Labour’s defeat in 1951 was caused by a combination of factors, of which include economic difficulties such as overseas defence expenditure, the decision to enter the Korean War and the wage freeze that occurred. However, there were also other potentially equally important reasons such as the growing Conservative strength and their new, more appealing policies.One of labour’s major economic downfalls was the sheer amount of defence expenditure they had. Costs of maintaining overseas military commitments had quintupled, and 14% of the GNP was spent on defence alone in the late 1940s, as Attlee had also committed Britain to developing a nuclear deterrent. Having just come out of the war they were cautious as ever not to appear weak to other countries and make sure they were ready to handle a war, in terms of military equipment and weapons, if it were to happen again.
This is an important factor as it shows that part of Labour’s loss was definitely to do with their failing economic policies.Another factor related to defence was the Korean War in 1905. Attlee’s decision to enter was heavily criticised and not favoured by the majority, making it yet another reason for why Labour would not achieve as many votes as they possibly could have. Left wing Labour MPs in particular saw it as a major failure on Attlee’s part, as it cost Britain a lot of money, and they felt Britain had simply decided to follow the USA into an unnecessary Cold War situation. This links to the divides that occurred within the Labour party; especially as the Conservatives had become so much stronger and had fully recovered from their post-war defeat, making it another reason for which Labour were weaker in the 1951 election and potentially a contributor to their defeat.
The Labour government also suffered the Balance of Payments crisis from 1945-1946, when Britain spent ï¿½750million more abroad than it received from exports. Exports of manufactured goods themselves had dropped by a massive 60%, which left Britain with a lot less income than they had planned to have. This led to the wage freeze – as the government simply couldn’t afford to alter and adjust wages – which upset trade unions, who consequently threatened to strike. As well as their resentment to the wage freeze, the trade unions were annoyed by Labour’s slowness in responding to the worker’s demands.
All these factors left the Labour government troubled and exhausted by six hard years in office, contributing potentially to their electoral defeat of 1951.Since their 1945 defeat, the Conservatives had been working to recover. Though they lost in 1945 due to their unsuitable manifesto, their new manifesto appealed to the public and promised bright new changes in Britain and a change from the dull and old Labour government. With appointing 7 new young Conservative MPs, they proved to the public how different they were to the tiring Labour MPs, which was exactly what the majority wanted to escape from. These factors helped the Conservatives to dominate the election and potentially suggest that their electoral win was more to do with their growing strength rather than the weakness of Labour’s economic policies.
The Tory welfare policies, a part of the appealing manifesto, were another reason for their imminent success. They included Churchill’s commitment to building 300,000 new houses a year; way more than Attlee’s government had achieved, something that was appealing to the public who were currently in the grasps of rationing and shortages – not an ideal situation, especially as the war had ended years ago and they would have expected under Labour’s promise of “repairing” Britain in 1951 to have ended by this point. This also ties in with Churchill’s decision to abolish rationing, a major part of the Conservative’s welfare successes. People were sick of the war’s effects still being clear in Britain and the Conservative’s policies – building a new Britain and ridding them of rationing – seemed to be a perfect solution.In conclusion, the economic difficulties faced by Labour played a significant role in their electoral defeat, most importantly the defence expenditure aspect that took up a huge amount of their GNP – almost unnecessarily as they weren’t forced to enter any wars during that time, and didn’t particularly need such a large amount.
This reason also links to the money spent in entering the Korean War, another unnecessary feat, and another reason why the economic climate declined heavily during this time. Although the Conservatives had appeared to have recovered by this point, had Labour not had the difficulties of the economy to tire out their government, they could also have been in the same position, which is why the economic failures of Labour inevitably worked to their 1951 electoral defeat.