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Great Britain: We’re on Our Way, Brother

2 minute read
TIME

At local elections throughout Britain last week, voters gave the Conservative Party the worst drubbing it has suffered in all its twelve years in office. Wiping out three straight years of Tory gains in rural and municipal contests, the elections cost the Conservatives a nationwide total of 571 seats and control of 37 towns. The Labor Party won 372 seats, capturing a dozen big cities and such key London boroughs as Wandsworth, the city’s biggest constituency, and all of London south of the Thames. The biggest net gain was scored by the resurgent Liberals, who fought 1,500 seats and won 344 in their most ambitious campaign in 20 years, but still have a long way to go before they seriously threaten either major party.

Though the elections were fought primarily on local issues, they confirmed the anti-Conservative trend established in eleven national by-elections in the past six months, and gave substance to what Labor Party Leader Hugh Gaitskell called Britain’s dissatisfaction with “tired, stale Tory ministers and their outdated postures.” Moreover, Labor candidates made some of their most significant gains in the marginal constituencies that are essential for victory in a general election. Most analysts agreed that if a national election were held this month, Labor would win by a comfortable margin. Exulted Labor’s Deputy Leader George Brown: “We’re on our way, brother, and nothing will stop us now.”

Somberly, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan warned the party that the trend “could lead to the return of a Socialist government by the side door.” Sir Winston Churchill even weighed in with a ringing Churchillian plea for “a searching re-examination of our policies and great and sustained efforts.” The Conservatives are still confident that if they can win British admission to Europe’s Common Market, they can win the next general election, probably in 1963. Meanwhile, said one top Laborite, “for the first time, Hugh Gaitskell feels certain that he is going to be the next Prime Minister.”

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