The general election was held on 26th May 1955, four years after the previous general election. Sir Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill as Conservative leader and took the Tories to their second successive election victory. The campaign was thought largely uneventful. The Tory manifesto had a mildly left-sounding title, `United for Peace and Progress’ But it offered very little in the way of specific policies; instead, the Tories made much of Labour’s divisions and hinted at a planned takeover by the left, in particular, Nye Bevan. Labour’s manifesto, `Forward with Labour’, promised only the abolition of the 11-plus exam and the restoration of the NHS to a free service, repealing Conservative charges for dental care. The outcome resulted in a substantially increased majority of 60 for the Conservative government against the Labour Party, still led by Clement Attlee. Of the 630 seats, the Tories took 345, up 24, Labour 277, down 18, and the Liberals 6, the same number, Sinn Fein had two seats (the same).
The Communist Party ran a total of 17 candidates, winning a total vote of 33,144; this was 4.67% of the total vote in the seats contested. Whilst the manifesto was wide-ranging, featuring for example the policy that Scotland and Wales should be given domestic self-government with their own parliaments and for the vote at 18. But it mainly focused on bread and butter issues, the broad context of the coincidence of Labour, Tory and Liberal policies was clear enough. In 1954 the Chancellor spent £1,640 million on the forces, “12s. 8d. a week for every man, woman and child in the country. Yet he allowed only £780 million—5s. 8d. a week—for education, health and housing combined. We can find £1,000 million right away for homes, schools and hospitals, if we cut military expenditure to the 1950-51 level and restore the Excess Profits Levy.”
Labour’s policy treated the cold war and the arms burden as inevitable and argued that there was simply not enough in the Chancellor’s coffers to enable a socialist welfare policy to be followed. Communists pointed out that there would be “plenty of money for pensions and allowances if the Government puts back the £203 million it took from the Insurance Fund in the last three years alone, and raises its contribution for the next five years to half that provided by workers and employers.” [Communist Party, `A policy for Britain: general election manifesto’, (1955)] Labour made things even worse by accepting “the American-imposed trade bans and the policy of colonial wars. It offers no prospect of establishing public ownership and control of industry in the common interest, but proposes to strengthen still further the big businessmen and employers. There is no vision of steadily improving social services—only a future of further sacrifice by the many for the benefit of the few. This is the kind of policy that led to Labour’s defeat in 1951.” [Communist Party, `A policy for Britain: general election manifesto’, (1955)]
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