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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2005, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
1955: Eden given mandate

KEY RESULTS
Anthony Eden became PM when Churchill stepped down
CONSERVATIVE VICTORY
Con: 345 seats (49.6% share)
Lab: 277 seats (46.4% share)
Lib: 6 seats (2.7% share)

In 1955 the Conservatives made it two election victories in a row, achieving the coup of stretching their lead over Labour that they had gained at the last poll three and a half years ago.

Winston Churchill had finally let go of the reins of power in April, leaving Sir Anthony Eden to take up the Tory leadership and the premiership.

In what politicians and pundits alike refer to as the dullest post war election, Labour saw itself lose ground as prosperity persuaded voters to back the status quo.

This election saw the Liberals avoid losing any seats - staying on six - although their share of the vote dropped once more.

Battlefield

Despite having been in his eighties and his physical and mental health having been shattered by four strokes by the time of his retirement, Winston Churchill held on to the prime ministership as long as possible.

When he finally stepped down in April 1955 it was in favour of his foreign secretary, Sir Anthony Eden.

Eden was popular and suited the public mood, although his public persona hid a deeply neurotic personality.

But his telegenic looks and gentlemanly manner suited a nation quietly on the up.

The Queen at her coronation
The coronation added to the nation's feel-good factor
Food rationing had ended and public optimism was also lifted by the coronation of a young Queen.

Fears of an imminent third world war had been pushed back with the death of Stalin and the end of the Korean War, both in 1953.

With Churchill's decision to stand down the decks were clear for an election - with the economy beginning to look shaky the Tories decided to chance their arm before a possible downturn.

Campaign

Within nine days of Churchill's retirement Eden called an election for 26 May, with the polls giving the Tories a modest lead.

Taking no chances with their hopes of securing a new mandate, the Tories quickly unveiled an electioneering Budget with Chancellor Rab Butler cutting income tax.

Clement Attlee again led Labour into the election battle - his fourth and last as leader.

Splits within the party already apparent when Labour was last in power had burst into the open more violently in opposition.

Attlee was unable to subdue Nye Bevan - a heroic figure for the party's left - who quit the shadow cabinet and was almost expelled from the party a year later.

With few areas of agreement within the party Labour shied away from making too may specific pledges and faced the electorate without a clear message.

TV was making its presence felt for the first time in an election campaign - with key figures including Attlee and Eden making themselves available for the cameras. Although it was hard to see which party - if any, or indeed the public - had benefited from its introduction.

Although he did speak once on television, the ageing Attlee still undertook his traditional speaking tour of the country, driven by car from hustings to hustings, as usual, by his faithful wife Vi.

Personalities

The Eton and Oxford educated Sir Anthony Eden - Churchill's long time heir apparent - led the Tories into an election campaign for the first time.

The former foreign secretary was keen to emerge from Churchill's shadow - especially after the former PM found seemingly endless reasons to stay in office despite being well past his prime.

Aneurin 'Nye' Bevan
Support for Nye Bevan undermined Attlee's leadership of the Labour party
A change of leadership for Labour also looked imminent, but Attlee at 78 decided to stay on until the election at least.

The party's leader since 1935, he was reluctant to hand over the leadership to a deputy whom he deeply disliked - the ambitious Herbert Morrison.

Attlee's leadership also found itself undermined as a growing caucus of MPs began to surround the charismatic but unpredictable figure of Nye Bevan.

The fiery and talented left-winger, by far and away Labour's best campaigner, left the shadow cabinet over German re-armament in 1954 and more rebellions from the Labour line saw him lose the party whip in 1955.

The voters never reward divided parties, as Labour was to find.

Key issues

Anthony Eden's appeal to the voters in an "age of peril and promise" amounted to an assurance that both peace and prosperity would best be secured by returning the Conservatives to power.

The party had succeeded in its promise last time on house building and Labour's harsh warnings that a Tory government would see a return to war and mass unemployment had proved unfounded.

But the Tory manifesto, United for Peace and Progress, contained very few direct promises.

This also proved true of Attlee's offering in Forward with Labour.

Apart from commitments to abolish the 11 plus, to renationalise what the Tories had returned to private ownership, and to maintain a free health service, there was little of note being offered by Labour.

While the Liberals continued their struggle on behalf of "the independent mind, the small man and the consumer".





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A weary Richard Dimbleby brings the 1955 coverage to a close



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