The General Election of 1964

A guest post from placement student Emily Fisher

OTM119The Labour Party won their way back to office by a margin of four seats in October 1964, leading to Mr Harold Wilson becoming Prime Minister. The election ended a chapter of Conservative rule which begun when the Churchill Administration came back to power in October, 1951. Mr Wilson, who had repeated during the election a promise of 100 days of dynamic action, announced the first six members of his Cabinet and his Chief Whip on the night of October 16. He named the first of six ministries, Economic Affairs, with Mr George Brown, deputy leader of the party, at its head as First Secretary of State; and included Mr P. Gordon Walker, who had lost his seat at Smethwick, as Foreign Secretary. In quick succession over the next three days came the others. Mr. Frank Cousins, general secretary of the Transport & General Workers’ Union, was brought in to take charge of a Ministry of Technology (with Sir Charles Snow later chosen as his Parliamentary Secretary); Mrs Barbara Castle went to a new department of Overseas Development; Wales was given its own department under Mr. J. Griffiths; and a Ministry of Land and Natural Resources was set up under Mr. F. T. Willey, who was not in the Cabinet. Sixty-two by-elections were held during the last Parliament.

In the first (March, 1960) the Conservatives wrested Brighouse and Spenborough from Labour, but in subsequent contests Labour won Middlesbrough (West), South Dorset, Glasgow (Woodside), Rutherglen, and Luton and in March 1962, the Liberals overturned a Conservative majority of 14,760 at Orpington and won the seat majority of 7,855. Both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party elected new leaders during 1963.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell died on January 18, 1963, at a time when his authority over the Labour Party was absolute and his political stature was unanimously acknowledged. Mr Harold Wilson, Mr George Brown and Mr James Callaghan competed to fill the vacancy, and a second ballot among the Parliamentary party established Mr Wilson as the new leader with a majority of 41 votes over Mr Brown. Mr Aneurin Bevan, Labour’s deputy leader, died in July, 1960.

Reforms in the departmental structure of government were implemented in the last session. A unified Ministry of Defence was created to achieve centralised control of operations. Boards for the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force were established under Ministers subordinate to a Secretary of State for Defence. The coordination of educational development under the direction of a Secretary of State for Education and Science brought about the appointment of two Ministers of State, for higher education and science, and for the state schools system.

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