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Wars often bring political change. But what made the events of July 1945 so remarkable was that the government toppled had led its country to victory and was headed by an immensely popular and seemingly untouchable leader.
When Winston Churchill’s Conservatives were defeated by a landslide, it ushered in a new era and a new Labour government. The latter would introduce the NHS and the welfare state, and drag Britain into a new post-imperial age.
The fact that three weeks passed between voting and declaration demonstrates the strange nature of the times. The war in the west was won, but the last shots of Nazi Germany had been fired only weeks ago and hundreds of thousands of British troops were still overseas.
It was their votes that would takes weeks to filter through. It also meant that the coalition war government was exhausted – not least its prime minister, hero and figurehead, Winston Churchill.
“Win the peace”
Churchill had wanted his alliance with the Labour Party to continue until Japan was defeated. But its leader, Clement Attlee, refused, arguing that the end of the war was nigh and that, after ten years without an election, it was time to test the public mood.
On 15 June, parliament was finally dissolved and electioneering began. The Labour Party, which had barely broken the Conservatives’ domination since 1906, had sensed a desire to “win the peace”, amongst the electorate.
Despite Labour’s important contribution to the war, the party had been considering its peacetime policies at least since the influential Beveridge report of 1942, which had proposed the creation of a welfare state.
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After the report, polls had shown gradually increasing levels of support for Labour, particularly among the armed forces – which was a huge segment of the population by this stage of the war. They were cautious of the unemployment and misery that had followed demobilisation in 1918, and wanted new fresh ideas to avoid a repeat performance.
The hopeful messages that they yearned for formed the crux of Labour’s campaign throughout June, as the party vowed to eradicate unemployment, implement the NHS and the welfare state and follow Keynesian economic policies in order to avoid a repeat of the post-World War One economic difficulties.
For a nation exhausted by six years of war, and disillusioned by decades of Conservative rule (which had included the inglorious appeasement years and the Great Depression) these new and revolutionary socialist ideas based on the utopian idea of a more caring society were very welcome.
The problem with Churchill
The Conservatives, meanwhile, did their best to throw away what was seen as an unassailable position. Their campaign was – understandably enough – based around the towering figure of Churchill, who was rightly seen as the saviour of not only Britain but the western world after his heroic lone stand in 1940.
There were numerous problems with this approach, however, not least that Churchill was ageing, ill and utterly spent after six years of effort that might have killed lesser men with their sheer strain.
Signs that he was nowhere near his best were rife during the election. Furthermore, even at the best of times, the attributes that made Churchill such a magnificently unifying wartime leader made him ill-suited to normal party campaigning. He had changed sides twice in his political career, and exasperated his Conservative fellows by focusing remarkably little on furthering the party.
The prime minister did not listen, however. After his clashes with Stalin and Roosevelt, he saw parliamentary politics in a different light to his fellows, particularly after years of working in an excellent wartime coalition.
As a result, the Conservative campaign was hopelessly muddled; their overwhelming focus on the leader left little room for promoting any actual forward-thinking policies that might win votes. The fact that one of their main ideas was granting India the same dominion status as Australia or Canada spoke volumes.
Churchill’s performance didn’t help, and one infamous moment in which he claimed in a public broadcast that the Labour Party would need to resort to a form of “Gestapo” to implement their policies came to symbolise how out of touch he and his party were.
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Despite all this, when the election results were finally announced on the 26 July few could have predicted the landslide that Labour would achieve. Labour won 393 seats to the Conservatives’ 197, a stunning swing of 12 per cent from the last election that is still a record in British politics.
Churchill was gloomy and when his wife Clementine called the result a “blessing in disguise”, he gruffly replied that it was “very effectively disguised”. He did, however, disagree with the claim that his electorate had been ungrateful, answering that “they have had a very tough time”. His 55-year career in politics was not over, and he would have one more spell as prime minister in 1951.
Clement Attlee meets with King George VI after Labour’s election victory.
As for Labour, the party had a stable majority government under Attlee’s capable leadership for the first time in its history. For Britain’s lower classes and imperial subjects, this was an era-defining moment that promised a permanent change of the guard in British and world politics.
Attlee quickly left Britain to meet Stalin and Roosevelt at Potsdam, where they decided the fate of the post-war world. Though his government was savaged at the time to the extent that it crumbled in 1951, in recent years many historians agree that it was one of the most successful domestically in recent times.
The NHS and welfare state remain to this day, as well as reforms in housing, women’s rights and nationalisation.
Why did Labour win the 1945 election?
Labour’s victory in 1945 came as a shock to the political world, Winston Churchill almost suddenly lost is popularity. Labour also took full advantage of the BBC which had a left-wing approach in many of its news reports and talks. Also, by proposing a welfare state, Labour was able to more votes from within the working class and the economic crisis also played into their hands.
Prior to the elections, Winston Churchill’s approval ratings in the opinion polls stood at 83%, Churchill was considered as a hero for is involvement in winning the War and this is what the Conservatives based their campaign on, however he was seen as a war time leader and was not considered to be a man to lead Britain in a time when peace and party politics were now more important.
The Source by Sir Joseph Balls suggests that the BBC was possibly under Labour control. He goes on to explain that the BBC granted attention to left-wing writers and politicians and therefore many of their news reports and talks were left-wing.
At the time the BBC was the only TV Channel and therefore everyone watched it, and although this source represents one point of view it can be argued that Labour made the best use of the left-wing support from the BBC to target everyone who watched TV.
1945-51: Labour and the creation of the welfare state
The outcome of the 1945 election was more than a sensation. It was a political earthquake.
Less than 12 weeks earlier, Winston Churchill had announced the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Churchill wanted his wartime coalition to continue until Japan too had been defeated, but was not unduly dismayed when his Labour ministers insisted that the country be offered a choice. The prime minister called the election for early July, confident that the British people would back the greatest hero of the hour. Of all Churchill's colossal misjudgments, that was probably the most egregious.
The voters wanted an end to wartime austerity, and no return to prewar economic depression. They wanted change. Three years earlier, in the darkest days of the war, they had been offered a tantalising glimpse of how things could be in the bright dawn of victory. The economist William Beveridge had synthesised the bravest visions of all important government departments into a single breathtaking view of the future.
The 1942 Beveridge Report spelled out a system of social insurance, covering every citizen regardless of income. It offered nothing less than a cradle-to-grave welfare state.
That was the great promise dangled before the British electorate in 1945. Though Churchill had presided over the planning for radical social reform, though he was a genuine hero of the masses - and though, ironically enough, the Tory manifesto pledges were not all that different from Labour's - the people did not trust him to deliver the brave new world of Beveridge.
There were other factors too. The Labour party had held office only twice before, in 1924 and in 1929-31, but during the war years its leadership had acquired both experience and trust. It now looked like a party of government.
Labour's promise to take over the commanding heights of the economy via nationalisation were anathema to committed Tories, but after nearly six years of wartime state direction of the economy it did not seem nearly so radical as it had before the war - or indeed as it seems now.
Then there was the military vote. Britain had millions of men and women in uniform in 1945, scattered over Europe, the far east, and elsewhere. They, more than any other section of the electorate, yearned for change and for a better civilian life. The military vote was overwhelmingly pro-Labour.
Many students of the 1945 election believe that a key role was played by the Daily Mirror, then the biggest selling paper in Britain, and easily the most popular among the armed forces. On VE (Victory in Europe) Day, the Mirror published an immensely powerful cartoon by the brilliant Philip Zec. It showed a battered, bandaged Allied soldier holding out to the reader a slip of paper marked Victory and Peace in Europe. Under the drawing was the caption "Here you are! Don't lose it again."
The same cartoon was published on the Mirror's front page on the morning of the most remarkable general election of the 20th century. But when the result was announced on July 26 - three weeks after polling day to allow military postal votes to be counted - it was clear that postwar politics had changed utterly.
With 47.7% of the vote, Labour secured a staggering 393 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives, with 39.7%, won just 210 seats. The Liberal party, which had governed the country less than quarter of a century earlier, was reduced to 9% of the vote, and just 12 seats. The new prime minister was Churchill's deputy in the war time coalition, Clement Attlee.
On the first day of the new parliament, the massed ranks of Labour members bawled out the socialist anthem, the Red Flag. Tories everywhere were scandalised. (There is a splendid apocryphal story of a lady in a grand London hotel who was overheard exclaiming "Labour in power? The country will never stand for it!")
But stand for it they did, over the next six momentous years.
The new prime minister was not obviously cut out for the job. Painfully shy and reserved to the point of coldness, he had the appearance - and often the style - of a bank clerk. Churchill described him, cruelly, as "a sheep in sheep's clothing".
The son of a City solicitor, he was educated at Haileybury College - which specialised in turning out administrators for the British Raj - and at University College, Oxford. Attlee was so far from being a passionate ideologue that his wife Violet once casually observed: "Clem was never really a socialist, were you, darling? Well, not a rabid one."
Yet this essentially herbivorous exterior cloaked a steely determination, and a deepseated devotion to social justice first developed during his voluntary work in London's East End before the first world war. After distinguished service in that war, Attlee entered parliament in 1922, and served in the first two Labour governments. In 1931, he declined to join Ramsey Macdonald's national coalition, preferring to stay with the rump opposition. He became Labour leader in 1935.
Though many on the left opposed Labour participation in Churchill's wartime coalition (at least during the early years when Hitler was allied with the Soviet Union under Stalin), Attlee responded to the national crisis by guiding his party into the national government. He became Lord Privy Seal and, from 1942, deputy prime minister. He was 62 when he entered Downing Street.
The great tide of new Labour MPs who entered the Commons in 1945 included some eager youngsters who were to make their mark on the party, and indeed the country. They included Denis Healey (who made an impassioned maiden speech urging world socialist revolution), Harold Wilson, Michael Foot, and James Callaghan. But the men Attlee leaned on were of course of Labour's old guard. His principal props were Ernest Bevin, a pragmatic trade unionist who had made his mark during the war as an energetic labour minister, Labour stalwart Hugh Dalton, and Stafford Cripps, an aloof intellectual (Churchilll once remarked of him: "There but for the grace of God, goes God.").
The Attlee-Bevin alliance was particularly important in protecting the administration from some of its own hotter blooded members, who shared the young Healey's enthusiasm for revolution. Their most potent figurehead was Aneurin Bevan, a fiery orator from the Welsh valleys, who constantly urged the government to embrace radical reforms, and bitterly resisted any suggestion of pragmatic trimming of policy. Bevan eventually was to deal the Attlee administration a hammer blow, when he resigned over the reintroduction of NHS prescription charges. For six years, though, his was the voice of radical Labour.
"The Labour Party is a Socialist Party, and proud of it." The stark sentence is buried in the party's 1945 election manifesto, which promised that Labour would take control of the economy and in particular of the manufacturing industry. The manifesto pledged nationalisation of the Bank of England, the fuel and power industries, inland transport, and iron and steel. And with a majority of more than 150, the party could not be denied.
One by one the key industries of the postwar economy tumbled into the public sector, where they were subject to elaborate planning controls. For the most part the takeovers were highly popular none more so than the nationalisation of the coalmines. Pit owners still employed a million men, many of them in dire and dangerous conditions. The new national coal board was seen as much as a humanitarian institution as an economic one.
Other nationalisation operations were regarded more cynically. No sooner had British Railways taken over the old regional semi-private networks than jokes began to circulate about unreliable, crowded trains, crumbling stations and that old standby of British comedy, the buffet sandwich.
After the initial euphoria of nationalisation, it wasn't long before doubts began to emerge. The state industries were smothered by bureaucracy and the demands of Labour's economic gurus, both amateur and professional. Their bolder ideas were often subsumed in the delicate balance between principle and pragmatism.
It became clear that the lumbering machinery of economic planning could not deliver what the voters had demanded and Labour had promised: full employment, secure jobs with fair wages, an end to wartime rationing and - above all perhaps - decent homes for all.
It has sometimes been argued that the Attlee government's main disadvantage was that Britain had been on the winning side in the war. British cities and industries had been bashed around by German air raids, but had not suffered the wholesale destruction which allowed the renascent German economy to start from a clean sheet. More importantly, British economic class structures - and bitter enmities - survived the war unscathed, in contrast to those countries which had been traumatised by invasion and occupation (none more so than Germany) into rethinking their economic cultures.
But there were other obstacles in the path of Labour's would-be revolutionaries. The country, to put it brutally, was broke. It had poured its wealth into the war effort and in 1945 was groaning under a mountain of debt. It had pawned many of its most valuable assets, including a huge slice of overseas investments, to service that debt.
And even when the war was finally over, the victorious, impoverished British maintained vast numbers of men and resources tied up in an empire on which the sun was about to set. In Europe, Britain paid for a huge army of occupation in Germany. The dawn of the nuclear age, and British pride, demanded handsome investment in the new terrible weapons which would keep us allegedly a first class power. The disarmament, which some in the Labour party craved, proved illusory as - in Churchill's words again - an iron curtain descended across Europe, and the cold war began.
Speaking of cold, even the weather seemed at times to conspire against Labour. The winter of 1946-47 was one of the most severe ever recorded, causing widespread misery and disruption. One of the few truly cheering aspects of life was the imminent arrival of the Beveridge reforms.
The welfare state
The Attlee government is rightly seen as one of the great reformist administrations of the 20th century. It is a pleasant irony that the impetus for the more durable reforms came from outside the party.
The 1944 Education Act, which had introduced the concept of selection at 11 and compulsory free secondary education for all, was based on the work of a Tory, Richard Austin 'Rab' Butler, who went on to conquer all but the tallest peak of British politics.
The introduction of the welfare state rested very largely on the work of two Liberal economists: John Maynard Keynes, who argued the virtues of full employment and state stimulation of the economy, and William Beveridge.
Beveridge's ideas were culled from every nook and cranny of Whitehall. His formidable task was to put together a coherent plan for postwar social reconstruction. What he came up with extended hugely the framework of national insurance first put in place before the first world war by David Lloyd George. Every British citizen would be covered, regardless of income or lack of it. Those who lacked jobs and homes would be helped. Those who were sick, would be cured.
The birth of the National Health Service in July 1948 remains Labour's greatest monument. It was achieved only after two years of bitter resistance by the medical establishment, with consultants threatening strike action and the British Medical Association pouring out gloomy warnings about bureaucracy and expense.
Alas, those warnings proved to have more than a grain of truth, and the government was forced to retreat from its first grand vision of free, comprehensive health care for all. In the beginning, everything was provided: hospital accommodation, GP cover, medicine, dental care, and even spectacles. But with Britain showing few signs of economic take off, the budgetary burden was enormous. In 1951, chancellor of the exchequer Hugh Gaitskell was obliged to reintroduce charges for NHS false teeth and glasses. Aneurin Bevan, Harold Wilson and junior minister John Freeman stormed out of government, and Attlee's goose was cooked.
Attlee's government took office in a world changing at bewildering speed. The war had forged new alliances, the greatest and most nebulous of all the United Nations. The USA and the USSR were undisputed superpowers Britain and France deluded themselves that they were too.
In the far east, the embers of nationalism had been stirred into flame by the brutal advance and subsequent stubborn retreat of Japan. Britain's ignominious surrender of Singapore in 1941 had sent a clear signal to Asia that the daysof European imperialism were numbered.
With hindsight it was a blessing for Britain, as well as for its vast numbers of subjects around the world, that Winston Churchill lost the 1945 election. The old warrior was, at heart, a Victorian romantic, hopelessly in thrall to the so called romance of empire. His antipathy to India's independence struggle, in particular, was well established.
Attlee, on the other hand, recognised that the British Raj was doomed. He had been to Haileybury College, after all, and had paid an official visit to India in 1929. Even if the prime minister had harboured any illusions about Britain's duty to its 300m Indian subjects, he was constantly reminded by Washington that the US would not tolerate the continuance of empire. Wisely, he bowed to the inevitable, and prepared for withdrawal.
But even as it bade farewell, Britain was to visit two disasters on the subcontinent. One was Attlee's appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the last Viceroy. Conceited, impatient, and breathtakingly arrogant, he took to the grandeur and the raw power of the job with unholy relish.
Mountbatten decided that independence would come on August 1947, on the second anniversary of the day he had accepted the surrender of the Japanese in south-east Asia. Nothing was to stand in the way of this vainglory - not even the unresolved issue of Muslim demands for a separate state, and the gathering storm clouds of communal violence.
In a few summer weeks, colonial servants scribbled lines across the map of the mighty subcontinent, carving East and West Pakistan out of Mother India, and sparking a bloodbath so frightful that no one to this day knows exactly how many millions died. The holocaust even consumed Mahatma Gandhi, the father of free India and of freedom movements everywhere, who was assassinated months after independence. Thus ended 300 years of history, and 90 years of Raj. King George VI would be the last British monarch to style himself emperor of India.
There was another colonial retreat, in a way just as disgraceful, on the extreme west of Asia. For just over a quarter of a century British administrators had tried, and on the whole failed, to make sense of their League of Nations (later United Nations) mandate to rule Palestine. They tried partition, appeasement, manipulation and bald coercion. Nothing helped assuage the bloody friction between the rising tide of Jewish immigrants and the native Palestinians.
The end of the second world war brought new waves of refugees from Nazi tyranny to the shores of the holy land, and the conflict became more unholy than ever. Washington was adamant that nothing should stand in the way of the establishment of Israel and when the mandate finally dribbled into the sands of history in May 1948, the new state was born, fighting for its life.
Elsewhere, of course, Britain's imperial might remained intact. The Union flag still flew over huge tracts of Africa, whole archipelagos in the Caribbean and Pacific, jewels of Asia like Singapore and Hong Kong. But there was another much greater reality: British adherence to, and even dependence on, the patronage of the United States. We tagged along with Washington in the occupation of Germany and the establishment of Nato we acquiesced in the new division of Europe between east and west we willingly did our bit in the great airlift which saved west Berlin from the Soviet blockade of the late 1940s, and we sent our troops to South Korea to fight for the United Nations - under US direction - against China and the North.
At the insistence of Attlee and the Labour right, we developed our very own nuclear weapons and insisted that they kept us independent. In reality, the north Atlantic connection was the only one which ultimately mattered.
It is tempting to think of the Attlee years as an anti-climax. After the clamour of victory, the peace was a drab disappointment. And after all the fervent promises of a new dawn, British life remained to a large extent grey and grim. At times, food restrictions were even tighter than during the war - bread was rationed for the first time. Class enmities flourished social and economic inequalities remained palpable. Here and there were little pockets of a new prosperity: television broadcasts were resumed, the first Morris Minors appeared, and British designers were working on the world's first commercial jet, the De Havilland Comet. But of that great universal prosperity which seemed to glow from the 1945 manifestos, there was little sign.
And yet, and yet. Britain in the Attlee years changed more than under any other government, before or since. The welfare reforms, and to a lesser extent the great experiment of state control of industry, had a profound effect on the way the people saw themselves and their country. And what they saw, on the whole, was pleasing.
In 1950, after five exhausting years, it was inevitable that the great electoral tide of 1945 would be turned. But in the general election of that year the Labour vote dipped less than 2%, and it was only the vagaries of the first past the post system that saw the Tories gain 88 seats.
Still, Attlee remained in power, at the head of an increasingly fractious government rent by ideological divisions, and fatally wounded by the illness and withdrawal from public life of men like Cripps and Bevin. When the NHS prescription charge issue finally ripped the party apart, the prime minister was obliged to go to the country again in 1951.
Even then, Labour retained the faith of the people, gaining its highest ever share of the vote: 48.8%. Indeed, it was the closest any party came in the 20th century to achieving a popular majority mandate, but it was still not enough. The key turned out to be the Liberal vote, which suddenly evaporated, leaving the party with just 2.5% support and six MPs. The Conservatives ended up with fewer votes than Labour, but 26 more MPs. Winston Churchill was back in Downing Street.
Why Did Labour Win the 1945 Election?
There was a lack of a strong opposition. The liberal party was weak and not cohesive, the Conservatives complacent and tainted by memories of their failings during the 1930’s. They spent less on 1945 election and focused too much of their campaign on the dominant personality of Churchill instead of the popular reformist ministers such as Butler. Many voters associated Churchill with the nation as a whole and not with the Conservative Party or as only a wartime leader. He was not seen as politician suited to peacetime. This was encouraged by failure to adapt his speeches he spoke in broad terms with appeals to historic events, which did nothing to quell concerns that he was not interested in peacetime reconstruction. Fears that were manifested by the unenthusiastic response to the Beveridge report by the conservatives and their lack of post-war planning. The election was called to soon after the end of the war in Europe, whilst conservative ministers including Churchill were still busy dealing with the situation in the far east. This meant that the conservative party under unusual circumstances was unable to function properly and formulate a decent manifesto. The conservatives were also tainted by the legacy of the 1930’s their policy of appeasement and inadequate war preparation was linked to early defeats in the war.
However the 85% approval ratings of Churchill in 1945 indicate that the public were not disaffected with him. Ultimately the reason for Labour’s victory can be found in its development since the 1930’s to become a stronger party. They lead a more effective election campaign than the conservatives, which was better funded. They tapped into the voters desire for a better future, reminding them of the falures of the conservatives during the 1930’s. They also had more agents in the constituencies than the conservatives because the trade unionists were fully involved. Labour’s leadership was seen to be.
Why Did the Labour Government Suffer an Unexpected Election Defeat in 1970?
Why did the Labour government suffer an unexpected election defeat in 1970?
In 1970, Harold Wilson's Labour Government lost the general election to Ted Heath's Conservatives. The Labour government had suffered economic problems (inherited from the previous Conservative government) throughout their time in office. Along with this voters views of Wilson, problems with policy and awkward relations with the Trade Unions all contributed to the election defeat of 1970.
Economically in the 1960's, Labour and Harold Wilson had struggled. They inherited a large trade deficit and this became most apparent in 1966 once Labour had increased their majority. The problem was that to help ease the issue, Wilson would have to devalue the pound so that the UK's exports would be cheaper and therefore more competitive in price. However this was something that Wilson vowed he would not do. He believed that devaluing the pound would damage Britain's prestige in the world. This stubbornness from Wilson resulted in the devaluing of the Pound being delayed until November 1967. This mounted a lot of pressure on money markets and lost Wilson a lot of popularity. By finally giving in and devaluing the pound, Labours coherent reputation and authority was damaged. The whole issue surrounding the devaluation of the pound weakened the Labour party further by causing divides within. This weakening contributed to the election defeat in 1970. The party seemed somewhat unsure within itself and the state of the British economy didn't help either.
Another factor in Labour's defeat in the election was due to the attitude towards Wilson from the voters. In 1969, the voting age was lowered to 18. This meant that a whole new area of young voters was opened up. Initially, it was believed by pollsters that they would vote for Labour, however this was not to be the case. Wilson was viewed by many of the younger voters as being a stubborn, old man due to his going back on his word of not devaluing.
Defeat: How Winston Churchill Failed to Be Reelected in 1945
Winston Churchill is remembered as a highly successful politician, but his record at the ballot box was far more chequered than many might think. Churchill, in fact, failed to win a seat in five of the 21 contests which he fought, and as party leader he never led his party to win a majority of votes in a general election.
Worst of all, when the votes were counted after the general election of July 1945, Churchill’s Conservative Party took a crushing defeat at the hands of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party.
Opinion polls were available, and had consistently been showing a solid lead for the Labour Party – but still, it seems bizarre that Churchill managed to lose the 1945 election immediately after leading the allies to victory in World War II.
Dropping the ball
Among the excuses the Conservatives offered after their defeat was that the Army Bureau of Current Affairs had indoctrinated service personnel to vote Labour. This excuse was at least plausible in principle, but it was pretty flimsy stuff.
There were some more obvious reasons for Churchill’s humiliation. Ultimately, the Conservatives had simply lost the electoral “ground war”.
In contrast to the other parties, the Conservatives had stuck rigidly to the spirit and the letter of the wartime electoral truce, only holding one party conference during the war and putting little effort into policy development and constituency organisation. The result was that the party machine was in a terrible state, with a greatly depleted band of agents and volunteers.
The party was also still carrying the blame for the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s, for which it had been excoriated by the 1940 book Guilty Men.
Public memory was also against the Tories for another reason: the travails of David Lloyd George, who died in 1945. While still credited as the man who won World War I, Lloyd George’s record as prime minister after the war was dismal, marked by broken promises, unemployment, industrial unrest and threats to start another war. His dire tenure created a popular consensus was that good war leaders do not necessarily make good peacetime leaders.
How did the Labour Party win the UK election in 1945, defeating Winston Churchill's Conservative Party?
Winston Churchill was the hero that won the war, and yet the same year he could not even win the general election.
There was a feeling that British industrialists had profited greatly from the war, while working people shouldered the burden. Churchill tended to avoid questions of what would become of the Empire, and the massive war debt owed to the US. Churchill made many poor strategic decisions, too, and was palpably the weakest of the ɻig Three' by 1945.
He was a war leader, the British wanted to prepare for peace.
Not sure how influential it actually was but Churchill made quite a gaffe during the campaign in which he said that Labour would need a 'Gestapo' to enforce their social and economic policies. If you ask me, I think Labour's vision of 'New Jerusalem', with nationalised industries and healthcare free at the point of delivery, seemed more appealing and chimed better with public opinion at the time. Plus it is often forgotten that Labour were in coalition with the Conservatives throughout most of the Second World War, so they had proved that they were capable of governing already.
He lost because he wanted to continue the war and send British troops to help fight in the pacific. The opposing ran on a domestic policy platform and cashed in on how war weary the British populace was
The people saw him as a leader for war not for peace, it did not help that he believed he would win, easy and saw no real need to try, where as attlee spend most of his time running around the country meeting all the people affected by the war, and promising social change using the Beveridge report as a base for their manifesto.
One underrated factor was the armed services ballots, votes that were collected and brought in after the main votes had been collected. Many active service personnel feared returning to civilian life as it had been previously in the 1930's, as had many of their relatives from WW1 who had sacrificed much to return to Unemployment and homelessness.
He was a superb War leader, no question about that. His domestic policies, however, left a great deal to be desired. Why would a country that just spent 6 years fighting an often desperate war want to return the class ridden, elite-run shambles of a political system that had previously brought ruin and poverty to the vast majority of its inhabitants?
The Atlee government promised and delivered a free National Health Service, more housing, nationalised Rail, Coal, Steel and other vital elements of the economy that had been allowed to go to hell under private ownership. The people wanted change.
What they also did not appreciate - bearing in mind the circumstances - is being labelled Gestapo by Churchill for wanting such change.
Remember that the British people didn't vote for or against Churchill, they voted for their local MP. The party with the most seats gets to pick the PM. If your local Tory PM (who sat out the war putting on weight while the poor starved) promised only a return to the (largely illusory) glories of the past, people who had recently lived through two world wars and the Depression were understandably looking for a change.
In two world wars the entrenched ruling classes were seen as the driving forces, and these ruling classes failed to adapt well. In WWI, the British PM had to order the British Army to accept 15 machineguns per 10,000-man division, where the Germans already had hundreds per division. At the end of WWI, the Brits and French had 19 divisions of horse cavalry sitting around waiting for the big saber charge that never came the Brits had shipped more horse fodder to the continent than they had ammunition. Many of the most successful leaders (Bill Slim) came from working-class backgrounds, while more traditional officers lost entire campaigns and were seen to emphasize "square-bashing" and bayonet drill.
I also suspect that many (most?) of the best-and-brightest of the ruling classes were killed in the wars, and that those left in power were the "weak sisters" of the families, and are often depicted in literature as ranting about class leveling and international Jewry. Having the counterexample of America to look at (deplorable culture, but plenty of food and opportunity) may have cast things in a different light as well. Labour won by promising a new utopia, which regrettably worked about as well as most utopian schemes. But selling something "too good to be true" has always been a way to get elected, in any country.
Winston Churchill Essay
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, one of the greatest prime ministers of Great Britain and Nobel laureate for literature, was born on November 30, 1874, in Oxfordshire. He studied at Harrow and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. With intermingling careers in the army and in journalism, he traveled to Cuba, the North-West Frontier in India, Sudan, and South Africa. His political career began as a member of the House of Commons in 1900. After the electoral victory of the Liberals in 1906, Churchill became the undersecretary of state for the colonies. He also became the president of the Board of Trade and afterward the home secretary, undertaking major social reforms. In 1911 he was appointed lord of the admiralty in the ministry of Herbert Asquith (1852–1928) and undertook modernization of the Royal Navy. An abortive naval attack on the Ottoman Turks and the Allied defeat at Gallipoli led to Churchill’s resignation at the time of World War I. He was called back and was put in charge of munitions production in the ministry of David Lloyd George (1863–1945) and was instrumental in deploying tanks on the western front. He returned to the Conservative Party as chancellor of the exchequer in 1924 in the ministry of Stanley Baldwin (1867–1947). He reintroduced the gold standard in his tenure of five years. For about a decade he did not hold any ministerial office and was isolated politically because of his extreme views. Most of the political leaders also did not pay any heed to Churchill’s caution against appeasement policy toward Germany and the German march toward armament.
For Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869– 1940) the policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany was not working. There was no relenting of the march of Germany’s army under Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). Churchill became the premier on May 13, 1940, when he also took charge of the Department of Defense. As wartime policy, he initiated measures that enabled the country to withstand the Nazi onslaught and led Great Britain toward victory. However, the bombing of German cities, particularly the firebombing of Dresden, which resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives, brought criticism against him. Churchill initiated changes in the war efforts of his government. For the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), half a million volunteers were enlisted. Under the National Services Act, conscription and registration of men between 18 and 41 began. In 1944 the British army had a strength of about 2,700,000. Women’s emancipation took another step when they were called upon to work outside the home in the war economy. Agencies like the Women’s Transport Service (FANY), the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and the Women’s Royal Naval Service were created, by which women contributed to the nation’s war efforts.
Churchill, along with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, formulated war strategy, peace plans, the reconstruction of Europe, and the fate of the Axis powers. Churchill had met Roosevelt on August 14, 1941, and signed the “Atlantic Charter,” which spelled out a plan for international peace and adherence to national sovereignty. The “Grand Alliance” was committed to defeating Nazism and bringing about world peace. The last wartime conference that Churchill attended was the Yalta Conference in Crimea in the Soviet Union (now in Ukraine) with Roosevelt and Stalin between February 4 and 11, 1945. The differences between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States and Great Britain on the other were emerging. Churchill had many rounds of verbal dueling with Stalin over the fate of Poland, the division of Germany, and the occupation of Berlin. Once the war was over and their common enemy was defeated, the cold war began.
World War II ended in victory, but Great Britain was no longer the country commanding the most military and economic clout in the world. It was in debt £4.198 billion, and the cost of living had increased by 50 percent. Churchill’s Conservative Party was defeated in the elections of July 1945, and the Labour Party under Clement Attlee (1883–1967) came to power. Disillusionment with the Conservative Party, Churchill’s neglect of the health and educational sectors, and economic woes contributed to the Conservative defeat. Churchill was the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. He was relentless in turning public opinion against international communism. His speech delivered on March 5, 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, was a clarion call to the West to be ultracareful against communism. He called for an alliance of the English-speaking peoples of the world before it was too late. This “iron curtain” speech was regarded as the beginning of the schism between the East and the West and the division of the world into two blocs.
With the return of the Conservative Party to power in Britain, Churchill became the prime minister as well as the minister of defense in October 1951. Great Britain intervened in Iran after its prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh (1880–1967), nationalized the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). Churchill planned a coup to oust the government with the help of the United States. He dispatched British troops to the colony of Kenya in August 1952 at the time of the Mau Mau Rebellion, which was suppressed. Churchill’s administration dealt with the rebellion against British colonial rule in Malaya. Churchill during his first and second premiership was never willing to grant self-government to the colonies. Although high-sounding words like democracy, national sovereignty, and self-determination had been uttered at the time of World War II by Churchill and other Allied leaders, granting independence to the colonies was not in Churchill’s agenda. In fact, he had shown an apathetic attitude toward the Indian freedom movement. The Quit India movement of 1942 was suppressed ruthlessly. He had lampooned Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) as a “naked fakir.” He was also indifferent to the devastating famine of 1943 in Bengal, which killed about 3 million people. Churchill resigned in April 1955 due to ill health. He continued as a backbencher in the House of Commons until 1964. Churchill died in London on January 24, 1965.
Labour troubles, the Independent Question and the future of Britain
Labour conference met this week but in the new online world of Zoom the only cut through was Keir Starmer’s keynote address along with his TV response to Boris Johnson’s COVID-19 broadcast.
It is now nine months since the Tories won a landslide election victory. But the world has been turned upside down since last December. Boris Johnson was sold as a great communicator and campaigner, but as UK Prime Minister has proven inept, unfocused, untrustworthy and amateurish.
Labour matters in UK politics. It has lost four elections in a row but is the only serious alternative government to the Tories and the main opposition in the Commons.
Yet Labour faces an uphill task both after the 2019 defeat – and longer-term. The party won its lowest UK vote in December since 1935, lower even than 1983 and 1987. It is 162 seats behind the Tories who have a comfortable 87 seat overall majority, with Labour needing to win 123 seats to have a bare majority.
Every time Labour has won power since 1945 at a UK level it has done so winning Scotland. Labour without Scotland means that the party has to offset this by winning big in England to have the prospect of forming a government with an overall majority.
It is true that Labour could enter office on the basis of English and Welsh representation and form a minority government with support from the SNP, but this would not be a majority government and would hence have the prospect of being more instable, while allowing the Tories as in 2015 to use its spectre to scare English voters.
This week Starmer’s position on an indyref shifted. In January he said in Edinburgh – during the leadership campaign – that if a pro-independence majority was returned to the Scottish Parliament ‘they [the SNP] will have a mandate for that’ and that this was ‘a question for Scotland and the people of Scotland’, whereas since he became leader in April he has refused to reiterate this. But this week he declared on indyref2 that: ‘These issues are questions for Scotland’.
Starmer’s positioning at Westminster matters. It has consequences for politics at Westminster and Labour’s appeal up to the next UK election. It has an impact for Scotland in next year’s election and afterwards. And it leaves Ian Murray and Scottish Labour’s position of being against an indyref in any circumstances looking dangerously exposed.
Scottish Labour’s precarious state is only going to get more acute in the near-future. Richard Leonard has made little political traction in three years as leader with 53% of voters having no opinion of him. To add insult to injury his address to conference saw him introduced by deputy leader Angela Rayner as ‘Richard Lennon’.
The party’s vote is inexorably becoming more pro-independence as pro-union voters make the straight switch from Labour to Tories. The party has to break from the propensity of some of its members of hating the Nationalists more than anything, and even prioritising it above anti-Toryism.
Scottish Labour member Lina Nass said that the party has made a profound mistake in this and that ‘some in the party have come to view its core aim as defending the union, rather than advancing the cause of labour.’
Political parties have no divine right to exist. For Labour in Scotland to be listened to and to have an impact it has to become a Scottish-run party – fully autonomous and separate from London. It cannot just call itself ‘the Scottish Labour Party’ because that is its current name and what the moniker ‘London Labour’ is hung around.
Scottish Labour should refound and reform themselves as a new party – taking the example from Murdo Fraser’s plan for the Scottish Tories, that was never implemented as he lost the leadership in 2011 to Ruth Davidson. Labour doing a ‘full Murdo’ should see the party become the Independent Labour Party.
This draws from the party’s past and makes a statement of intent for the future. The original ILP was set up by Keir Hardie in 1893, and it is relevant that the party won its last parliamentary seats at a general election in Glasgow in 1945 when James Maxton and two of his colleagues won. A new ILP would be to British Labour what the Christian Social Union in Bavaria is to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union: a separate but sister party.
A new ILP would stand unapologetically for self-government and for Scotland’s right to decide its own future – the word independent being important here. It could draw from the ILP’s rich tradition of being suspicious of the state, patronage and big business, and standing for local democracy and diffusing power.
The Scottish party has had a long way down. Deborah Mattinson, a former Labour pollster, in her new book ‘Beyond the Red Wall’ reveals the angers and resentment of the party’s voters in Scotland – having spoken in 2012 to longstanding Labour voters who were considering voting SNP.
Mattinson said: ‘I had rarely heard such fury in focus groups. Frankly, voters were spitting with rage. They felt angry and neglected.’ She went on: ‘They believed that the Labour Government had let them down … They felt that their votes, crucial to past Labour victories had not been properly earned for years. They felt taken for granted.’
The manner in which Scottish Labour’s Westminster ‘big beasts’ used Scotland as a platform to launch their careers contributed to this malaise, with Mattinson observing: ‘They told me that Labour had used Scotland as a sort of political academy for its brightest and best, who then headed south to further their careers in Westminster, never looking back.’
Starmer’s Labour Party do not face the same scale of an uphill task, but they also face in traditional Labour seats years of decay, of taking voters for granted and of absentee politics and senior politicians taking their constituencies and communities for granted. This was building for decades but was accelerated by the New Labour practice of parachuting in leading figures into seats in the North of England with which they had no connection. And all of this was magnified by the Corbyn era and Labour’s vote becoming more middle class.
Labour’s so called ‘Red Wall’ problem – the cluster of seats running across the North of England and Midlands to Wales – and loss of traditional working class voters is a manifestation of a deeper problem. Namely, Labour has been losing its working class support since the 1950s and 1960s, later aided by politicians like Tony Blair feeling embarrassed and not wanting to talk about class. Related to this the approach of Jeremy Corbyn when leader and his allies to invoke abstract, simplistic notions of class and inequality further aided this disenchantment.
A relevant language of class is difficult for any centre-left party the world over. Many voters have a working class identity but need to be engaged with in a way that allows for other identities, national and regional attachments, and the power of individualism and consumerism. Claire Ainsley is one of Starmer’s key advisers and wrote much of his keynote address this week. She is also author of ‘The New Working Class’ in which she argues that Labour needs to root its policies in a ‘moral foundation’. But Labour also faces the challenge that it appears as the party of the capital and the London metropolitan classes versus the Tories as the party of capital – which is a disempowering choice for voters.
The bigger question is what does Labour stand for under Keir Starmer? So far he has defined Labour in the negative – by not being Jeremy Corbyn and not embodying Corbynism. Yet so far he hasn’t jettisoned most of the Corbynista policy agenda – a large part of which was very popular with voters as individual specific policies but regarded overall as undeliverable.
In an age of instability, anxiety and fear Starmer seems to be positioning Labour as the party of reassurance, caution and conservatism. During times defined by the incompetence of Boris Johnson’s government, the car crash of Brexit and the human disaster of COVID-19, there is a logic and appeal to this. But it can only go so far.
Starmer is also moving Labour onto the terrain of patriotism that traditionally makes Labour activists and left-wingers nervous but the party cannot just leave this area unchallenged to the Tories. He is also trying to construct a plausible story of Labour in power and of the post-war Prime Ministers who won elections: Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair – with too many even in the party prepared to trash past Labour Governments.
Labour’s grasp of its own achievements in office and history is often lacking. For example, the party has little awareness that not only did it defeat Winston Churchill in 1945, but that in the three contests between Attlee and Churchill which also included 1950 and 1951, Labour won the popular vote in all three it only lost the last election due to the distribution of parliamentary seats.
Or take an even more central one – how Britain became more democratic. The story of the widening of the franchise with women getting the vote in 1918 and 1928 is well-known the latter achieving an equal franchise between the sexes. But the achievement of an equal franchise overall did not happen until 1948 when the Attlee Government abolished business voting and university voting – with the last group even having their own constituencies. The point being that Labour’s ending of plural voting is one the party barely remembers let alone celebrates. How is the party meant to articulate ‘Labour values’ and further democratisation when it does not even know its own past achievements?
Starmer’s Labour has to come up with a political language, policies and set of stories about Britain which connect with the past, are relevant in the present and aid the party in attempting to shape the future. That is a tough call and high benchmark.
Fundamental to this on top of everything else – a more complex pattern of class and other identities, Brexit, and COVID-19 – is a fractured and divided union. Labour has to speak to the four very different nations of the UK with divergent political environments and cultures.
Central to this is England. Labour has historically been nervous to talk about this, but preferring to subsume England in all-British approach will no longer do. The party has to come to terms with, and even embrace, the desire of Scotland and Wales for greater self-government, uphold the principle of self-determination, and at the minimum respect the demand for independence. Besides that is the evolving situation in Northern Ireland which will eventually see a border poll.
In this fluid, uncertain context Labour has to embark on the difficult task of speaking to the constituencies which make up the UK, at the same time recognising that the current nature of the UK (one of the most unequal countries in the developed world) and the British state are part of the problem – sustaining power, privilege, inequality and a corporate insider class.
The reconfiguration of the UK and end of the current British state will be messy and painful – but out of it can come a more egalitarian, democratic future. If Labour wants to be a party of the future it has to champion these trends and prepare for a time – hopefully very soon – where there is a new set of relationships across the peoples and nations of what is currently the UK.