The British Elections Herald a New Era:
The Break in Working-Class Solidarity
“I’m not going to vote at this election,” said the taxi driver who picked up Lord Woolton, the Conservative party leader, last month in a grimy northern town. “I’ve got nothing to grumble about.” It is possible that he was merely being polite to his distinguished passenger. But it is also possible—indeed, now that the results are out, it is probable—that he was giving Lord Woolton his first real assurance of Conservative victory in the country at large. The question that every political analyst in Britain is asking today is whether that taxi driver was also sounding the first faint rumble of a sea-change in British political history.
The statistics of the election have already been carried in almost every newspaper in the world but the barest of them are well worth repetition. The number of people who were entitled to vote at this election was almost exactly the same as in the election of 1951: just under 35 million in each case. Since 1951, of course, about two million electors had died, and another two million young people had risen above the minimum voting age of twenty-one to take their place. But this normal shift at either end of the voting cavalcade did not carry with it any significant change in the class structure of the electorate; indeed, for reasons that will be discussed later, it should have been of a slight net advantage to Labor. The real difference between the two elections lies in the fact that in 1951 more than 28.5 million people, or 82.6 per cent of those entitled to vote, came to the polls; in 1955 only just over 26.5 million people, or 76.8 per cent, bothered to do so. By the standards of most democracies this is still a fairly good turnout, but by recent British standards it is a poor one. Nearly two million people who had voted in 1951 this time stayed away.
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