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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2005, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
1950: Labour majority slashed
TV election broadcast, 1950
Con: 298 seats (43.3% share)
Lab: 315 seats (46.1 share)
Lib: 9 seats (9.1% share)

Labour only just managed to hang on to power in 1950.

Despite getting more votes than in his 1945 landslide victory, Prime Minister Clement Attlee now had a Commons majority of just five seats.

Five years of post-war austerity had dented Labour's appeal to the middle class as Conservative fortunes revived.

Although both the major parties were able to take heart from the results, 1950 was an unmitigated disaster for the Liberals.

They took just nine seats and suffered a massive financial blow as over 300 of their candidates lost their deposits.


Both Labour and the Tories entered the election campaign in good heart and public interest was high.

During the previous five years the government had not lost a single by-election and although the Tories spurned the radical step of changing their name after the humiliation of 1945, they had thoroughly revamped their polices and their grassroots organisation.

Clement Davies
Clement Davies' Liberal party had a disastrous election [Photo: Liberal Democrat History Group]
Crucially, the playing field on which the election was fought had undergone several significant changes.

Dual votes for owners of business were scrapped as were the separate seats representing the older universities - benefiting Labour.

On the plus side for the Conservatives, the boundary commission had attempted to reduce the electoral representation of some urban seats now no longer heavily populated.

The introduction of postal votes proved another great plus for the party.


Despite the occasional harsh outburst during the 1945-1950 parliament from Labour cabinet members such as Nye Bevan that the Tories were "lower than vermin", the election campaign saw something of a change of temper and did not turn into a bitter slanging match.

Indeed Churchill called it a "demure" campaign. And when his party made its peace and accepted Labour's introduction of the health service and a mixed economy, the battle lines were drawn firmly, if narrowly, around the issue of further nationalisation.

Doctors in a 1940s hospital
The creation of the NHS in 1948 was a vote-winner for Labour
Labour hoped to take the steel industry, sugar and cement into public ownership - the Conservatives believed the state had moved far enough into managing the economy.

The Cold War forced its way into the campaign briefly when Churchill called for a high level summit with Russia.

But despite his intervention Labour looked the likeliest victor.


This was the second consecutive election contest between Attlee and Churchill, so the voters knew the goods on offer very well by now.

Attlee was a respected if not inspirational figure while Churchill remained personally popular. But some eyebrows were raised - not least by some of Churchill's ambitious younger colleagues - at the idea of a man approaching his eighties being returned to Downing Street.

For Labour, Ernest Bevin commanded respect as foreign secretary while Nye Bevan at health did much to inspire working-class commitment to the party when he introduced the National Health Service in 1948.

For the Conservatives, Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden waited in the wings as Churchill's heir apparent.

And R A Butler and Lord Woolton had worked behind the scenes since the Tories' 1945 drubbing by Labour to modernise and reform the party's organisation, as well as renew its pitch to voters. It proved time well spent.

Key issues

With nationalisation the key issue, voters divided on class lines much more clearly than in 1945. Taking a view from the side of the campaign, the Liberals said the election was a "class struggle".

In Labour's manifesto - Let Us Win Through Together - Attlee promised to nationalise steel, cement and sugar despite the poor state of the economy and the poor returns from the nationalisations already carried out.

Sterling had been devalued in the previous year, highlighting the country's fragile state, while many key Labour figures were against taking their case to the public in the first winter election for decades.

But the party stuck to its task, making the case for taking cement and sugar into the public fold, saying they were private monopolies. Sugar company Tate & Lyle launched a fierce fight-back - with cartoon character Mr Cube taking on the government from the cover of sugar packets across the nation.

Setting out their stall in their manifesto, This is the Road, the Conservatives entered into a consensus with Labour over health and welfare. But they were staunch in their opposition to further nationalisation.



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