Tales from an author

Why NOT trust the CONservatives – lessons from Tory history

Another extract from my book about the Tories – covering the era of Ted Heath and Enoch Powell (the thinking man’s Farage maybe??)

Rivers of Blood 1964-1974

A Labour government was formed in October 1964, with Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. Election defeat led to some reorganisation of the Conservative Party, and in January 1965 Edward du Cann became Party Chairman. In view of the fiasco of 1963, a feeling finally developed that a formal procedure should be established for the election of the Leader. There had not previously been any pressure for this, given the anti-democratic outlook of the party. Alec Douglas-Home set up an election procedure, and the rules were adopted by the party in February 1965. Voting would be confined to Conservative MPs. To win on the first ballot, a candidate would require an overall majority equivalent to 15 per cent of those voting. On the second ballot a simple majority would suffice. The old process for choos­ing a Leader was not entirely dispensed with. The rules provided that the winner of the election would sub­sequently be confirmed as Leader by a party meeting. In the following months, a number of MPs set about attempt­ing to secure the replacement of Douglas-Home, and this prompted him to resign on July 22. There now followed the Conservative Party’s first genuine Leadership election, with three candidates, namely Edward Heath, Reginald Maudling, and Enoch Powell. The ballot was held on July 27, when Heath received 150 votes, Maudling 133, and Powell 15. Although Heath had not won the requisite majority, Maudling and Powell both withdrew from the contest so Heath was declared the winner, with victory confirmed at a party meeting on August 2. The Conservatives had reacted to defeat in the 1964 Election with a major rethink of their policies. The process culminated with a policy document, Putting Britain Right Ahead, being published in the Autumn of 1965, to coincide with the Party Conference. The main theme was economic growth, through policies of lower taxation, reduced government expenditure, reduced social services, legislation to curb trade union power, and entry into the EEC.

In February 1966 Wilson called an Election for March 31, looking to increase the government’s majority. Labour won 363 seats, the Conservatives 253, the Liberals 12, and the others 2. Labour had won a majority of 96 seats. The Conservative Party responded to defeat with a further development of their organisation and policy. Heath had been intent on sacking du Cann – who he did not like – as Party Chairman from the outset of his Leadership. Eventually differences between Heath and du Cann led to the latter resigning in 1967. The policy exercise continued throughout the Conservatives’ period in opposition. The basic policy lines featured in the 1965 statement were developed, and the emphasis remained on economic growth. Meanwhile Heath faced a challenge from the right wing of the party, for whom Enoch Powell emerged as the main spokesman. Powell served in the Shadow Cabinet as Defence Spokesman, but he and Heath did not enjoy an easy relationship. Powell developed an increasingly indepen­dent line, as he did not support Britain’s retention of nuclear weapons, and stated so publicly, differing from the vast majority of the Conservative Party. Powell argued that Britain’s national identity had to be defined, and also protected from threats posed by immigration and the EEC. In April 1968 Heath dismissed Powell from the Shadow Cabinet, after he made a speech attacking immigration, claiming that racial tension could lead to “rivers of blood”. The right saw Powell as attacking the post-war political consensus, allowing a new Conservative approach to replace it. The right believed that the Party needed something more substantial than Heath’s economic policy if it was to regain power. The right was also con­cerned by Heath’s support for the modernisation theme, introduced by Macmillan. They argued that modernisation had not proved itself, and that the Conservatives should only follow policies that experience had shown to be successful. As an alternative the right sought support through an assertion of traditional Conservative concerns. The leadership originally saw the right as a possible threat to the party’s new strategy and an electoral liability, viewing them as inflexible supporters of outdated ideas. Nevertheless the right’s arguments gained support in the party, with the result that the leadership made concessions to them.

The next General Election took place on June 18 1970. The Conservatives, who campaigned on the programme developed in opposition, won 330 seats, Labour 287, the Liberals 6, and the others 7. Heath became Prime Minister, while Alec Douglas-Home was Foreign Secretary for the second time, and Powell was excluded from the government. Victory united the party, and the disputes of the past few years ended. The government was initially intent on implementing its programme. At the Party Conference, in October, Heath said that the government would “embark on a change so radical, a revolution so quiet and so total that it will go far beyond the programme of a Parliament”. It was a sign of how far the Conservatives had been forced to compromise their beliefs that Heath was now proclaiming them as revolutionaries. The Conservative Party suppos­edly existed to block change, even change which fell far short of revolution.

The promised reduction of government intervention in industry was initially adhered to, while the Indus­trial Relations Act of 1971 attacked the position of the unions. Heath’s major aim was to achieve entry to the EEC, the negotiations for which led to the signing of a treaty of accession in January 1972, subject to the passing of legislation by Parliament. The Conservative Party was still not wholly in favour of EEC membership, and the European Communities Act was only carried passed as the result of the support of a minority of Labour MPs. Another major constitutional measure, the Local Government Act 1972, reorganised the structure in England and Wales. Many of the traditional counties were either rearranged or abolished, while new counties were created. March 1972 brought a resumption of direct rule of Northern Ireland, in response to the escalation of political violence there. The Ulster Volunteer Force, the Tory terrorists from the early twentieth century, had re-formed in 1966, to oppose the campaign for civil rights by Catholics. During 1972 the economy caused the government great problems, with unemployment reaching more than one million. With no sign of industry reviving as a result of the government’s policies, it adopted intervention.

Entry into the EEC occurred on January 1 1973. Heath saw entry into the EEC as a major economic benefit for Britain. In return for this he was prepared to accept the loss of Britain’s independence. The laws of Britain ceased to be the sole preserve of its Parliament, as they became subject to those of the EEC. The Conservative Party had provided further evidence that its claims to be a national Party are dishonest. Meanwhile the government’s economic strategy failed to produce successful results. November brought strikes by the miners and power workers. The miners’ strike lasted through the Winter, and led to a three day working week. Heath had to choose between calling an Election on the issue of who should govern the country, and the alternative of conced­ing to the miners. Heath decided to call an Election, which was set for February 28 1974, but the Conservatives intended to settle with the miners if they won the Election. Powell denounced the Election as fraudu­lent, refused to be a candidate, and announced that he would vote for the Labour Party, as it planned to hold a referendum on EEC membership. Labour won 301 seats, the Conservatives 297, the Liberals 14, the Ulster Unionists 11, and the others 12. The Ulster Unionists had broken with the Conservative Party following disagreement over the governance of Northern Ireland. With no majority for any party, Heath stayed in office, and attempted to form a coalition. The questionable decision to allow Heath to remain in office for several days, after Labour had won more seats than the Conservatives in the Election, was made by the queen, after her advisors had consulted Robert Blake, a supposed constitutional expert. Blake’s advice was not exactly neutral, as he was a member of the Conservative Party, author of The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill, a history published in 1970, and had been given a place in the House of Lords by Heath in 1971. Heath’s negotiations with the Lib­erals broke down over their insistence on proportional representation. Heath resigned on March 4, and Harold Wilson formed a minority Labour government. A second Election was held on October 10, as Labour sought a majority. With the Conservatives still in a weak position, Heath was reduced to arguing in the campaign for a national and not necess­arily a Conservative government. Labour won 319 seats, the Conservatives 277, the Liberals 13, and the minor parties 26. The latter figure included 6 MPs for the Ulster Unionists, with Enoch Powell being re-elected to Parliament under this banner. Labour had a majority of 3.

Heath had now lost three Elections out of four. This led to pressure in the Conserva­tive Party for a Leadership election. The current rules did not lay down that the Leader had to present himself for re-election at any time. Nevertheless Heath realised that he would have to face an election if he was to retain his authority. He announced that he would face an election once the rules had been revised, as they were regarded as unsatisfactory.


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