When Sir Winston bowed out

On April 7th, 1955, Sir Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister. His second term in office, from 1951-1955, was not as dramatic or as prestigious as his wartime stint from 1940-1945, but it witnessed major and beneficial changes to his country.

In 1950, exhausted by continued deprivation and rationing, the voters had cut the Labour majority of 146 down to 5. Twenty months later when Atlee called a snap election to improve his majority, they returned Churchill’s Conservatives instead, with a majority of 17.

There were many foreign policy issues to contend with, such as the Mau Mau terrorism in Kenya and the Communist insurgency in Malaya. And Churchill was determined to retain and strengthen the US-UK partnership. In 1947 he’d said "let Europe arise" but "we shall allow no wedge to be driven between Britain and the United States". He supported a European unity with the UK and US as friendly sponsors outside it.

On the domestic front his government finally ended rationing and licensing, and the shortages also ended. More of the wartime regulations were removed, including the much-disliked Identity Cards. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of his administration came in house building. Churchill was pragmatic. The country needed new houses to replace those destroyed in the war, and the Labour government had failed to build enough. Macmillan was appointed to deliver an announced target of building 300,000 houses a year. The target was met a year early.

The economy boomed as exports soared and new factories were built. This led to near full employment, and rising consumer demand. Living standards improved, and people felt better off and put the war behind them. When Churchill’s failing health finally led him to leave office on this day 64 years ago, he could do so confident that his government had done much to “set the people free,” - words from an election speech that still resonates:

“The Socialist planners have miscalculated and mismanaged everything they have touched. By their restrictions they make scarcity; and when scarcity comes they call for more restrictions to cure it. They keep the British bulldog running round after his own tail till he is dizzy and then wonder that he cannot keep the wolf from the door."