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1955: Gaitskell elected Labour leader

The Labour party has elected Hugh Gaitskell as its new leader following the resignation of Clement Attlee.

Mr Gaitskell won 157 votes in the ballot of Labour MPs. His opponents, Aneurin Bevan and Herbert Morrison, received 70 and 40 votes respectively.

He was the clear favourite to win the leadership race and achieved 47 votes more than his opponents' combined total thus securing election on the first ballot.

Mr Morrison announced his resignation as deputy leader of the party once the result was known.

Great responsibility

Since Mr Attlee's resignation over party divisions, Mr Morrison has stood in as acting leader. But at the age of 67 he was thought unlikely to win the leadership contest.

Mr Gaitskell, 49, comes from the right wing of the party and has the backing of the unions. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1950 to 1951.

The results of the ballot were announced at 1900 GMT this evening in a committee room at the House of Commons.

After his election, Mr Gaitskell took the chair and began by thanking party members: "It is not only a great honour but a great responsibility as well. I can only say that I will try to discharge this in such a way as to justify the confidence of the party.

He also paid tribute to Mr Attlee - and Mr Morrison: "All of us, I think, have a deep feeling of sadness that he has decided to resign from the position of deputy leader. He is a man who has served the party and country in the most devoted manner for well over 30 years.

"There is no use denying that we shall miss very much his wise counsel and his great experience, just as we shall miss those qualities in Mr Attlee."

The election of a new deputy leader will be postponed until after the Christmas parliamentary recess.

Divisions

James Griffiths, a former miner, aged 65, who held office in the last two Labour governments has emerged as the most likely front-runner.

It is not yet clear whether Mr Bevan will stand for the deputy leadership. Relations between him and Mr Gaitskell have been tested in the past.

In 1951 Mr Bevan resigned from the Cabinet over Mr Gaitskell's decision to introduce charges on dentures and spectacles, items which had previously been free on the NHS, in order to pay for re-arming to fight the Korean war.

At a news conference this evening, Mr Gaitskell was asked about divisions within the party. He told reporters he thought there was a "very much better spirit now" in the party and in the country as a whole.

In Context
Mr Gaitskell was given a rousing reception from both sides of the Commons when he arrived the following day to take his place for the first time as leader of the Labour party.

James Griffiths was duly elected the party's new deputy, a post he held until the election defeat in 1959. He was succeeded by Aneurin Bevan.

After Labour's election defeat in 1959, Mr Gaitskell proposed modifying the party's image by altering the controversial Clause Four of the constitution (concerning common ownership of the means of production or nationalisation) but the idea was rejected.

His battle with the Bevanite left-wing of the party continued. At the 1960 party conference his left-wing opponents won a motion calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament - despite his and the executive's opposition.

But in 1961 Mr Gaitskell succeeded in getting the motion reversed, reuniting the party and restoring its public image. He also campaigned against British membership of the European Economic Community.

He died suddenly in 1963 after a short illness.


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