To What Extent Was the Period of Conservative Rule 1951-64 “Thirteen Years Wasted”?

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This essay will examine the impact of the Conservative party during their period in office between 1951 and 1964. The assessments by historians of these thirteen years vary widely as the Conservative rule left behind a mixed feeling about its achievements. We will therefore be discussing to what extent their period in office can be described as “thirteen years wasted”, based on their performances in the political, economic and social sectors.

When the Conservative Party came to power in 1951, they won the election by a slim majority of 26 seats, leaving them with very little power to make important changes. However, their number of seats increased throughout their thirteen years in office, leaving them with a majority of 107 in the 1959 election. This large lead allowed them to reverse some of the laws passed by the Labour government, such as nationalisation and reaffirmed the party's power in British politics. Furthermore, the Conservative victory is historically significant as it broke Labour's monopoly in government which they had held since the end of the Second World War.

Although their numbers of seats increased throughout their period of rule, it is worth noting that during their thirteen years in power, the Conservatives had a sequence of different Prime Minister, from Churchill, to Eden, then Macmillan and finally Sir Alec Douglas-Hume. Each of these Prime Minister governed very differently which meant that it was harder to plan long term as Eden for example only stayed in office for two years between 1955 and 1957. Furthermore, it would seem that the Conservatives did not take enough into account the public atmosphere and the emergence of the youth culture in the early sixties as they chose a Prime Minister with a poor public image who failed to attract the votes of the younger generations. This can be considered a waste of the Conservatives last few months in power where they should have put maximum effort into improving their public image in order to win the 1964, which instead was won by the Labour party who had a younger and more dynamic Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

We will now focus on the changes that the Conservative Party made while they were in power, starting with one of their most notable improvements, which was the increase in general prosperity and living standards. Under Churchill, the government began reducing the controls installed by the Labour government, thereby moving away from austerity. Rations were ended, as were many restrictions such as those on hire-purchase sales, building and the right to strike. Furthermore there was an impressive increase of wages which rose on average by 72% between 1951 and 1963, whilst inflation stayed low. As a result there was a phase of rapid growth in the quality of life as people were able to purchase more goods, which is reflected by the number of cars on the roads which shot up from three million to just under thirteen million.

Finally, the government began to rebuild industry in order to revitalise the economy with the view that “if the middle class is wealthy the wealth will trickle down to the working class”. They also wasted no time in bringing into action the 'national housing crusade'. The Minister of Housing, Harold Macmillan was charged by Churchill with putting an end to the looming disaster that was the housing shortage. He succeeded in greatly improving the housing situation by building a record breaking 354 000 houses in 1954 alone. Clearly, the Conservatives succeeded in raising the living standards of the British population and put an end to the worst of the housing shortage. However, it is debatable whether this increase in living standards was actually inevitable and therefore the Conservatives cannot take full credit for these improvements, rather they are criticised for not having done more to improve people' lives, despite the fact that the British people had “never had it so good”, according to Macmillan.

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