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The British Labour Party leadership election of 1960 was held when, for the first time since 1935, the incumbent leader was challenged for re-election. Normally the annual re-election of the leader had been a formality.

The challenge followed the defeat of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom general election, 1959 and worsening factional in-fighting over issues like nuclear disarmament. The leader favoured the retention of nuclear weapons by the UK, whereas the left wing of the party supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.


Two candidates were nominated.

  1. The incumbent right wing leader of the party was Hugh Gaitskell (born 1906), who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer 1950-1951. Gaitskell had been MP for Leeds South since 1945 and party leader since 1955.
  2. The left wing candidate was Harold Wilson (born 1916), the MP for the Lancashire constituency of Ormskirk from 1945-1950 and for Huyton from 1950. He had resigned from the cabinet of Clement Attlee in 1951 on the issue of prescription charges in the National Health Service (imposed by his rival in the leadership election, when he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer). During the 1950s Wilson had been associated with the Bevanite supporters of the father of the National Health Service, former Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan. Bevan had broken with his left wing supporters, whilst serving as foreign affairs spokesman for the party, to support the leadership line on nuclear weapons. He had recently died on 6 July 1960. Wilson was the most credible alternative leader for the left, so he was persuaded to seek the party leadership.


The result of the only ballot of Labour MPs on 3 November was as follows:

Only Ballot: 3 November 1960
Candidate Votes %
Hugh Gaitskell 166 67.21
Harold Wilson 81 32.79
Majority 85 34.42
Turnout 229


  • Twentieth-Century British Political Facts 1900-2000, by David Butler and Gareth Butler (Macmillan Press, 8th edition 2000)
  • Who's Who of British Members of Parliament, Volume IV 1945-1979, edited by M. Stenton and S. Lees (Harvester Press 1981)


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