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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2005, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
1951: Churchill back in power at last
Winston Churchill on the steps of 10 Downing Street
Con: 321 seats (48% share)
Lab: 295seats (48.8% share)
Lib: 6 seats (2.6% share)

At the third time of asking Winston Churchill finally beat Labour in an election. His victory was a narrow one, giving the Conservatives a parliamentary majority of 17 seats.

But it was an unusually bitter blow for his rival of the UK's last three general elections, Labour leader Clement Attlee.

Despite winning more votes than the Tories Labour took fewer seats, leaving the Conservatives to take back power.

For the cash-strapped Liberals this election saw their decline reach new depths.

They returned six MPs, and saw their share of the vote reduced to a paltry 2.5%, after only being able to afford to put up around 100 candidates to cover over 600 parliamentary constituencies.


The Labour government had been hobbled since its narrow win in 1950. With a majority of just five, MPs had been wheeled in from hospital sick beds to vote in the Commons.

But even while some wartime rationing continued the government launched the Festival of Britain, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Great Exhibition and to revive flagging post-war optimism.

Troops in Korea
British troops in Korea made the Cold War an election issue
This attempt to show Britain had recovered from the ravages of war was to some extent successful, but though the Second World War was over the Cold War was in full swing.

And with British soldiers fighting in Korea against Chinese and Korean communists, the issue of which party would be better able to keep the seemingly shaky peace with the Soviet Union featured heavily.


King George VI's worries over the government's precarious hold on power pushed Attlee into calling an election just 20 months after the country had last gone to the polls.

The monarch was keen to have the tricky issue of the government's instability dealt with before he left for a planned tour of Australia and New Zealand early in 1952.

As parliament was dissolved on 5 October and the election date was set for the 25th the Tories were enjoying a strong poll lead. Gallup had them on 50.5%, with Labour trailing on 44%.

With Labour having fulfilled most of its ambitions since the election in 1945, the party campaigned on its record. Many Labour candidates including cabinet ministers rammed home the idea that the Conservatives could not be trusted to keep the peace.

It was a theme followed up by the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, which posed the question "Whose finger on the trigger?" on its front page. The implication that Churchill was a warmonger resulted in a libel action post-election.

For this campaign the Tories were in good heart, expecting victory. And before the age of mass-TV ownership they were able to call upon the support of much of the press. They also had more money and campaign staff to hand than their rivals.


As the third and final contest between Attlee and Churchill kicked off, the Labour leader was now 68 while Churchill himself was nearly a decade older at 77.

But despite suffering a minor stroke two years earlier Churchill was in good heart, believing victory was in his grasp.

Electoral successes in 1950 had brought new blood into the Commons for the Tories while the Labour benches were looking increasingly fatigued.

Worryingly for the government key figures in the cabinet were either ill, dying or had resigned.

Attlee himself was not a well man and lost his chancellor, Stafford Cripps, to illness while his most important cabinet ally, Ernest Bevin, died shortly after leaving office.

Labour was also rocked by the resignation of left-winger Nye Bevan in the spring of 1951 as re-armament to cope with the Korean war saw the implementation of some health care charges.

With policy splits now coming to the surface, Labour could expect to be punished by the voters.

Key issues

With little new in the way of policies to offer the voters Labour focused on what it believed were its successes since coming to power in 1945.

The party's manifesto boasted: "Full employment through six years of peace is the greatest of all Labour's achievements," and no opportunity to beat the Tories with the stick of the mass unemployment of the 1930s was wasted.

As public anxieties about a possible third world war were heightened by the fighting in Korea, both parties were keen to paint themselves as the guardians of peace and a strong Commonwealth.

For their part, Churchill's Conservatives promised to ease the housing shortage by building up to 300,000 new homes a year and pledged to tackle Labour's failure to deal with rising prices.

The Liberals, whose ambition was limited in this campaign, made their reasoned plea for support, putting themselves once more above the "class war" they accused the main parties of fighting.



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