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Flashcards in Wilson' Labour Government 1964-70 Deck (17)
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Why did Labour win the 1964 Election?

• There was an economic downturn (currency crisis, rising prices and ‘pay pause’) before Maudling’s 1963 ‘dash for growth’ budget
• The 1963 Tory leadership struggle was an unseemly affair, exposing divisions within the party and handling the leadership to the anachronistic Douglas-Hume, who was no match for Harold Wilson (who had succeeded Gaitskell on the latter’s sudden death in 1963)
• Two scandals – the Vassall affair, 1962 (Admiralty clerk blackmailed into spying for USSR on account of his homosexuality had allegedly been protected by two government ministers) and the Profumo scandal, 1963 (War secretary John Profumo had an affair with call girl Christian Keeler – who was simultaneously having a relationship with soviet diplomat Ivanov – and lied about it in the commons) suggested thaht old-school Tory ‘establishment’ Britain was corrupt.
• Wilson was a brilliantly effective Opposition leader, not only savaging Douglas-Hume but also papering over Labour’s internal cracks with talk of a scientific revolution and new Britain forged in the ‘white heat’ of technology.
• Labour’s overall majority was nevertheless only 4 (Labour 317, Conservative 304, Liberals 9)


Examine the key individuals of Labour

• Harold Wilson. Prime Minster, 1964-70. Yorkshire born, educated at grammar school and Oxford. Outstanding intellect, a powerful speaker and good on TV, but devious, scheming, opportunistic and short termist (‘a week is a long time in politics) and, as such, widely distrusted. Bridged the gap between Labour’s warring factions.
• George Brown. Department for Economic Affairs, 1964-66; Foreign Secretary 1966-68. Son of a south London lorry driver who rose to prominence through the trade union movement. Colourful, sometimes brilliant but impulsive and erratic. Sulks and resignation threats became legendary. Described by colleague Tony Crosland as ‘a neurotic drunk’.
• Roy Jenkins. Home Secretary. 1965-67; Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1967-70. Son of a South Wales miners’ MP, educated grammar school and Oxford. Brilliant intellect and wartime Bletchley Park code-breaker. An urbane, polished, patrician Hampstead intellectual. An out and out right winger or ‘Gaitskellite’ in internal Labour party politics. Probably the outstanding minster in the 1964-70 government.
• Jim Callaghan. Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1964-67; Home Secretary, 1967-70. Portsmouth born, son of a naval petty officer, left school at 14. Cautious, unflamboyant but a tough, no-nonsense, straightforward and formidable political operator.


Examine the incoming government

• Wilson led a new generation of meritocratic, pragmatic ministers, he was intensely intellectual but pleasant
• Wilson became the past master of the short term fix, out-manoeuvring his Conservative opponents and would-be rivals in his own Cabinet, he was increasingly given to sensing plots to replace him and surrounded himself with a kitchen cabinet
• His political adviser, Marcia Williams exercised an unaccountable hold over him
• Within the Cabinet Barbara Castle and Dick Crossman, both ex-Bevanites were friends as well as colleagues, same could not be said for the mostly Gaitskellite other ministers
• Possibly his most hostile colleague was George Brown who was deeply resentful of Wilson, despite his powerful mind and numerous defects, Tony Benn highly critical of Brown
• Wilson appointed Brown to the DEA, intended to be the hub of the new government and charged with drafting a National Plan to raise Britain’s economic game to compete more effectively
• Tension with the Treasury, branding it the Department of Extraordinary Aggression, Jim Callaghan another of Wilson’s rivals appointed Chancellor, one of his talents was setting rivals against each other, despite it being detrimental to a coherent government, frequent Cabinet reshuffles was another weapon employed despite it preventing Ministers establishing themselves
• New Ministry of Technology was created to increase national efficiency, but this increased bureaucracy and Wilson couldn’t refuse using it as a political weapon, endless Cabinet sub-committees were established known as MISCs
• Wilson Premiership thus energetic and dynamic, but its effectiveness was questionable
• Basic objective was to revitalise the economy and achieve higher growth in line with Germany and Japan, hoped judicious planning and encouragement of technology through colleges and universities would achieve this – inspiration for this growth strategy was the young Gaitskellite Tony Crosland, renounced Socialism in The Future of Socialism 1956, embracing affluent society
• New style of socialism would only need to redistribute the ample riches the application of modern technology delivered, assumed that Britain could rival the USA, France, Japan and Germany in productivity and resulting affluence, a critical assumption


Explain why Labour struggled to survive 1964-66

• Brown established his super department which drafted a National Plan envisaging 4% growth, new Ministry of Technology was established under TGWU boss Frank Cousins, unsuccessful unlike Bevin
• Younger eye catching ministers promoted in 1965 adding dynamic change, Tony Crosland in education, Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary
• Wilson retained good relations with the USA whilst avoiding troop commitments in Vietnam, needed her support in the recurring financial crises – biggest government headaches
• Callaghan as Chancellor, Maudling leaving No. 10 ‘sorry old cock to leave it in this shape’, left Labour with a severe BoP crisis and threatened run on the pound which may force devaluation
• Wilson, Callaghan and Brown feared devaluation for political reasons, holding the pound at $2.80 required US dependence, many on the left were condemning of Vietnam association
• Callaghan had to fight falling reserves due to speculators on the Continent, the first attack beaten off with a massive BoE loan, Callaghan put a temporary tax on imports and raised income tax to 41.25%, by 1966 the economy in reasonably good shape, low unemployment, rising living standards, prices had increased 9% since 1964 but wages rose 11%
• National Plan and Ministry of Technology offered better things and welfare spending was increasing, Tories had replaced Home with Heath who was outshone by Wilson, time for calling a GE came with a by-election victory in Hull having announced a new bridge over the Humber, election called for 31 March


Briefly surmise the 1966 election

• Very much Wilson’s election, 95% Labourers satisfied with Wilson, only 70% Tories for Heath
• Labour gained 48% vote braking out of it traditional strongholds in Wales and industrial North, Oxford, Cambridge, York. Lancaster and Exeter all fell, triumph for Wilson who could now form his ‘real Cabinet’


Explain Labour's civilised society

• Not the National Plan or Callaghan’s struggles to save the pound, but Jenkins’s encouraging of the civilised society that really impacted citizens, ‘freeing up’ of society as the state eased regulation of human behaviour and softened punishment
• Wolfenden committee had looked into laws surrounding homosexuality, most reform came through private members bills, but were passed due to government backing
• 1965 a bill suspending capital punishment for five years passed, abolished in 1969, Jenkins carried a criminal justice bill in 1967 ending the birching of young offenders, extended sentence and extended early parole for some prisoners, increased certainty of conviction by allowing majority verdicts in jury cases, intimidation of jurors in trials had been problematic
• 1967 saw the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill and the Sexual offenders bill, many noted previous laws encouraged blackmail of homosexuals – perhaps Vassall would not have betrayed his country, estimated around 100,00 abortions a year in the 50s, cause for stigma and medical risk, the bill legalised abortion on the grounds of physical harm to the mother and accounted for her mental health
• Family Planning Act 1967 removed the restrictions of medical or marital status on women’s’ access to birth control services locally
• Not until 1969 when Jenkins had left the Home Office that the Divorce Reform Act passed making divorce much easier, ended years of private suffering and domestic unhappiness
• Two other important changes encouraged by Jenkins were the abolition of theatre censorship and two race relations acts in 1966 and 1968 establishing and extending the powers of a Race Relations Board designed to investigate unfair discrimination


Assess Labour's management of education and clture

• Equally controversial is the Wilson governments education record, Tony Crosland appointed education secretary in 1965, wanted to wage war on grammar schools ‘I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England’, 1970 Labour manifesto boasted 129 out of 163 English and Welsh local education authorities have agreed plans for reorganising their secondary schools’
• Crosland also expressed discontent with the attitudes of big business and the private sector in 1956, Newsom Commission had been set up to consider the problem but nothing done, reduction in grammar schools and continuation of private schooling in fact increased social divisiveness in education restricting meritocracy
• Crosland enthusiastically promoted higher education, massive expansion of polytechnics in 1967 (30), but his legacy was mixed, his work to destroy the solid groundwork of traditional schooling negates some of his success
• Bevan’s widow, Jenny Lee was appointed Minister for the Arts, she oversaw considerable expansion in funding for the arts and the grants to the Arts Council almost tripled
• Promoted tourism and helped to make Britain a world centre of artistic merit, her campaign also to launch the open university, backed by Wilson
• Contrary to the expectations of its creators, the expense of the NHS rose rapidly, staff doubled between 1948 and 1979, drugs available proliferated, 1 antibiotic in 1948 available, 33 in 1968, costs thus rose and the NHS burden doubled 1950-70, neither party suggested structural changes, the cost met by increased taxation
• Only with mental health, in the 1959 act were developments made, complex drugs made it possible for the mentally ill to more fully integrated into society which was encouraged
• Health an illustration of consensus politics, Conservatives launched an anti-smoking campaign in 1957 and Labour banned cigarette advertisements in 1965, both sought to encourage healthier eating


Explain Labour's devaluation and recovery

• Theoretically the 1966 victory was to usher in a radical government to transform Britain, no longer the excuse of an inadequate majority, the government faced crisis at every turn
• Immediately after the victory a fresh sterling crisis developed, Jenkins wanted to devalue but Wilson determined not to, initial cause was a strike by seamen hitting exports
• To defend the sterling a savage deflationary package was introduced, bank rate raised, government spending cut and restriction placed on hire purchase, various tax increases and a £50 limit on foreign travel allowance, one year freeze on wage and price increases and to control the unions Statutory Prices and Incomes bill was passed
o The end of the national plan and 4% growth
o Brown resigned but appointed Foreign Secretary, boosting Labourites wanting ECM entry, Brown as keen as Heath on entry, failure again though due to De Gaulle
• 1967 even more humiliation was devaluation, root was the overvaluation of a currency underperforming competitors:
o Outbreak of the Arab Israeli war closed Suez harming British trade, dock strikes in London and Merseyside
o October 1967 saw the worst monthly trade deficit in British history
o Across the world dealers sold sterling, bank rate raised to a critical 16%, Sir Alec Cairncross persuaded Callaghan than Wilson that 14% devaluation was needed to $2.40
• Callaghan resigned as Chancellor at the end of the month and swapped with Jenkins determined to tackle the BoP issue and return the national accounts to the black
• Result was a period of stringent budgets unlike Cripps’, spending and reforms such as raising the school leaving age cut, consumers found petrol, cigarettes and drink more expensive
• 1969-70 a national surplus of £550m, as the reforms started to work, 1969 saw an upswing in world trade, Jenkins’ two years hard slog appeared to have worked
• Jenkins unlike other didn’t deliver an electorally friendly budget and remained steadfast, by 1970 Labour appeared to be pulling ahead of the Tories


Examine Denis Healey's Defence Ministership

• Healey had a powerful intellect, was somewhat bullying, and staying in the same job for six years was one of the most impressive Wilsonian ministers
• Determined to reduce British defence commitments and expenditure in line with her shrunken world power, brought tough cost-benefit analysis and produced a clear defence review
• Scrapped British TSR2 aircraft, no more aircraft carriers and expenditure on the TA was slashed, commitments east of Suez run down
• Jenkins forced Healey to scrap the F111 aircraft as well, even Healey disagreed with this, defence expenditure to fall from 6% to 4% GDP by 1971, decision made to withdraw altogether from Asia, Britain no longer a world power, withdrawal from Malaya and Singapore and Aden abandoned


Explain Labour's attempts to tame the unions

• March 1968 Brown tried to resign again, this time accepted, Brown addicted to booze and eccentric behaviour, Wilson to Cabinet reshuffles, Michael Stewart back to the foreign office, Barbara Castle and Richard Crossman were promoted to First Secretary of the state and Leader of the Commons respectively, Castle then to Department of Employment and Proactivity, set about tackling union behaviour
• Backed by Wilson, the Seamen’s’ strike in 1966 and the Dockers a year later forced action, Conservative Fair Deal at Work reform 1968 was well received, introducing cooling off periods
• Liberal government had established the unions in an extraordinary legal position, granted all the benefits but none of the detriments, e.g. could not be sued, resentment amongst unions of change to 60 years of legal immunity
• ‘In Place of strife’ white paper aimed to set up an Industrial Relations Court to which the unions would be subject to, vilified Castle herself, she could impose settlements in union disputes and order a strike ballot before strikes, bitter struggle ended in Castle’s and Wilson’s defeat, Callaghan took the lead in the Cabinet in stopping the bill, Jenkins an initial support surrendered effectively, an angry Cabinet meeting finally ended proposals
• Followed by a TUC meeting to find face-saving formula, emerged under a ‘solemn an binding agreement’ by which the TUC promised to monitor strikes and Labour disputes, commentators cynical about the dispute
• Home stepped down in 1965, open election by Conservative MPs, Heath beat Maudling and Powell, similar background to Wilson
• Consensus politics with Wilson, but came across as humourless and unfriendly, run rings around by Wilson in the Commons as Macmillan had with Gaitskell
• Policies likely to have a more free market spin such as that associated with the Seldon Park Conference, believed in the welfare state, Maudling was left of Heath and Powell was one of the most feared presences in the Commons
• Powell becoming an increasingly vociferous critic of the role of government in managing the economy, was an early monetarist like Thatcher


Examine the issues of immigration and race relations

• Immigration slowly emerged as a political issue in the 50s as Commonwealth citizens from the West Indies and subcontinent began settling in Britain e.g. in London, front benchers on both side operated a consensus approach, condemned racism but sought to restrict the inflow
• Evidence of white backlash, Notting Hill riots in 1958 and overtly anti-immigration Conservative had defeated a Labour cabinet member in Smethwick 1964
• Powell sitting in Wolverhampton under pressure from his constituents, had fought in the Indian conflict in 1947 when half a million may have died in communal conflict between Muslims and Hindus, he feared ‘communalism’
• Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’ alluding to the river Tiber and raising concerns over immigration on 20 April 1968
o Underestimated the furore it would cause
o Immediately sacked by Heath for racist implications of the speech
o Powell became an overnight working class hero, a thousand London Dockers marched out in support, next day he received 20,000 letters of approval
o A tragedy for Powell, won him massive populist support for the first time, but barred his entry to the highest offices which otherwise would have been his
General Election 1970


Outline the General Election 1970

• Wilson’s decision to bring the GE a year forward was brought on by economic success and improving trade figures, good Labour results in May local elections
• Weather was sunny and high hopes of England repeating its 1966 World cup victory, election a rather lack-lustre affair, Wilson campaigned as a ‘safe pair of hands’ rather than a begetter of radical change, Willie Whitelaw accused him of going around the country and stirring up apathy
• Powell commented the election was between a man with a pipe, and a man with a boat, the man with the boat won to the surprise of all but him


Examine Labour's economic impact

• Labour came into office with ambitious plans for state-backed economic modernisation. A department for economic affairs was spun off from the Treasury (1964) under George Brown to undertake strategic work on the economy and published a five year national plan in 1965; a Ministry of Technology was created (1964) under Frank Cousins to invest in scientific research and development, putting into operation the plans set out in ‘Labour and the Scientific Revolution’ 1963: an Industrial Reorganisation Corporation was established (1964) to promote the rationalisation of industry; and a Prices and Incomes Board set up (1965) to encourage wage and price restraint.
• This ambitious dirigiste approach came to nothing because Labour was blown off course by short term economic problems. Labour inherited a massive balance of payments deficit from the Conservatives in 1964. International financiers, believing the pound was overvalued and none too persuaded by Labour’s economic competence, speculated against the pound. Wilson, mindful of 1949, was determined not to devalue. The result was three years (1964-67) of almost continual sterling crisis, with the government trying to stave off devaluation by a variety of unpalatable means: increased taxes; increased interest rates; cuts in spending on health, education and housing; a one year compulsory pay freeze (1966-67); and massive borrowing from the IMF (1964) and USA (1965). In the end, in a crisis triggered by the closure of the Suez Canal in the 1967 Six Day War, a downturn in the US economy and a major dock strike in the UL, Wilson was forced to devalue the £ from 2.8 to the $ to 2.4. Labour had already forfeited popularity by the measures taken to defend the £ and things got worse once it became clear that the suffering had been for nothing. Wilson did not help matter by is claim in a TV broadcast the ‘the pound in your pocket has not devalued’.
• In order to get maximum benefit from devaluation, Roy Jenkins as Chancellor (1967-70) introduced a series of Budgets in which taxes were increased and public spending cut. The idea was to cut consumption at home and divert resources into exporting. By 1969 there was once again a balance of payments surplus but the means used to achieve it did nothing for Labour’s popularity.


Examine Labour's effect on trade unions

• Trade unionism was not really a major source of political difficulty in the 50s – the economy was growing, inflation was relatively low; union leadership was mostly right-wing in Labour terms; government and employers for the most part bought the unions off at relatively modest cost.
• Things began to change in the 60s – militant leaders came to the fore, notably Jack Jones (TGWU) and Hugh Scanlon (AUEW); inflation was stoked by Labour’s tax increases and devaluation, provoking union wage demands; and there was anger in the union movement of Labour cuts.
• The outcome was major strikes in the Wilson era, notably by the National Union of Seamen (1966) and the Dockers (1967)
• Labour’s response to growing public concern was set out in the White Paper ‘In Place of Strife’ (1969), the work of Employment Secretary Barbara Castle, formerly a fiery Labour left-winger. Its proposals were modest but did set out to tighten the legal framework within which unions operated – government was to have the power to impose a pause before strikes began and to order pre-strike ballots.
• ‘In Place of Strife’ was strongly opposed by the TUC, by many Labour backbenchers with union links and, crucially, by some members of the Cabinet, notably Jim Callaghan. Confronted by opposition on this sale, the government backed down, accepting ‘solemn and binding’ (but in practise worthless) undertakings from unions about their future conduct.
• The episode damaged Wilson’s credibility further, the government appearing feeble and cowardly.


Outline some other areas of Labour failure

• The government also backed down on House of Lords Reform 1969 and local government reform 1970. Civil service reform following the Fulton Report 1968 was started by effectively abandoned.
• Labour’s application to join the European Economic Community in 1967 suffered the same fate as the Conservatives 1963 entry bid – rejection as a result of French veto.


Outline some areas of Labour success

• A number of important social-moral reforms were introduced either by the Wilson government or its active support. Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary was the key figure here. The principal measures were: the Murder (abolition of the death penalty) Act 1965, which abolished capital punishment; the Abortion Act 1967 which legalised termination of pregnancies; the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised homosexual acts between consenting adults; the Theatres Act 1968 which ended state censorship of plays; the Divorce Reform Act 1969 which ended the identification of one partner in marriage breakdown as the guilty party; the anti-discrimination Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968; the Equal Pay Act 1970 which sought to ensure women were paid the same as men for the same work.
• In education, Tony Crosland’s Circular 10/65 encouraged local authorities to replace grammar and secondary modern schools with comprehensives, leading in many localities to the abandonment of the widely disliked 11+ examination. There was in addition further expansion of higher education with the creation of thirty so-called polytechnics and the establishment of the Open University (1966).


Deliver a Verdict on the Labour government

• It didn’t begin to compare with the Atlee government of 1945-51 in terms of far reaching achievement and as such was a major disappointment to Labour loyalists.
• The grandiose rhetoric of the early 60s – the new Britain forged in the ‘white heat’ of technology came to nothing
• Any successes were overshadowed by the failure to produce the promised leap forward in Britain’s economic performance’ (Kevin Jefferys, Finest and Darkest hours 2002)
• Wilson’s U-turn over devaluation in 1967, his claim that ‘the pound in your pocket has not been devalued’ and his surrender to the unions in 1969 were immensely damaging to his reputation – by the late 60s he was widely viewed as weak, unprincipled, devious, dishonest