Thirteen Wasted Years Assess the Validity of This View of the Conservative Governments 1951-1964
‘Thirteen wasted years’ assess the validity of this view of the Conservative governments 1951-1964When the Conservative Party won 13,718,199 votes in the 1951 election, the British public were expecting a lot from the new ruling party. Regardless of the few achievements made by the Conservative Party in their 13 years as the ruling government from 1951-64, as well as Macmillan’s positivity when he stated that the people had ‘never had it so good’, these years of conservative dominance are highly regarded as the ’13 wasted years’.One of the first areas that they focused on after winning the 1951 elections were domestic policies, which incidentally appeared to be their most successful area of development during their time of power. In 1951, the Conservative manifesto promised to build 300,000 houses a year. This aim was achieved 2 years later in 1953, under Macmillan. This could be seen as such a notable success for the Conservative Party as the previous government under Bevan was accused of not building enough houses quick enough due to Bevan being too distracted by creating the NHS that he had failed to watch over housing. Pre-1939 home ownership was 25% and by 1964, it had increased to 44%. However although the goal that was set in the 1951 manifesto was achieved, many people argued that the money might have been better spent supporting other aspects of the failing economy such as modernising key industries. The housing success obviously aided Macmillan to become an important and popular minister and enabled him to become party leader in January 1957.
Unfortunately, the joy of the successful housing policies was only short lived as the British Public became aware of the disastrous economic policies that the Conservative Party were introducing. During the years 1951-64, the British economy was ‘booming’. However this was not completely due to the developments introduced by the conservative Party. In some respects the leading party was merely lucky in its timing, winning the election just as economic recovery from the Second world war was starting to show through, and therefore naturally claiming some of the credit. On hindsight, the economic picture was not as positive as the growth in affluence might have suggested. One of Macmillan’s biggest mistakes, leading the Times to critique the British economy as ‘sick’, was his failure to tackle inflation out of his fear of unemployment, due to the welfare state budget being aided by full employment at the time. There were growing concerns in the Cabinet over the underlying weakness of the economy which were highlighted when Thorneycroft resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1958, as well as his junior ministers, Powell and Birch, revealing splits in ideology within the Conservative Party, as Macmillan decided to side with those who wanted to keep up an expansionist economic policy. In response to the problems his government was facing, Macmillan radically reshuffled his Cabinet in 1962, sacking a third of it. This became known as the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. Instead of rejuvenating his government as was intended, he actually ended up weakening it. Macmillan seemed clumsy and out of touch, as well as his image as an Edwardian Gentlemen and his marriage into the aristocracy made him appear out of date, and his government shamed.