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Labour party

The 1960s to the Present

Harold Wilson, who became leader on Gaitskell's death in 1963, was able to lead the party to victory in 1964. He was prime minister until the Conservative party returned to power in 1970. Wilson's administration was marked by a continued decline in Britain's international political and economic position, which gave little opportunity for social innovation.

After 1970, the Labour party, in opposition, again found it difficult to present a united front. The reversal of the party's position on Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union), after having earlier supported it, and a renewed call for further nationalization of industry were indications of a greater left-wing militancy within the party. The party returned to power as a result of the elections of Feb., 1974, but as a minority government. Wilson's second administration began renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership in the European Community and announced plans for large-scale nationalization. Despite continuing economic difficulties he called new elections in Oct., 1974, and Labour won a small majority. James Callaghan took over as prime minister following Wilson's resignation in 1976.

The party lost power to the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 elections and remained in the opposition until the late 1990s. Michael Foot became party leader in 1980 but was succeeded by Neil Kinnock in 1983. Kinnock led the party to abandon some of its traditional left-wing positions but proved unable to achieve victory at the polls. He resigned in 1992 after the Conservative victory in the general elections and was succeeded by John Smith. After Smith's untimely death in 1994, moderate Tony Blair was chosen to lead the party. Under Blair's leadership, the party formally abandoned traditional socialism in 1995 and subsequently won (1997, 2001) consecutive resounding victories at the polls. The party's narrower victory in 2005 marked the first time Labour had won three consecutive national elections. Blair stepped down as party leader and prime minister in 2007, and was succeeded by Gordon Brown. In the 2010 elections Brown and Labour lost to the Conservatives, who won a plurality. Brown resigned the party leadership, and Ed Miliband was elected party leader.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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