Skip to main content

Nuclear weapons and the Labour Party

By the end of the 1950s a unilateral disarmament movement had developed within the Labour Party. The topic remained a burning issue within the party throughout the 1960s as these cartoons show.

The cartoons show the debate within the Labour Party between those who were members of CND and the party leaders, Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson and George Brown, as well as the party's change in policy during the 1960s.


By the end of the 1950s, with France, the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union possessing nuclear weapons, there was a general fear that nuclear war could break out. As a response to these concerns, a group called the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was formed in February 1958.

The group campaigned against the development of nuclear weapons and promoted disarmament. To this end, in April 1958, members of CND marched from the nuclear weapons site at Aldermaston to London and back. This was the first of many protests over the following years.

The cartoons refer to the march from Aldermaston to London in April 1958, concerns of sections of society that unilateral disarmament would lead to a weakening of Britain's defences during the Cold War, and the debate in the Labour Party about nuclear weapons.

International relations

During the Cold war there was a real fear of nuclear attack, especially when relations between the superpowers were at a low ebb. Illingworth refers to nuclear weapons in this context in a great deal of his cartoons of the period.

These cartoons refer to an agreement signed between the Soviet Union and the USA regarding disarmament against the backdrop of continued worries over the division of Berlin, unsuccessful attempts to persuade France not to test nuclear weapons in 1960, and life in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nuclear testing

Following the use of nuclear weapons in Japan in 1945, many further nuclear tests were held during the forties, fifties and sixties. The Americans tested their new weapons at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific after the war, just as the world was beginning to learn of the dangers of the new nuclear age.

These cartoons relate to the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests and France's testing of a nuclear device, despite diplomatic protests, at the start of the 1960s.

Summit meetings

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the main purpose of the summit meetings was to discuss the shape of post-war Europe but, as time went on, nuclear weapons took their place at the top of the agenda.

These cartoons relate to international conferences.