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25 October 1951

The ageing Conservative leader Winston Churchill won the 1951 election with a comfortable majority. The Conservatives were back in power once more, but they did little to alter the welfare state created by the previous Labour government. With Churchill approaching retirement, attention was focussed on when he would he step aside to enable his successor to take the helm.

Party Votes Seats Change UK Vote Share (%) GB Vote Share (%)
Conservative 13,718,199 321 + 23 48.0 47.8
Labour 13,948,883 295 - 20 48.8 49.4
Liberal 730,546 6 - 3 2.6 2.6
Others 198,966 3 n/c 0.6 0.3

The Campaign   The Result


Sir Anthony Eden
Sir Anthony Eden gets ready to broadcast the Conservative message
By 1951, Clement Attlee's Labour Government was on its last legs. Most of the promises set out by the Labour Party in its 1945 manifesto had been put into practice, leaving the party directionless. The general election of 1950 had slashed Attlee's majority to just five seats. Attlee's Cabinet was also suffering from long years in office. Sir Stafford Cripps, the Chancellor, resigned due to illness in 1950 and Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary, died in 1951.

The Government's foreign and domestic policies seemed to be faltering. Herbert Morrison replaced Bevin's sure hand at the Foreign Office with an uncertain approach. As crises arose in Iran, Egypt, Sudan and Europe, Morrison looked unable to cope. The Government was further embarrassed by the defection of diplomats Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union in May 1951.

In June 1950, communist North Korea invaded South Korea sparking the first major conflict of the cold war. As allies of the USA, Britain sent troops to support America's defence of South Korea. The cost of the war had disastrous effects on Britain's economy and on Attlee's government. Hugh Gaitskill, the new Chancellor, was forced, among other things, to impose perscription charges on National Health glasses and false teeth. This prompted the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson.

To cap it all, the Government coped badly with a balance of payments crisis in the summer of 1951 which led to speculation against sterling. With the Government looking increasingly unstable, Attlee dissolved Parliament at the beginning of September and called the election for 25 October 1951.

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Nye Bevan
Nye Bevan, Labour's left-wing firebrand
Labour entered the campaign carrying the Bevanite split that had marred the party's chances in the 1950 election. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister conducted his campaign in typical fashion. He covered 2,000 miles by car, accompanied by his wife, travelling the length and breadth of the country rallying Labour support. Labour was struggling and needed a determined Truman-style performance.

The Tories, by contrast, started an upbeat campaign with a seven point lead over Labour. With the nation at war in Korea, Churchill played up his successful wartime record. The Tories also promised to reduce rationing and ease the housing shortage by building upwards of 300,000 houses a year.

As the campaign dragged on, the Labour Party and its supporters in the press accused the Tories of warmongering. The left-leaning newspaper The Daily Mirror printed a front-page headline which shouted "Whose Finger is on the Trigger". Churchill, furious with the paper's accusation that he was a war monger, later took the Mirror to court.

Labour's negative attacks on the Tories seemed to make an impression. Accusations of warmongering and reminders of the Tories' record on unemployment were both used to frighten voters. By the time the voters went to the polls the Tories lead had dropped to just 2.5%.

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As the results came in, it became clear that Winston Churchill had won his first general election. But the majority was not as large as many of his supporters had expected. The Tories polled 48% of the vote and won 321 seats to Labour's 48.8% and 295 seats. The Conservatives enjoyed a swing from Labour of just over 1%. Despite polling nearly 14 million votes, the record number of votes recorded by any British political party in any election to that time, Labour lost.

Conservative party chairman Lord Woolton was overjoyed at the result...

The Liberals did badly and took just six seats. Lady Megan Lloyd George lost her Anglesey seat after 22 years of occupation. Due to a lack of funds, few Liberal candidates stood. Therefore, those who couldn't vote Liberal and wanted to vote against the Government had to vote Tory.

Attlee blamed the Liberal voters...

The voter turnout was lower than the previous election and this seemed to favour the Conservatives. Winston Churchill was back in power and although he did not have a large majority he could be sure his Government would run till the end of the new Parliament. Britain's brief period of instability was, for the time being, over.

Mrs Davies, aged 102, did make it to to the polling station...

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