How far were Conservative scandals the most important reason for their defeat in 1964?
How far were conservative scandals the most important reason for their defeat in 1964?
The Consercatives suffered a very close loss in 1964, and it was not oly the conservative scandals – Profumo and Vassal affairs, but also other factors such as political weaknesses within the party, social factors, and economic reasons.
The vassal spy affair shocked the country at the time, in 1963, because of the tabooed nature surrounding the scandal. John Vassal was a homosexual clerk, who worked at the Admiralty. He was photographed by the KGB at a gay sex party, and later on, it emerged that he was a spy for the USSR. There was a lot of speculation amongst the public, about a homosexual and traitorous network possible involving government ministers.
The Profumo affair was another scandal which did involve a minister – John Profumo – Minister for War. He was alleged to have had sexual relations with a girl named Christine Keeler who was also having an affair with a soviet spy. This created a huge uproar about National security. Not only did this cause the scandal, but Profumo went on to lie in the House of Commons about his relationship with Keeler. The very fact that the Prime minister Macmillan also believed Profumo’s original denial of impropriety showed his poor lack of control over his ministers. Both these scandals alone did not topple the government, but greatly weakened people’s faith iin the leadership, and this meant that they sought an alternative party to take the conservative’s place.
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Another aspect to the failings of the conservatives in 1964 was their political weaknesses within the party. After Prime-minister Macmillan resigned unexpectedly, the leadership was in a bad state. The new appointed leader was Alec Douglas-Home who lacked the charisma that his former collegue possessed. Douglas-Home also represented too much of the establishment – he became prime minister purely because of a closed circle of old etonian conservatives that elected him. This view of the ‘establishment’ was starting to become something that the public disliked, due to the rise in rock, and rebel attitudes. Another international political struggle was also occurring between Britain and France. The French were refusing Britain entry to the EEC, which was vital to “be part of the European community.” Macmillan’s main foreign policy aim was to join the EEC, so when the public saw him being rejected by Charles de Gaulle on a world wide scale, they saw him as weak, and unable to stand up to the French. It also sent out the message that unlike Labour, they didn’t have an aim, or even a foreign policy.
The Conservatives began to become unpopular when they introduced deflationary policies which meant that they were trying to keep the economy under control and stop it from booming too rapidly, which would then lead to a bust. Their policies soon reflected their ultimate aim, which became clear to the people, they wanted economic and electoral cycles to coincide especially nearing election time.
Alongside the conservatives’ weaknesses, were also Labour’s strengths. Harold Wilson became the youngest prime minister, aged 46, and this was one of the key factors that saw him “being in touch with the people” After Gaitskell, who was seen as old, and a failure to the party, Wilson brought new life into the party, and a different perspective.
Another one of Labours strengths was their planning, and eternal optimism. Because of Wilson’s “in touch with the people” he invited the beatles to No10 downing street. It was significant of the “swingin’ sixties.”
What hadn’t brought Labour to the front of the pack before 1964 was the fact that they had been divided between left wing and right wing. What Wilson managed to do with expert skill was combine the party, and satisfy both sides. This showed the “vision of change” in the party.
The key thing to also take into account is that the Conservatives barely lost. It was four seats between Labour and Conservatives. So considering that the conservatives made a huge number of mistakes, and had scandals, they did well to not loose very many seats. In conclusion, I think that it was mainly down to the new leadership of Labour – Harold Wilson. He “rebranded” the Labour party into something new, and something that represented the people, the view of “swingin’ sixties” and rebel attitudes. Had Wilson not come along, the poor image of the Labour party would have continued, and despite the ill judgements of the conservatives, would have continued on a downward spiral. The scandals however, I think did lead to the tipping point of those final four seats.