When, on 19 June 1970, a Conservative Prime Minister returned to Downing Street, the wheel seemed to have turned full circle. Nearly a decade before the Conservative Party had stood at the high tide of its post-war fortunes. Political scientists of note were speculating on the democratic prospects of one-Party government. The Labour Party was divided on nationalisation and on defence: in the autumn of 1960, Conference rejected the defence policy of the Party’s leader and Parliamentary Party. Their support fell to only 37 per cent of the electorate. Few would then have forecast a dramatic reversal of fortunes, but by mid-decade Macmillan had shuffled from the political stage, seemingly discredited, and a new Labour leader had stamped his personality on the decade. The Labour Party was within sight of the pastures of permanent power. Even after traumatic electoral reverses, that still seemed possible a week before polling day. But the English people, almost unknown to themselves, had resolved to put an end to Wilson’s quasi-Presidential role. In his place they set one of Macmillan’s principal lieutenants, Edward Heath. The apparent return of ‘yesterday’s men’, however, paradoxically masked a dramatic shift of emphasis. Heath’s Conservatism, in certain important respects, marks out a challenge to the past decade, and perhaps not just to that decade.


Prime Minister Trade Union Industrial Relation Labour Party Income Policy 
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© John Barnes 1972

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  • John Barnes

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