The second argument is that Labour did not do well in the ‘fifties, being preoccupied with internal battles and lacking a coherent platform. Gaitskell won the internal battles, Wilson changed the mood music.
ONE – ATTLEE WAS PAST HIS SELL BY DATE
- Attlee stayed on and fought the 1955 general election. Was it fear of a lurch left, or to stop Herbert Morrison?
- The Bevanite left were deeply unhappy, and spent much of their energy fighting their own leadership
- Labour offered nothing new; no songs in their hearts
TWO – GAITSKELL FACED INTERNAL DIVISIONS AND A RESURGENT MACMILLANITE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Gaitskell beat Bevan, but that didn’t end the infighting. That made policy making hard, and meant there was no clear message. They were divided over:
- The trade union block vote
- Unilateral nuclear disarmament
- Keep left: the left wanted na=ionalisation, planning etc
Gaitskell was brilliant over Suez, but Eden’s departure changed that narrative, giving the government the chance to change faces, is it were (think May to Johnson). In 1959, Labour had nothing to sing like ‘You’ve Never Had it so Good’, And they had an uncosted pension rise, and people feared tax rises (which they got anyway under Selwyn Lloyd)
THREE – 1959 NEARLY BROKE THE PARTY, GAITSKELL BROUGHT IT BACK
1959 election was a bitter blow. After it, Labour went left, and Gaitskell had to defeat the left:
- The 1960 party conference voted for unilateralism. Even Bevan opposed that
- Gaitskell: ‘Fight, fight, fight again for the party I love’
- The 1961 conference reversed the decision
- The trade union bloc vote determined both outcomes
Gaitskell had won
FOUR – HAROLD WILSON WAS THE COMING MAN
Gaitskell died suddenly in 1963. Wilson won
- The Gaitskellite Crossman famously defined the contest between Wilson and George Brown as being between ‘a crook and a drunk’.
- Wilson was seen as coming from the left (he had resigned with Bevan), but wasn’t. Perhaps, like Lloyd George, he had no fixed abode
FIVE – WHITE HEAT
Wilson won in 1964, just (majority of 4)
- Wilson was brilliantly effective as opposition leader: witty, man of the people image, ‘white heat of the technological revolution’
- But for all that, in 1964 Labours share of the vote hadn’t changed. The Conservative vote fell, and the Liberals polled 11%. I argue here that the Liberals won it for Labour
- 1964 was vital for Labour, and Wilson went on to win big in 1966, with a majority of 98.
And here is Clement Attlee being interviewed just as Wilson has won in 196