27th May 1955. The Unknown Prime Minister.

The 1955 May election was first time since Palmerston in 1865 that a party in office appealing for a fresh mandate was elected with a substantially increased majority: from 16 to 58.

In the process the Tories also got the largest percentage of the vote any party has ever received with 49.7%.

It was Today in 1955 that the Conservative party now under Anthony Eden, after Churchill’s retirement, was returned to power.

However ‘the ritual of electioneering’ complained the ‘prince of psephologists’, David Butler, ‘was performed passionlessly by the politicians and endured tranquilly by the voters’.

Having failed to oust Labour in 1950 and marginally winning the next year, the Tories now proceeded to treble their majority. Not since Robert Peel, in the 19thc had any party improved its position three times running.

The Tories with its new leader since 7th April had increased its majority by 60. The result was: Tories with 345 seats; Labour 277 under Clement Attlee’s fifth and last election, and Liberals under Clement Davies polled 6.

The election was heralded by a newspaper strike, which obliterated Churchill’s resignation, it was overshadowed by a threatened rail strike, marked by a dockers’ strike and unofficial walkout by Yorkshire miners.

But the Tories wisely steered clear of these Labour Party embarrassments, letting the events speak from themselves. They did though raise the bogey of militant, radical, firebrand, Aneurin Bevan becoming Prime Minister if Labour won.

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The results came after a poster campaign proclaiming amongst many: that the [Tory] Government was ‘Working for Peace’; Labour responded with ‘You can trust Mr. Attlee!’

After the election Attlee when asked on TV why they lost the election replied in typical terseness: ‘Because the government got more votes’.

Anthony Eden, to be ruined by the Suez debacle in 1956, was the last PM to be elected without opposition before Gordon Brown in 2007. However he had just 2 years in post as did Brown.

A bronze figure of Attlee commissioned by the old Greater London Council (GLC) had £3,000 of the cost of £23,000 still unpaid at the GLC’s demise in 1987, and it was offered to any area which would pay the balance.

It was finally erected near Attlee’s former residence outside Limehouse Library, and unveiled in 1988 by Sir Harold Wilson, then the last living member of Attlee’s post-war Cabinet.

Ref: Iain Macleod and the 1955 Election Punch Sept 30th 1964. P482.

Ref : picturingpolitics.wordpress.com/1955-labour-poster/People’s History Museum.

Ref: gettyimages.com/Conservative Party Collection. Hulton Picture Library.

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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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