Conservative instead of the traditional term, Tory, was first used in Britain by George Canning in 1824. When Lord Liverpool resigned in 1827 King George IV interviewed Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington and George Canning for the post of prime minister. When the king appointed Canning, Wellington, Peel and several other leading Tories resigned from the government. Canning was forced to rely on the support of the Whigs to hold on to power. Those Whigs who accepted government posts had to promise not to raise the issue of parliamentary reform.
Canning's first concern was to tackle the problem of the Corn Laws. On 1st March, 1827, Canning introduced the proposal that foreign wheat should be admitted at a 20s. duty when the price had fallen to 60s. This new sliding scale enabled the duty to fall as the price rose, and to rise as the price fell. The Duke of Wellington led the fight against this measure and although passed by the House of Commons, it was defeated in the House of Lords.
Even before being appointed prime minister, George Canning's health was in decline. The strain of office made matters worse and on 29th July he informed George IV that he was seriously ill. Canning was taken to the home of the Duke of Devonshire and on 8th August, 1827, he died in the same room in which, twenty-one years before, his first political influence, Charles Fox, had passed away.
George IV now asked Viscount Goderich to become Prime Minister. His colleagues feared that he had been chosen because the king felt he could control him better than other leading politicians. Goderich found it impossible to stop the conflict between the Whigs and Tories in the cabinet and on 8th January, 1828, he resigned from office. Goderich was disappointed when the new Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, decided against offering him a post in his government. Although Wellington and the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, had always opposed Catholic Emancipation they began to reconsider their views after they received information on the possibility of an Irish rebellion. As Peel said to Wellington: "though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger".
In 1830 unemployment in rural areas began to grow and the invention of the threshing machine posed another threat to the economic prosperity of the farm labourer. The summer and autumn of 1830 saw a wave of riots, rick-burnings and machine-breaking. In a debate in the House of Lords in November, Earl Grey, the Whig leader, suggested that the best way to reduce this violence was to introduce reform of the House of Commons. The Duke of Wellington replied that the existing constitution was so perfect that he could not imagine any possible alternative that would be an improvement on the present system. In the speech Wellington made it clear that he had no intention of introducing parliamentary reform. When news of what Wellington had said in Parliament was reported, his home in London was attacked by a mob. Now extremely unpopular with the public, Wellington began to consider resigning from office.
On 15th November, 1830 Wellington's government was defeated in a vote in the House of Commons. The new king, William IV, was more sympathetic to reform than his predecessor and two days later decided to ask Earl Grey to form a government. As soon as Grey became prime minister he formed a cabinet committee to produce a plan for parliamentary reform. Details of the proposals were announced on 3rd February 1831. The bill was passed by the Commons by a majority of 136, but despite a powerful speech by Earl Grey, the bill was defeated in the House of Lords by forty-one.
Robert Peel was totally against Grey's proposals for parliamentary reform. Between 12th and 27th July 1831, Peel made forty-eight speeches in the Commons against this measure. One of Peel's main arguments was that the system of rotten boroughs had enabled distinguished men to enter parliament.
After the passing of the 1832 Reform Act the Tories were heavily defeated in the general election that followed. Although victorious at Tamworth, Peel, now leader of the Tories, only had just over hundred MPs he could rely on to support him against Earl Grey's government.
In November 1834 King William IV dismissed the Whig government and appointed Robert Peel as his new prime minister. Peel immediately called a general election and during the campaign issued what became known as the Tamworth Manifesto. In his election address to his constituents in Tamworth, Peel pledged his acceptance of the 1832 Reform Act and argued for a policy of moderate reforms while preserving Britain's important traditional institutions. The Tamworth Manifesto marked the shift from the old, repressive Toryism to a new, more enlightened Conservatism. After Peel became Prime Minister in 1834, his followers tended to describe themselves as Conservatives rather than Tories.
The general election gave Robert Peel more supporters although there were still more Whigs than Tories in the House of Commons. Despite this, the king invited Peel to form a new administration. With the support of the Whigs, Peel's government was able to pass the Dissenters' Marriage Bill and the English Tithe Bill. However, Peel was constantly being outvoted in the House of Commons and on 8th April 1835 he resigned from office.
In August 1841 Robert Peel was once again invited to form a Conservative administration. Over the last few years Britain had been spending more than it was earning. Peel decided the government had to increase revenue. On 11th March, 1842, he announced the introduction of income-tax at sevenpence in the pound. He added, that he hoped that this was enable the government to reduce duties on imported goods.
In 1843 Robert Peel once more had problems with Daniel O'Connell, who was leading the campaign against the Act of Union. O'Connell announced a large meeting to be held at Clontarf. The British government pronounced it illegal and when O'Connell continued to go ahead with his planned Clontarf meeting he was arrested and imprisoned for conspiracy. Peel attempted to overcome the religious conflict in Ireland by setting up the Devon Commission to inquire into the "state of the law and practice in respect to the occupation of land in Ireland." He also increased the grant to Maynooth, a college for the education of the Irish priesthood, from £9,000 to £26,000 a year.
However, the government's attempts to improve the situation in Ireland was severely damaged by the 1845 potato blight. The Irish crop failed, therefore depriving the people of their staple food. Robert Peel was informed that three million poor people in Ireland who had previously lived on potatoes would require cheap imported corn. Peel realised that they only way to avert starvation was to remove the duties on imported corn. Although the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, the policy split the Conservative Party and Peel was forced to resign.
When the leader of the Whigs, Lord John Russell, resigned as Prime Minister in 1852, the 14th Earl of Derby tried to form a government. Several leading figures, including Lord Palmerston and the Duke of Wellington refused to join the administration. One man who did accept a post was his son, Edward Stanley, who became under secretary for foreign affairs. When the House of Commons defeated his budget proposals in December 1852, he resigned.
The Earl of Aberdeen now became Prime Minister. Aberdeen's coalition government was very popular with the public at first. However, attitudes changed when Britain became involved in the Crimean War in 1854. Aberdeen was blamed for the mismanagement of the war and he was forced to resign in February 1855.
Lord Palmerston, aged seventy, was appointed as Prime Minister. Queen Victoria found it difficult to work with him but their relationship gradually improved. She later wrote in her journal: "We had, God knows! terrible trouble with him about Foreign Affairs. Still, as Prime Minister he managed affairs at home well, and behaved to me well. But I never liked him."
In 1858 the 14th Earl of Derby returned as head of a minority government. Benjamin Disraeli, Derby's Chancellor of the Exchequer, suggested that Conservatives should extend the franchise. Disraeli told Derby that "our party is now a corpse, but it appears to me that, in the present perplexed state of affairs, a Conservative public pledge to parliamentary reform, a bold and decided course, might not only put us on our legs, but greatly help the country." Derby rejected the idea and as his own son, Edward Stanley, said to Disraeli, "he does not care for office, but wishes to keep things as they are and impede progress." In February 1858, Derby's government resigned after losing a vote of no confidence.
Once again Lord Palmerston became prime-minister. The foreign events that he had to deal with during this period included the American Civil War and Napoleon III's war with Austria. The main domestic issue involved the continuing debate over parliamentary reform. Palmerston was totally opposed to any extension of the franchise and during 1864 came into conflict with William Gladstone, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a strong supporter of reform.
In 1866 the 14th Earl of Derby became Prime Minister for a third time. Benjamin Disraeli, the new leader of Hose of Commons, pointed out that although attempts by Lord John Russell and William Gladstone to extend the franchise had failed, he believed that if the Liberals returned to power, they would certainly try again. Disraeli argued that unless the Conservatives took action they were in danger of being seen as an anti-reform party. This time Derby accepted Disraeli's arguments and in 1867 his government proposed a new Reform Act. Although some members of the Cabinet such as Lord Carnarvon and Lord Cranborne (later the Marquis of Salisbury) resigned in protest against this extension of democracy, the 1867 Reform Act was passed.
By 1868 the 14th Earl of Derby was in poor health and he was forced to retire from office and was replaced by Benjamin Disraeli. However, in the 1868 General Election that followed, William Gladstone and the Liberals were returned to power with a majority of 170.
After six years in opposition, Benjamin Disraeli and the Conservative Party won the 1874 General Election. It was the first time since 1841 that the Tories in the House of Commons had a clear majority. Disraeli now had the opportunity to the develop the ideas that he had expressed when he was leader of the Young England group in the 1840s. Social reforms passed by the Disraeli government included: the Artisans Dwellings Act (1875), the Public Health Act (1875), the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1875).
Benjamin Disraeli also introduced measures to protect workers such as the 1874 Factory Act and the Climbing Boys Act (1875). Disraeli also kept his promise to improve the legal position of trade unions. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act (1875) allowed peaceful picketing and the Employers and Workmen Act (1878) enabled workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legally agreed contracts.
Unlike William Gladstone, Disraeli got on very well with Queen Victoria. She approved of Disraeli's imperialist views and his desire to make Britain the most powerful nation in the world. In 1876 Victoria agreed to his suggestion that she should accept the title of Empress of India.
In August 1876 Queen Victoria granted Benjamin Disraeli the title Lord Beaconsfield. Disraeli now left the House of Commons but continued as Prime Minister and now used the House of Lords to explain his government's policies. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Disraeli gained great acclaim for his success in limiting Russia's power in the Balkans.
The Liberals defeated the Conservatives in the 1880 General Election and after William Gladstone became Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli decided to retire from politics. The Marquis of Salisbury became leader of the Conservative Party. However, he had to wait until the general election of 1885 before he became Prime Minister. He was replaced by William Gladstone briefly in 1886 but also headed the Conservative governments between 1886-92 and 1895-1902. Salisbury supported the policies that led to the Boer War (1899-1902).
Arthur Balfour replaced his uncle, Marquis of Salisbury, as Prime Minister in 1902. The most important events during his premiership included the 1902 Education Act and the ending of the Boer War. The topic of Tariff Reform split Balfour's government and when he resigned in 1905, Edward VII invited Henry Campbell-Bannerman to form a government. Campbell-Bannerman accepted and in the 1906 General Election that followed the Liberal Party had a landslide victory. Balfour remained leader of the Conservative Party until he was replaced by Andrew Bonar Law in 1911. The outbreak of war was embarrassing for Bonar Law because it was claimed that his family firm had been selling iron to Germany for its armaments programme until August 1914.
When Herbert Asquith formed a coalition government in May 1915, Andrew Bonar Law became Secretary of State for the Colonies and a member of the War Committee. David Lloyd George replaced Asquith in 1916 and Bonar Law was offered the more important post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. This effectively made him Lloyd George's second-in-command.
Andrew Bonar Law retired as leader of the Conservative Party in March 1921, but despite poor health, agreed to become Prime Minister after David Lloyd George was removed from office in October 1922. His health continued to deteriorate and in May 1923 he was forced to resign and Stanley Baldwin became the new Prime Minister.
In 1925 Baldwin had to deal with the crisis in the coal industry. When the mine-owners announced that they intended to reduce the miner's wages. The General Council of the Trade Union Congress responded to this news by promising to support the miners in their dispute with their employers. Baldwin decided to intervene, and his government supplied the necessary money to bring the miners' wages back to their previous level. However, Baldwin stated that this subsidy to the miners' wages would only last 9 months. In the meantime he set up a Royal Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel, to look into the problems of the Mining Industry.
The Samuel Commission published its report in March 1926. Samuel recommended that the Government subsidy should be withdrawn and the miners' wages should be reduced. The Trade Union Congress called a General Strike but continued to negotiate with the government. The main figure involved in these negotiations was Jimmy Thomas. Talks went on until late on Sunday night, and according to Thomas, they were close to agreement when Stanley Baldwin broke off negotiations. The reason for his action was that printers at the Daily Mail had refused to print a leading article attacking the proposed General Strike.
On 3rd May the Trade Union Congress called out workers in the key industries - railwaymen, transport workers, dockers, printers, builders, iron and steel workers - a total of 3 million men (a fifth of the adult male population).
Baldwin arranged for Sir Herbert Samuel to meet the leaders of the Trade Union Congress. Without telling the miners, the TUC negotiating committee met Samuel and worked out a set of proposals to end the General Strike. These included: (1) a National Wages Board with an independent chairman; (2) a minimum wage for all colliery workers; (3) workers displaced by pit closures to be given alternative employment; (4) the wages subsidy to be renewed while negotiations continued.
However, Samuel warned that subsequent negotiations would probably mean a reduction in wages. These terms were accepted by the TUC negotiating committee, but were rejected by the executive of the Miners' Federation. On the 11th May, at a meeting of the Trade Union Congress General Committee, it was decided to accept the terms proposed by Herbert Samuel and to call off the General Strike.
On 21st June 1926, Baldwin's Government introduced a Bill into the House of Commons that suspended the miners' Seven Hours Act for five years - thus permitting a return to an 8 hour day for miners. In July the mine-owners announced new terms of employment for miners based on the 8 hour day.
In 1927 Baldwin's Government passed the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act. This act made all sympathetic strikes illegal, ensured the trade union members had to voluntarily 'contract in' to pay the political levy, forbade Civil Service unions to affiliate to the TUC, and made mass picketing illegal.
Stanley Baldwin lost the 1929 General Election. The election of the Labour Government coincided with an economic depression and Ramsay MacDonald was faced with the problem of growing unemployment. MacDonald asked Sir George May, to form a committee to look into Britain's economic problem. When the May Committee produced its report in July, 1931, it suggested that the government should reduce its expenditure by £97,000,000, including a £67,000,000 cut in unemployment benefits. MacDonald, and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, accepted the report but when the matter was discussed by the Cabinet, the majority voted against the measures suggested by Sir George May.
Ramsay MacDonald was angry that his Cabinet had voted against him and decided to resign. When he saw George V that night, he was persuaded to head a new coalition government that would include Conservative and Liberal leaders as well as Labour ministers. Most of the Labour Cabinet totally rejected the idea and only three, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and John Sankey agreed to join the new government.
MacDonald was determined to continue and his National Government introduced the measures that had been rejected by the previous Labour Cabinet. Labour MPs were furious with what had happened and MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party. Stanley Baldwin was invited to join the National Government formed by Ramsay MacDonald in August 1931 and served as President of the Council.
The 1931 General Election was a disaster for the Labour Party with only 46 members winning their seats. MacDonald, now had 556 pro-National Government MPs and had no difficulty pursuing the policies suggested by Sir George May. However, disowned by his own party, he was now a prisoner of the Conservative Party, and in June 1935 he was gently eased from power. Baldwin now became Prime Minister.
Baldwin was criticised for his policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War and his reluctance to rearm against the growing threat from Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. It has also been claimed that his policies were also partly responsible for prolonging the economic depression in the 1930s.
In 1936 the Conservative government feared the spread of communism from the Soviet Union to the rest of Europe. Baldwin shared this concern and was fairly sympathetic to the military uprising in Spain against the left-wing Popular Front government.
Leon Blum, the prime minister of the Popular Front government in France, initially agreed to send aircraft and artillery to help the Republican Army in Spain. However, after coming under pressure from Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet, he changed his mind.
Stanley Baldwin and Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. A Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and was eventually signed by 27 countries including the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. However, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini openly ignored the agreement and sent a large amount of military aid, including troops, to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.
The Labour Party originally supported the government's non-intervention policy. However, when it became clear that Hitler and Mussolini were determined to help the Nationalists win the war, Labour leaders began to call for Britain to supply the Popular Front with military aid. Some members of the party joined the International Brigades and fought for the Republicans in Spain.
Of the 2,000 British citizens who served with the Republican Army, the majority were members of the Communist Party. Although some notable literary figures volunteered (W. H. Auden, George Orwell, John Cornford, Stephen Spender, Christopher Caudwell), most of the men who went to Spain were from the working-class, including a large number of unemployed miners.
To stop volunteers fighting for the Republicans, the British government announced on 9th January, 1937, that it intended to invoke the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. It also passed the Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Munitions to Spain) Act.
Praised for his handling of the abdication crisis in 1936 Stanley Baldwin resigned from office following the successful coronation celebrations of George VI in May 1937. Neville Chamberlain, the new prime minister, continued the policy of nonintervention. At the end of 1937 he took the controversial decision to send Sir Robert Hodgson to Burgos to be the British government's link with the Nationalist government.
On 13th March 1938 Leon Blum returned to office in France. When he began to argue for an end to the country's nonintervention policy, Chamberlain and the Foreign Office joined with the right-wing press in France and political figures such as Henri-Philippe Petain and Maurice Gamelin to bring him down. On 10th April 1938, Blum was replaced by Edouard Daladier, a politician who agreed not only with Chamberlain's Spanish strategy but his foreign policy that later became known as appeasement.
Chamberlain believed that Germany had been badly treated by the Allies after it was defeated in the First World War. He therefore thought that the German government had genuine grievances and that these needed to be addressed. He also thought that by agreeing to some of the demands being made by Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy, he could avoid a European war.
In February, 1938, Adolf Hitler invited Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, to meet him at Berchtesgarden. Hitler demanded concessions for the Austrian Nazi Party. Schuschnigg refused and after resigning was replaced by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the leader of the Austrian Nazi Party. On 13th March, Seyss-Inquart invited the German Army to occupy Austria and proclaimed union with Germany.
The union of Germany and Austria (Anschluss) had been specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Some members of the House of Commons, including Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill, now called on Neville Chamberlain to take action against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government.
Hugh Christie an MI6 agent working based in Berlin, met with Hermann Goering on 3rd February 1937. He immediately reported his conversation with Goering and included information that Germany intended to take control of Austria and Czechoslovakia. He also told Christie that Germany mainly wanted "a free hand in Eastern Europe."
In March 1938 Hugh Christie told the British government that Adolf Hitler would be ousted by the military if Britain joined forces with Czechoslovakia against Germany. Christie warned that the "crucial question is 'How soon will the next step against Czechoslovakia be tried?' ... The probability is that the delay will not exceed two or three months at most, unless France and England provide the deterrent, for which cooler heads in Germany are praying."
International tension increased when Adolf Hitler began demanding that the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia should be under the control of the German government. In an attempt to to solve the crisis, the heads of the governments of Germany, Britain, France and Italy met in Munich in September, 1938.
On 29th September, 1938, Neville Chamberlain, Adolf Hitler, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini signed the Munich Agreement which transferred to Germany the Sudetenland, a fortified frontier region that contained a large German-speaking population.
When Eduard Benes, Czechoslovakia's head of state, who had not been invited to Munich, protested at this decision, Neville Chamberlain told him that Britain would be unwilling to go to war over the issue of the Sudetenland.
The Munich Agreement was popular with most people in Britain because it appeared to have prevented a war with Nazi Germany. However, some politicians, including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, attacked the agreement. These critics pointed out that no only had the British government behaved dishonorably, but it had lost the support of Czech Army, one of the best in Europe.
In March, 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action Adolf Hitler had broken the Munich Agreement. Chamberlain now realized that Hitler could not be trusted and his appeasement policy now came to an end. After the invasion of Poland, Chamberlain was forced to declare war on Germany.
On the outbreak of the Second World War public opinion polls showed that Chamberlain's popularity was 55 per cent. By December, 1939, this had increased to 68 per cent. However, members of the House of Commons saw him as an uninspiring war leader.
On 8th May the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign and this turned into a vote of censure. At the end of the debate 30 Conservatives voted against Neville Chamberlain and a further 60 abstained. Chamberlain now decided to resign and on 10th May, 1940, George VI appointed Winston Churchill as prime minister. Later that day the German Army began its Western Offensive and invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Two days later German forces entered France.
Winston Churchill formed a coalition government and placed leaders of the Labour Party such as Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Stafford Cripps and Hugh Dalton in key positions. He also brought in another long-time opponent of Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, as his secretary of state for war. Later that year Eden replaced Lord Halifax as foreign secretary.
Churchill also developed a strong personal relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt and this led to the sharing and trading of war supplies. The Lend Lease agreement of March 1941 allowed Britain to order war goods from the United States on credit.
Although he provided strong leadership the war continued to go badly for Britain and after a series of military defeats Winston Churchill had to face a motion of no confidence in Parliament. However, he maintained the support of most members of the House of Commons and won by 475 votes to 25.
One of the major contributions made by Churchill to eventual victory was his ability to inspire the British people to greater effort by making public broadcasts on significant occasions. A brilliant orator he was a tireless source of strength to people experiencing the sufferings of the Blitz.
After Pearl Harbor Churchill worked closely with Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure victory over Germany and Japan. He was also a loyal ally of the Soviet Union after Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941.
Winston Churchill held important meetings with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Teheran (November, 1943) and Yalta (February, 1945). Although Churchill's relationship with Stalin was always difficult he managed to successfully develop a united strategy against the Axis powers.
Despite intense pressure from Stalin to open a second-front by landing Allied troops in France in 1943, Churchill continued to argue that this should not happen until the defeat of Nazi Germany was guaranteed. The D-Day landings did not take place until June, 1944 and this delay enabled the Red Army to capture territory from Germany in Eastern Europe.
In public Winston Churchill accepted plans for social reform drawn up by William Beveridge in 1944. However, he was unable to convince the electorate that he was as committed to these measures as much as Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. In the 1945 General Election Churchill's attempts to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany backfired and Attlee won a landslide victory.
Churchill became leader of the opposition and when visiting the United States in March 1946, he made his famous Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri. He suffered the first of several strokes in August 1946 but this information was kept from the general public and he continued to lead the Conservative Party.
Churchill returned to power after the 1951 General Election. After the publication of his six volume, The Second World War, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Churchill's health continued to deteriorate and in 1955 he reluctantly retired from politics. Anthony Eden became prime minister in April, 1955. Later that year he attended a summit conference at Geneva with the heads of government of the USA, France and the Soviet Union.
President Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about the close relationship developing between Egypt and the Soviet Union. In July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled a promised grant of 56 million dollars towards the building of the Aswan Dam. Gamal Abdel Nasser was furious and on 26th July he announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam.
Anthony Eden feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Britain, France and Israel and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt.
On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. They were then replaced by UN troops who policed the Egyptian frontier.
Gamal Abdel Nasser now blocked the Suez Canal. He also used his new status to urge Arab nations to reduce oil exports to Western Europe. As a result petrol rationing had to be introduced in several countries in Europe. In failing health, Anthony Eden resigned on 9th January, 1957 and Harold Macmillan now became Britain's new prime minister. Macmillan attempted to heal the relationship with the United States after the Suez Crisis. He enjoyed a good relationship with President Dwight Eisenhower and the two men had a successful conference in Bermuda in March 1957.
Macmillan was the first Conservative prime minister to accept that countries within the British Empire should be given their freedom. In 1957, the Gold Coast, Ghana, Malaya and North Borneo were granted their independence.
In January 1958, Macmillan refused to introduce strict controls on money and the three Treasury ministers Peter Thorneycroft, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Birch, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Enoch Powell, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, resigned.
Macmillan's economic policies resulted in an economic boom and a reduction in unemployment and he easily won the 1959 General Election by increasing his party's majority from 67 to 107 seats. It has been claimed that the main reason for this success was a growth in working-class income. Richard Lamb argued in The Macmillan Years 1957-1963 (1995) that "The key factor in the Conservative victory was that average real pay for industrial workers had risen since Churchill’s 1951 victory by over 20 per cent".
In February 1959 Harold Macmillan became the first British prime minister to visit the Soviet Union since the Second World War. Talks with Nikita Khrushchev eased tensions in East-West relations over West Berlin and led to an agreement in principle to stop nuclear tests.
Macmillan's tradition as a social reformer was reflected in his "wind of change" speech at Cape Town in 1960 where he acknowledged that countries within the British Empire would be given their independence. Nigeria, the Southern Cameroons and British Somaliland were granted independence in 1960, Sierra Leone in 1961, Uganda in 1962, and Kenya and Tanzania in 1963.
The introduction of the system of life peerages to the House of Lords and the creation of the National Economic Development Council were other examples of unlikely Conservative measures and showed that Macmillan retained his liberal instincts.
In October, 1963, ill-health forced Harold Macmillan to resign from office. The Earl of Home became prime minister. He immediately resigned his peerage and won a by-election at Kinross. A year later the Conservative Party was defeated at the 1964 General Election and Harold Wilson became the new prime minister.
Edward Heath defeated Enoch Powell and Reginald Maudling to become leader of the Conservative Party in 1965. Later that year Heath supported attempts by Harold Wilson to bring down the white minority regime in Rhodesia. This upset Conservatives on the right and Heath had to deal with a rebellion led by Lord Salisbury.
Heath lost the 1966 General Election to Harold Wilson. In 1968 Wilson's popularity slumped after Enoch Powell made his "rivers of blood" speech on immigration. Instead of supporting the use of the race issue to gain favour with the British electorate, Heath sacked Powell as a member of the shadow cabinet.
The Conservative Party won the 1970 General Election with a majority of 30 seats. Edward Heath now became prime minister and immediately made the third British application to join the European Economic Community (ECC). On 28th October, 1971, the House of Commons voted with a 112 majority to go into Europe. However, many in his party was unhappy with this policy and it created deep divisions that lasted for over thirty years.
Edward Heath also followed a policy of supporting British industry. In 1971 Rolls-Royce faced bankruptcy and received considerable funds from the government. The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was also bailed out when it got into economic difficulties.
Edward Heath came into conflict with the trade unions over his attempts to impose a prices and incomes policy. His attempts to legislate against unofficial strikes led to industrial disputes. In 1973 a miners' work-to-rule led to regular power cuts and the imposition of a three day week. Heath called a general election in 1974 on the issue of "who rules". He failed to get a majority and Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were returned to power.
In January 1975 Margaret Thatcher challenged Edward Heath for the leadership of the Conservative Party. On 4th February Thatcher defeated Heath by 130 votes to 119 and became the first woman leader of a major political party. Heath took the defeat badly and refused to serve in Thatcher's shadow cabinet. He considered Thatcher to be a right-wing authoritarian and like another former Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan, Heath constantly criticized her policies.
James Callaghan replaced Harold Wilson as prime minister on 16th March 1976. Margaret Thatcher gradually adopted a more right-wing political programme placing considerable emphasis on the market economy. In January 1978 she was condemned for making a speech where she claimed that people feared being "swamped" by immigrants.
In 1978 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, controversially began imposing tight monetary controls. This included deep cuts in public spending on education and health. Critics claimed that this laid the foundations of what became known as monetarism. In 1978 these public spending cuts led to a wave of strikes (winter of discontent) and the Labour Party was easily defeated in the 1979 General Election.
Margaret Thatcher now became the first woman in Britain to become prime minister. In November 1979 Thatcher attended a summit meeting of the European Economic Community where she attempted to renegotiate Britain's contribution to the EEC budget.
Thatcher's government continued the monetarist policies introduced by Denis Healey. Inflation was reduced but unemployment doubled between 1979 and 1980. In 1981, Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced further public spending cuts. During this period public opinion polls suggested that Thatcher was the most unpopular prime minister in British history.
On 2nd April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. The following day the United Nations passed resolution 502 demanding that Argentina withdrew from the Falklands. On 5th April the British Navy left Portsmouth for the Falklands. Britain declared a 200 mile exclusion zone around the Falklands and on 2nd May 1982 the Argentinean battleship General Belgrano was sunk. Two days later HMS Sheffield was hit by an exocet missile.
British troops landed on the Falkland Islands at San Carlos on 21st May. Fighting continued until Port Stanley was captured and Argentina surrendered on 14th June 1982. Thatcher's personal popularity was greatly boosted by the successful outcome of the war and the Conservative Party won the 1983 General Election with a majority of 144.
Margaret Thatcher developed a close relationship with President Ronald Reagan. They both agreed to take a firm stance with the Soviet Union. This resulted in her being dubbed the Iron Lady. However, Thatcher was furious in November 1983 when the United States invaded the British dependency of Grenada without prior consultation.
Thatcher's government continued its policy of reducing the power of the trade unions. Sympathy strikes and the closed shop was banned. Union leaders had to ballot members on strike action and unions were responsible for the actions of its members. The government took a firm stand against industrial disputes and the miners' strike that began in 1984 lasted for 12 months without success.
At the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko on 13th March 1985, Margaret Thatcher met the new leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Thatcher's views on the Soviet Union changed after Gorbachev announced his new policy of Perestroika (Restructuring). This heralded a series of liberalizing economic, political and cultural reforms which had the aim of making the Soviet economy more efficient. Gorbachev also introduced policies with the intention of establishing a market economy by encouraging the private ownership of Soviet industry and agriculture.
At a meeting on 13th November 1985, Margaret Thatcher rejected the idea of entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. However, the following month she attended the Luxembourg European Council and during the meeting Thatcher agreed to sign the Single European Act.
In April 1986 Thatcher was widely criticized for giving permission for US bombers to take off from Britain to bomb Libya following a series of Libyan inspired terrorist attacks.
Margaret Thatcher was returned to power for a third time when she won the 1987 General Election with a majority of 102 seats. The following year she became Britain's longest serving prime minister for over a hundred years. However, her popularity was severely damaged when the Community Charge (Poll Tax) was introduced in Scotland in April 1989 (the rest of Britain was to follow a year later). The new tax was extremely unpopular and led to public demonstrations.
In November 1990 Margaret Thatcher was challenged as leader of the Conservative Party. She won the first round of the contest but the majority is not enough to prevent a second round. On 28th November, Thatcher resigned as prime minister and was replaced by John Major.
% of total votes