prosperity was a reason for the Conservative dominance, as it entirely suggests that their economy was not in a good position at all, however the general voting public may not have been fully aware of these changes and their policies at all, only experiencing the positive parts such as availability of credit.
Another reason for the Conservative’s continuing success was the Labour’s failures. By 1959, the party was damaged highly by internal disagreements, such as who the party really was and what they stood for. It would be extremely difficult for them to make a coherent and desirable manifesto when members of their own party had conflicting ideas of what should be happening. They also disagreed over issues such as whether or not the party should go for socialist policies, like nationalism, and were highly split over the idea of unilateralism.
All in all, Labour’s faultiness and failures were undesirable and only helped the Conservatives to gain more votes. In conclusion, the social change and economy were the most important reasons for why the Conservatives stayed dominant during this time. Most importantly was the economy; it played a huge role in the availability of credit and the property owning democracy, two major things which helped to gain the Conservatives the most support.
The availability of credit, which led to luxury items becoming affordable, seemed such a massive step up from Labour’s government (when rationing was still in place) that people would not want to return to a Labour government as they did genuinely feel like it had never been so good. Although underneath the surface of credit and mortgages, the economy was not in a good state, this was not apparant to the public and people only experienced the positive changes that the Conservatives made, which is why it is the most important reason for why they stayed dominant.