The Labour Party was out of power in the years 1951-64 not because of Conservative strengths but because of Labour’s mistakes and internal divisions. Assess the validity of this view.
Between the years 1951 and 1964, the Conservative party saw a period of political dominance while Labour experienced a period which has become known as their ‘wilderness years’. This can partly be blamed on Labour’s mistakes and divisions within the party as this led to dissatisfaction within the electorate. However, other factors such as the role of key personalities, Conservative strengths and rising affluence were also responsible for Labour’s failure to win elections in the period.
Labour Disunity was a major cause for the party being out of power in the years 1951 to 1964 as it was the start of increasing dissatisfaction with the party. The party was split during the 1950s due to the formation of two groups, the Bevanites and Gaitskellites who disagreed over key policies including defence spending and the development of nuclear weapons as well as relationships with trade unions. This split seriously harmed the effectiveness of the party’s opposition to the Conservatives in the 1950s. The creation of the hydrogen bomb in 1957 prompted the formation of the CND in 1958. Many left wingers in the Labour party joined them which turned some voters away from Labour before the election in 1959. The party leader, Gaitskell, also suffered defeats at party conferences over the issue. By presenting Labour as a divided party, this caused a loss in confidence within their supporters and they saw a drop in the number of seats won within the three elections in the period, from 295 in 1951 to 258 in 1959.
Conservative strengths in the years 1955 to 1963 were also very important in allowing their thirteen years of dominance. The period saw a rise in affluence following the austerity during World War Two, which was one of the main causes for the party’s continued success. Throughout their period of dominance there was full employment, rising living standards and a successful welfare state, which were all things that Labour claimed were unachievable under a capitalist government and so made the party seem out of touch and unable to adapt to the changing society. After ending rationing in 1954, Britain became a consumer society, with huge rises in the purchase of consumer goods such as cars (between 1950 and 1965, sales of cars rose by 4 million) and televisions (between 1957 and 1959 the number of households owning a television rose by 32%). Combined with rising wages, from £8.30 in in 1951 to £15.35 in 1961, most people in Britain felt more affluent and were hesitant to switch parties when they were comfortable. However, it can be argued that this rise in prosperity can be attributed to simply a post-war by-product rather than due to successful policy maki...