British General Election

September 16, 1959

Report Outline
Conservative Bid for Renewed Support
Elections Under the British System
Campaign Issues in the British Contest
Special Focus

Conservative Bid for Renewed Support

Prime minister Harold Macmillan'g decision to ask British voters to give the Conservatives a new mandate on Oct. 8—more than seven months before an election would have been required by law—demonstrates his confidence in the party's current standing with the people. Announcement of the election date on Sept. 8 caught Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Sevan, Labor Party leaders, in the midst of a sojourn in Moscow, but they hurried home to take command of the opposition's campaign preparations. The campaign proper will open after the present Parliament is dissolved on Sept. 18, barely three weeks in advance of the balloting.

A British government has the right to call a general election whenever its prospects at the polls seem favorable. Various events and developments have made the present time seem propitious to Macmillan and the Conservatives. Arrangement of the Eisenhower-Khrushchev visits appears to have brought a lull in the cold war and to have increased the likelihood of an eventual summit conference. Meanwhile, Great Britain's economy has climbed well out of the slump which gave it trouble last year and in the early months of this year. Macmillan has publicly claimed some of the credit for the better face of affairs both foreign and domestic, and opinion polls indicate that the public feels he is entitled to it.

Indicated Increase of Conservative Strength

The most recent polls have shown the Conservatives holding an edge of about 5½ percentage points over the Laborites, with the Liberals stronger than in other recent years but still trailing far behind. The British Gallup poll, reported in the London News Chronicle on Sept. 8, gave Conservatives 41½ per cent, Labor 36 per cent, and Liberals 8 per cent; 14 per cent expressed no opinion, A previous poll in mid-August had disclosed a sharp rise in Macmillan's personal popularity. Sixty-seven per cent of those questioned, as against 54 per cent a month earlier, voiced general satisfaction with the Prime Minister's performance; 23 per cent indicated dissatisfaction in both polls; the proportion expressing no opinion dropped from 23 per cent in July to 10 per cent in August.

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