BBC Homepage News World Service Sport Education My BBC BBC News Vote 2001
BBC HOMEPAGE | NEWS | WORLD SERVICE | SPORT | MY BBC help
BBC News Vote 2001 Vote2001 | Audio Video 
Election Battles 1945-1997
Intro 1945 1950 1951 1955
1959
1964 1966 1970 1974
Feb
1974
0ct
1979 1983 1987 1992 1997
1959: Macmillan wins Tory hat trick
Back
Next

Overview
Battlefield
Campaign
Personalities
Issues
Results
1959: Gaitskell speech
The man with the plan: Hugh Gaitskell

Watch and listen 1959
A BBC overview of events on election night
real 28k
Anthony Eden defends his actions on Suez
real 28k
Hugh Gaitskellís blistering attack on Edenís policy in Suez
quicktime 56k real 56k
Tony Benn introduces an early Labour election broadcast
real 28k
Harold Macmillanís first interview as prime minister
real 28k
Key events
1955 Gaitskell succeeds Attlee
1956 Suez crisis
1957 Macmillan succeeds Eden
1958 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament set up

The political landscape had changed dramatically since the lifeless election of 1955 with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals all in possession of new leaders.

Harold Macmillan took over as Tory leader and PM in the aftermath of the Suez crisis of 1956.

The politically disastrous military adventure in which the British and the French attempted to seize control of the Suez canal by force saw the end of Sir Anthony Eden's brief spell in Downing Street.

Macmillan was a surprise choice as leader, with the public and pundits both expecting Rab Butler to take charge.

But he picked up the pieces and despite a stormy parliament, complete with ministerial resignations and by-election worries, the standard of living for the mass of the people rose.

Labour too was in good shape. Many of the divisions plaguing the party had largely disappeared or had been papered over by the time the election eventually arrived. The aging Clement Attlee had stepped down not long after Labour's defeat in 1955 making way for Hugh Gaitskell.

But with a consumer society growing quickly it was uncertain how well Labour's traditional values would resonate as the lives of its core voters were changing.