For the Conservatives, the loss of the 1964 election was due to a number of factors, including the scandals that affected their party’s image during this time. Other factors include the Profumo affair, another more significant scandal, the leadership troubles that the Conservatives faced during this time, and a general lack of spirit from the party after a tiring 13 years in government. As well as this, Labour’s growing strength played a part in their winning of the election.
Scandals played a major part of 1963 for the Conservatives, with three different occurrences happening during this time. These scandals included the Vassall affair, which made the government look bad as they tried to protect a Soviet spy and ultimately protect themselves from the trouble of not catching him sooner, but it backfired and the truth was revealed to the public. This scandal would reflect badly on the MPs involved as it shows them as untrustworthy, and also links them to the Soviets and could be perceived as them trying to protect them. Another Soviet spy case, the Kim Philby scandal, showed the government to be incompetent as they hadn’t caught a spy for decades, reflecting badly on them as it once again highlighted the disorganisation of the government. The third case, the Argyll divorce case, was scandalous as it was seen as immoral and dissociated the Conservatives from their family image. These scandals together were an important factor as they made the public lose a lot of trust for the party.
The Profumo affair was another important factor for the Conservative loss. It completely disgraced the Conservatives, again dissociating them from their family image with the allegations of several MPs visiting a brothel, and on top of that became more serious when it was evident that Profumo had lied in the House of Commons. This factor was important as it showed Macmillan to be losing his grip on the party – many questioned why he hadn’t launched a full investigation into the case, and criticised his initially cavalier reaction. Again, the public couldn’t trust a party associated so heavily with lies and scandals that shamed their entire image. As the Profumo affair was somewhat of a scandal for the Conservative party, its incredibly negative affect on their reputation agrees with the view that scandals were the cause of their loss.
Another important factor was the steady decline of the Conservatives, more specifically their outdated methods of choosing a leader for the party. Potentially more suitable candidates for the job, such as Butler, were overlooked by Macmillan for politically irrelevant reasons such as a personal dislike. Douglas-Home was eventually chosen and recommended by Macmillan, showing the use of the Etonian scheme still, that the choosing of the leader was more to do with personal connections and prestige rather than actual political ability. This factor was important for their loss in the election as it angered members of the party and caused divisions within, portraying a weak and negative image to the public, making the government look tiring after their 13 years in power.
This factor also links to how Douglas-Home also contrasted heavily to the Labour leader Wilson, a plain speaking Yorkshire man who represented the working class era of Britain, which was more desirable to the voting public. Douglas-Home didn’t appeal because of his Etonian background, whereas Wilson’s characteristics fitted in with working-class Britain. Labour strength was apparent in their better economic policies and well-thought out plan of appearing youthful and fitting in with the ‘swinging sixties’ image, opening them up to youth votes. Labour presented itself as a force of progress against a tiring Conservative government. This factor was especially important regarding the Conservative loss, as it suggest it was more to do with Labour strength than anything the Conservatives did.
There was also a certain weariness and lack of spirit about the Conservative party after 13 years in power. As well as their internal divisions over the leadership concerns, they had let unemployment reach 800,000, denting their “never had it so good” image and suggesting to the public that it was maybe time for a change – which would then make them more inclined to vote for Labour. Also, their failure to join the EEC showed how weak the Conservatives had allowed Britain to become internationally. These things showed how the Conservatives were tiring and losing their grip on Britain and the public would see their failures in a negative light, wanting a change and voting for Labour instead. As the scandals were a part of the Conservative decline, this also suggests that an important reason for their defeat was the general decline.
In conclusion, the most important reason for Conservative loss was their growing weakness and tiring government, as well as the fact that many of the voting public just wanted a change after 13 years of the Conservatives. Many factors link together to form this, the scandals, Profumo affair, their economic and international failures which all individually portrayed a bad image to the public, together interlocking to create the negative image that they held in 1964. Although the Labour government were stronger, had the Conservatives not had scandals and divisions denting their image then they could have potentially won the election again, especially Labour only won narrowly. Conservative scandals were the most important reason for their loss, when combined with the other reasons that also made them weaker.