In its early post-war fervour European Christian Democracy could then appear as a left of centre phenomenon - at least in its leadership and aspirations, though not so clearly in its grass roots voting power. This was less true in Germany, more in France. Here it was not only democratic but also saw itself as an essentially reforming force, a not unnatural ally of Socialist parties. It was committed to much the same sort of programme as Labour in Britain, though having a less coherent experience to draw upon; its policies were vaguer, the gap between immediate circumstance and underlying attitude greater. In France, moreover, the Mouvement Republicain Populaire (MRP) - just because of its more left-wing character - quickly lost half its electorate to more conservative parties, especially the Gaullists; moreover, the issue of Church schools fatally divided it from the Socialists; while it further failed for long to grasp that democracy at home was not compatible with the continued imposition of French rule abroad. No party suffered more in its integrity from the early 1950s war in Viet Nam. By the mid-1950s its surviving rump had clearly ceased to be a party of the left. In Germany and Italy, where there was no de Gaulle (that is to say, no right wing politician of distinction with an impeccable war record), Christian Democracy was not challenged effectively from the right and remained a far larger party, but over the years - and perhaps for that very reason - it moved no less decisively to the right. If in the 1940s it could look not too unlike a continental version of Labour, by the 1960s it had undoubtedly become the principal continental parallel to Conservatism. This was a natural enough development and did not undermine the basic significance of the phenomenon of Christian Democracy. The new community of western Europe, growing out of the devastation of the war and achieving in due course the economic miracle which always just eluded Britain, would be united by an extremely solid Catholic political presence in every single country south of Scandinavia, for finally even Gaullism was but a rather right-wing form of 'Christian Democracy', more adapted to traditional France than the MRP. It was not wholly an accident that, when the European Economic Community was brought into being, the beginning of a politically united Europe, it was done by a 'Treaty of Rome'.
As Stalin's iron hand imposed Communist regimes all across eastern Europe, the sense of the need for a united front greatly grew. Any lingering hopes of appeasement disappeared in 1948, after the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia in February and the Berlin blockade imposed in June; the following year saw both the Communist conquest of China and the foundation of NATO; 1950 the Korean war. In Malaya Britain now had a hundred thousand troops resisting Communist guerrilla infiltration. The United States, which had so easily concurred in the abandonment of eastern Europe to Stalin five years before, now plunged into an anti-Communist witch-hunt led by the Catholic senator Joe McCarthy. Nothing quite so hysterical happened in Britain but the antipathy for Communism is shown well enough by the fact that 97 out of 100 Communist candidates in the 1950 election lost their deposits and for the first time for many years no Communist candidate was elected.
The Conservatives return to power
By 1950 Labour's appointed work was done. The senior members of its government were old and tired; there was little heart to go further or sense of common purpose between the radical left led by Aneurin Bevan and the old leadership. Its two most outstanding members, Cripps and Bevin, both had to retire in ill health. In April 1951 Bevan and his lieutenant, Harold Wilson, actually resigned from the government in protest against details of Hugh GaitskelPs rearmament budget. Yet the country was strangely reluctant to let Labour go or the Tories return to power. The government had not lost one by-election. They retained control by a tiny majority (of eight) in the 1950 General Election and though they lost that of October 1951 by a small number of seats they still possessed more votes than the Conservatives. It was certainly time for Labour to go, but it was equally clear that the Conservatives had no mandate to undo the work of their predecessors and in fact little desire to undo it either. Their programme was to 'free' the nation from the mass of rather dreary controls which the war had brought and State socialism fostered, and to build houses. The economy was anyway beginning to prosper and the nation to relax: there were 126,000" television licences in 1949, 763,000 in 1951. The Korean war set things back a little but food rationing was at long last phased out in 1953-1954. Road transport and the iron and steel industry were denationalized, income tax reduced, controls of all sorts lifted, but the core of Labour's achievement was in no way touched. The Conservative leadership recognized that this was what the nation wanted and had no desire to restart the class war.
Churchill, returning to 10 Downing Street in his late seventies, was less a Prime Minister, more a historic monument, asleep or reminiscing on the past. He was no longer interested in either confrontation or adventure. 'Invest in success', declared Butler, his Chancellor of the Exchequer and general handyman, uncon-troversially. The man who had hammered the unions in the twenties was now all for industrial appeasement: settle it,Churchill told his minister, 'on their terms'. As to the new European community, which he had himself encouraged to come into existence with a prophetic speech at Strasbourg, he was now not at all interested in Britain's entry - the Empire must come first. George VI died in February 1952 a few months after. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth the next year was not only an occasion of unparalleled splendour, it was also the symbolic rite of passage in which the traditional values of society were reasserted at the very moment when the war and its subsequent austerities could at last be put aside and the age of affluence begin to dawn. For such a ceremony Churchill was the ideal Prime Minister.
The government's principal positive contribution to the new affluence lay in the field of housing, one of Labour's weaker spots. The Conservative manifesto promised 300,000 new houses a year, which Labour decried as just empty words, but Harold Macmillan was appointed Minister of Housing and soon more than fulfilled the target. The three million houses and more built while the Conservatives were in office vastly enlarged middle England, the houseproud middle class. It is arguable that the concentration on private building was damaging for Britain's real economic expansion and was indeed one of the reasons why this country never achieved growth comparable to that of Germany or France. These things are relative. The British economy in the 1950s did grow by 2 to 3 per cent a year, more than it has ever done before or since in this century, and domestic prosperity grew still more rapidly. Where there were two and a quarter million cars and one million television sets when the Conservatives came to power in 1951, there were eight million cars and 13 million television sets by the time