1952unofficial labour party history
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October 1954Whilst Attlee attempts to hold the party together, Party Conferences are becoming increasingly bitter and acrimonious affairs. Both Bevan and Gaitskell make a bid to become party treasurer and the voting patterns reflect the battle lines within the movement. Whilst Bevin commands the support of the Tribune/New Statesman intelligentsia and the majority of constituencies, Gaitskell's friends in the TGWU and GMWU ensure Bevan's defeat. This does little to quell the disarray.
April 1955Winston Churchill resigns due to ill health, his position being taken by Anthony Eden.
May 1955The internal battle in the Labour Party is to last four years, making it easy for the Tories to hold an election and win comfortably. This leads to some degree of nervousness concerning the standard of party organisation, and one of Bevan's "young lions," Harold Wilson, is asked to investigate the organisational structure of the Party. After winning so many votes in 1950 and 1951, yet not achieving a convincing victory in either, Wilson concludes that more attention needed to be paid to marginal seats. He describes the Party machine as "at the penny-farthing stage in a jet-propelled era."
December 1955Clement Attlee feels unable to continue for long after the 1955 election. A whispering campaign against his leadership amongst some trade unionists and some MPs has undermined his position, with speculation about the date of his resignation well before any intention is signalled or intended. Most crucially, the Daily Mirror has instigated a campaign to install Hugh Gaitskell - even to the extent of throwing abuse at Attlee, dubbing him 'Lord Limpet.' Attlee understandably loses patience.
The timing of the contest is crucial for Bevan, Gaitskell and Morrison, all competing to be his successor. Hugh Gaitskell wins so comfortably that arguments become less public and a sense of fragile unity prevails. Events are now providing ammunition for an active Labour opposition.
May 1956The first hydrogen bomb is tested by the USA - unleashing an inconceivably destructive weapon.
October 1956The Suez crisis, with British troops 'invading' Egypt, leads to a huge protest in Trafalgar Square. The British Council of Labour launches a convincing 'Law Not War' campaign, turning public opinion against the government. Both Gaitskell and Bevan effectively demolish Eden in Parliament.
International issues are to prove both contentious and beneficial in these years. The crushing of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 dispels any remaining illusions about Soviet Russia. It prompts a re-alignment of the British left as many desert the British Communist Party, providing an influx of new blood into Labour - which, with the TUC and Co-op, has protested in vain against Soviet intervention.
December 1956The year sees two important books published. One of the them, "The Future of Socialism" by Tony Crosland, becomes established as a prime text for the right-wing of the party. Whilst Crosland is widely considered to be a social democrat, the core of his arguments centre around the creation of an equitable society. Richard Crossman's book, "Labour in the affluent society" is partly a left-wing repudiation of Croslandism from a brilliant academic. Crossman states the case for common ownership as well as equality of opportunity.
January 1957Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigns over his handling of Suez and is replaced by Harold McMillan.
October 1957Nye Bevan, whilst opposed to Britain's independent deterrent, disagrees with unilateral disarmament. His Conference speech of 1957 brings him closer to the centrist Labour leadership, when he asks not to be sent 'naked into the conference chamber.'
February 1958The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament holds its first public meeting. An increasingly vocal section of the Labour Party, mainly those of the 'intelligentsia,' has been taking issue with the reliance upon nuclear weapons. The threat from hydrogen bombs seems ominous and very real, with poor relations between the superpowers.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament draws its support from the Co-op and Labour Party branches of London, amid groupings that tended to look to Bevan for leadership. It enjoys support from celebrities such as Bertrand Russell, Canon Collins and many leading physicists.
October 1959Unity for the 1959 election is preserved. However, the electorate is, if not complacent, then increasingly affluent and weary of change. Harold MacMillan reminds them that they have 'never had it so good' and, in material terms, it is hard to disagree with this. How Labour would react to the comfortable society, which they had done so much to create, would become a crucial issue.
For only 258 Labour MPs are returned in 1959, representing the worst showing since 1931; despite an improved organisation combined with a united leadership and thoughtful policies. It was now to social changes that people looked for explanation. The number of unskilled manual workers was declining and new white-collar jobs were emerging. Whether this spelt the end of class-based politics and traditional trade unionism was debatable. Hugh Gaitskell thought it did.
November 1959Hugh Gaitskell now prods Labour to modernise its constitution to mark its conciliation with a 'mixed economy.' He also stresses that there are many roads to socialism - nationalisation representing just one of them. The abandonment of Clause IV with its demand for the 'common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange' would, for Gaitskell, lead to a modern social democratic party.
This move is opposed from both the right and left of the Party and the result left Gaitskell effectively undermined and under pressure.
July 1960Nye Bevan dies - Gaitskell losing a valued Shadow Cabinet member, and the labour movement losing a much-loved socialist.
October 1960At Party Conference, concern about the devastating force of nuclear weapons boils over. With the further deterioration in East-West relations, war appears a distinct possibility. For the first time ever, the Conference rejects the independent nuclear deterrent; overturning the leadership and the Parliamentary Party's policy.
Whilst Hugh Gaitskell turns intense rhetoric upon the disarmers, vowing to 'fight, fight and fight again to save the Party we love,' the overall feeling amongst the younger membership was that nuclear disarmament had to be achieved or the risk of proliferation, accident or international incidents would eventually ensure worldwide destruction by increasingly powerful missile-launched nuclear weapons. This was to remain an enduring theme for the 1960s Left - resonating well beyond that decade.
October 1961Enough trade union leaders are won over to enable the reversal of unilateral disarmament. However, the issue remained alive for as long as the Cold War, and beyond.
October 1962The Cuban Missile Crisis threatens the world with imminent nuclear war. When an American U-2 spy plane discovers the construction of 9 Soviet medium-range missile sites around the island of Cuba, President Kennedy is faced with the unappealing options of invasion (which probably would have prompted a nuclear exchange) or an ultimatum and blockade. Kennedy's decision to blockade the islands, overriding the wishes of the military-industrial complex who were demanding an invasion, prevents an enormous catastrophe. As NATO forces move up to Defcon 4, the highest state of military alert short of war, it looks like nuclear war was becoming a looming probability.
March 1961Problems with the balance of payments prompt Harold MacMillan to announce a wage freeze. The popularity of the Conservatives begins to nosedive.
March 1962The Liberals win a landmark by-election in Orpington in 1962, a safe Tory seat. In addition to this, more economic difficulties with the balance of payments emerge after a spell of prolonged rebuilding.
October 1962Harold Wilson challenges the current leadership in what is perceived as a battle between left and right. The status quo wins. Gaitskell beats Wilson for the leadership and George Brown in the contest Deputy Leader. Despite losing by a margin of three to one, Wilson's standing in the Party rises, and he becomes Shadow Foreign Secretary.
January 1963Unemployment is at a post-war peak. The Conservatives seem out of touch with an increasingly diverse electorate faced with the finish of the post-war boom. After a short, sudden illness, Hugh Gaitskell dies. George Brown and Harold Wilson contend the position of Leader - this time, Wilson wins.
October 1963At Conference, Harold Wilson delivers his famous speech claiming that "the Britain that will be forged in the white heat of (the scientific and technical) revolution will have no place for restrictive practices and outdated measures on either side of industry."

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