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Electoral and Other Consequences

The electoral outcomes in the period covered by this chapter (Conservative defeat in 1945, narrow Labour survival in 1950 followed by defeat in 1951) is consistent with the hypothesis suggested in Chapter One that left-wing governments might be more liable to face electoral punishments for spending squeezes, while their right-wing counterparts might be more liable to face electoral punishment for revenue squeezes. After all, the general elections that all but removed the Labour Government's majority and later swept it out of office were held during the efforts at spending squeeze on civilian services that came during or after the 1949 devaluation and later continued under the pressures of the Korean War.

In the period of that post-war Labour Government, there was no 'AntiWaste League' of the kind that challenged the Conservatives within the Lloyd George coalition in 1921, discussed in Chapter Three. But the Labour Government was exposed to similar attacks from the Conservatives, who as early as November 1945 demanded further cuts in 'wasteful' government spending to make tax cuts possible and continued to emphasize that theme.

When it comes to other consequences, in contrast to the episode discussed in Chapter Four, it is difficult to identify constitutional effects that can be traced to the fiscal squeezes over this period, separately from all the other changes that took place during six years of total war and the massive disruption that followed. One of the major political consequences of the post-war Labour Government squeeze (and the controversial charges on NHS spectacles and dentures that brought three ministerial resignations in the final months of the government) was a left-right split in the Party between 'Bevanites' and 'Gaitskellites' that continued to play out into the following decade but fell well short of the creation of a separate breakaway party such as occurred in 1931 and 1981. As for policy consequences, the permissive legislation introduced by the Labour Government before it drew back from imposing prescription charges for NHS medicines smoothed the way for the succeeding Conservative Government to implement such charges in 1952, as we will see in Chapter Six. But many of the options for spending cuts that the Labour Government considered and baulked at over this period (such as top-up fees for state primary and secondary schools and 'hotel charges' for NHS patients in hospital) remained 'off the table' for governments of different political persuasions in the succeeding decades, and indeed some remain so to the time of writing.

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