Conservatives: Re–Forming Under Fire

  • D. E. Butler
  • Anthony King


Even before Labour’s victory in 1964, Mr. Wilson had been acutely conscious of the advantages accruing to any government simply from the fact of its being in power. The personal authority of the Prime Minister of the day usually far exceeds that of the Leader of the Opposition. He alone determines the date of the election. Because the Prime Minister and his colleagues control the parliamentary timetable and the timing of official announcements, their power to command public attention is almost unlimited. By contrast, the opposition is seldom in a position to do much more than respond to government initiatives. Whereas the government can perform, the opposition can only promise. It will have difficulty communicating its policies to the public. It is always in danger of appearing negative and carping, particularly since a party out of power is deprived of all access to official information and the advice of the civil service.


Prime Minister Opinion Poll Election Campaign Party Leader Labour Party 


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  1. 1.
    Quoted by Nora Beloff, ‘ If Butler Had Been There After Roxburgh ’, Observer, March 28th, 1965.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    For the full text of the new procedure, see The Times, February 26th, 1965, or Anthony King, ed., British Politics, D. C. Heath and Hammond, 1966, Documentary Appendix. Under the new system, a candidate would be elected on the first ballot only if he both received an absolute majority and secured 15% more votes than his nearest rival. If the first ballot failed to produce a winner, a second ballot would be held for which new nominations could be made. To be elected on the second ballot, a candidate needed only an absolute majority. If no one obtained an absolute majority on the second ballot, then a third and final ballot would be held. The names on the ballot paper would be those of the three leading candidates on the second ballot. Voters would be required to indicate their second as well as their first preference. The candidate with the smallest number of first preferences would be eliminated and his second preferences distributed between the other two. On the third ballot, one candidate would, in the nature of the system, have to achieve an overall majority.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    See Alan Watkins, ‘Tory Rumblings’, Spectator, March 26th, 1965. The allusion was to the sermon by the Bishop of Bradford which first brought the abdication crisis into the open in 1936. For a description of the dissidents’ efforts to exploit the press, see ‘ The Birth of a Campaign to Oust Sir Alec ’ by The Times political correspondent, April 5th, 1965. The writer reported that someone had tried to persuade him to develop the Bishop of Bradford analogy, and added: ‘ for what it is worth, I held it better to deal with the speeches of those involved and with events rather than to be the manipulator of speeches and events.’Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    see Alan Watkins, ‘How Heath Pulled It Off’, Spectator, July 30th, 1965;Google Scholar
  5. No systematic evidence exists either about which M.P.s voted for which candidate or about the criteria they used in making their selection. Mr. Heath’s candidacy almost certainly benefited from the activities of a ‘Young Turk’ campaign organisation led by Peter Walker (Worcester), Anthony Kershaw (Stroud) and Peter Emery (Reading). For the fullest available accounts of Mr. Heath’s election, see Alan Watkins, ‘How Heath Pulled It Off’, Spectator, July 30th, 1965; and James Margach, ‘The Bloodless Victory that put Heath on Top’, Sunday Times, August 1st, 1965.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    There were twelve pamphlets in all, published by the Conservative Political Centre between March and June. Many of the same ideas were expressed in a Bow Group symposium published at about the same time: Michael Wolff, ed., The Conservative Opportunity, B. T. Batsford and CPC, 1965.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    In this connection, see Anthony King, ‘New Stirrings on the Right’, New Society, October 14th, 1965.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    The extent of Mr. Powell’s influence on Conservative thinking during this period will long be debated. Anthony King’s article cited on p. 62, n. 2 probably exaggerated it. Although Mr. Powell was liked by almost all of his colleagues, he was regarded, angrily or tolerantly, as an irrelevance by most of them. His detractors noted the failure of his thinking to advance beyond negative criticism and the inconsistency between his statements in opposition and his own actions in government. Cf. John Wood, ed., A Nation Not Afraid: the Thinking of Enoch Powell, B. T. Batsford, 1965.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. E. Butler and Anthony King 1966

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. E. Butler
    • 1
  • Anthony King
    • 2
  1. 1.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.University of EssexUK

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