Resale price maintenance and the character of resistance in the Conservative party: 1949-64

Mitchell, Stuart (2005). Resale price maintenance and the character of resistance in the Conservative party: 1949-64. Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire, 40(2) pp. 259–288.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3138/cjh.40.2.259

Abstract

This paper examines the development of Conservative party policy during the 1950s and early 1960s towards resale price maintenance (rpm), the procedure by which companies stipulated the minimum price at which their products could be sold, which ended with the abolition of the practice. It attempts to place this policy evolution within the context of the party leadership’s gradual adoption, from 1959, of industrial modernization and economic growth as the technocratic solutions to Britain’s perceived relative decline. Modernization generally and rpm in particular caused a remarkable split in the Tory party, both in Parliament and in the country. Price maintenance was considered, by those Conservatives who favoured modernization, to be a significant impediment to the development of an efficient and competitive distributive industry. Unfortunately, the most tenacious defenders of the practice were small retailers, a group assumed by most politicians to be a solid Tory-voting constituency. Tory MPs were very sensitive to any measure that might disproportionately damage the interests of shopkeepers. In 1964, the government’s attempt to rescind rpm led, unsurprisingly, to the largest revolt on a major issue by Tory back-benchers since 1940 and to considerable antagonism towards the administration on the part of its grassroots support. The dispute between modernizers and traditionalists in the party was fierce and its outcome in part determined the strategy pursued at the 1964 general election and the future direction of Conservative policy.

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