Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

By James Hinton | Go to book overview
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quent huge increase in armament spending, set the scene for a showdown between left and right within the Government. In his 1951 budget Hugh Gaitskell insisted on imposing charges on teeth. and spectacles, despite Bevan's clear warning that he would regard this as a resigning issue. The saving -- a mere £25 million -- was insignificant compared with the inflated rearmament programme. But Gaitskell's purpose seems to have been served. Bevan, accompanied by Harold Wilson and John Freeman, resigned. This final purge of the left did nothing to improve Labour's electoral appeal. Faced with the prospect of a stormy Labour Party conference and a new balance of payments crisis, Atlee called a new General Election for October 1951. Despite everything, popular fears that a Conservative victory would mean a return to mass unemployment was sufficient to give Labour more votes and a higher percentage of the poll than ever before -- or since. Nevertheless, the Conservatives were returned, due to changes in constituency boundaries which discriminated against Labour and a sharp reduction in the number of Liberal candidates.

In 1951 a senior civil servant summed up the record of the Atlee Government: '. . . it puts me in mind of nothing so much as the voyage of Columbus in 1492. You will recall that when Columbus set out he didn't know where he was going; when he arrived he didn't know where he was; and when he returned he didn't know where he had been.' 7 Much of the history of the Labour Party during the next ten years revolved around attempts to make sense of the record of the Atlee Government. Not the least of Labour's problems was to understand why it was that the Conservatives, most unexpectedly, proved both ready and able to run the new social order bequeathed to them from the upheavals of the 1940s.


Notes
1
Political and Economic Planning, British Trade Unionism, London 1948, p.148.
2
Alan Bullock, The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin, vol. 2, London 1960, p. 71.
3
R. Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism, London 1972, p. 277.
4
W. K. Hancock and M. M. Gowing, British War Economy, London 1949, p.542.
5
P. Addison, The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War, London 1975, p. 273.
6
House of Commons, Debates, 18 November 1946, Col. 526.
7
A. A. Rogow and P. Shore, The Labour Government and British Industry, 1945-1951, Oxford 1955, p. 173.

-178-

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