1945 GE: Why was Churchill turned out?

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Slipdigit, Jul 28, 2007.

  1. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Quote from Kyt from another thread to provide context for my question.
    I have always thought that it was the height of ingratitude and huge slap in the face of Winston Churchill to be turned out of office in May of 1945, following the cessation of fighting in Europe, but while Japan still sat undefeated.

    To me, Churchill was THE man to lead Great Britain and his leadership ability was second to none. He appeared to be a lone voice before the war trying to alert the world to what was unfolding in Central Europe and was mostly ignored. He was then called upon to lead the nation as the crisis was drawing closer and he met the challenge tremendously, only to cast aside when no longer needed.

    Why was he disabused in the manner that he was following the nation's triumph, with him at the helm?

    Where I am wrong with this line of thought?
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  2. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Atlee's party were offering the most attractive future for the rebuilding of a knackered Britain after years of war, their Social policies seemed to offer the hope of a brave new world, some sort of reward for the fighting. Whereas the Conservatives were seen as offering only more of the same they ever had.

    While Churchill was ostensibly a Conservative leader (having changed sides once or twice in his time) and the government was therefore technically Conservative, it should also be remembered that the 'national government' was more of a cross-party meritocracy, with political differences put somewhat aside in preference of the best man for a given job.
    This meant many of the leading lights of the 1945 Labour winners were in very public positions already, making it less of a coup against Churchill and more of a choosing of 'fresh' perspectives with already well established and respected politicians at the helm.

    It's often said that parties don't win elections, the one in power loses them. This certainly seems to be the case with the 1945 Conservative failure to pick up on the Beveridge report as representing what people (particularly returning servicemen) actually wanted, Churchill also behaved in a curmudgeonly manner throughout the campaign and memories of the conservative Chamberlains prewar appeasment did them no favours. The Conservatives failed to offer real tangible fruits of victory to the people.

    Seems to have been a very strange campaign where Churchill was unassailable in terms of popularity and respect but his party could be attacked as rather tired and shabby.

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  3. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

  4. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Thanks VP and Kyt. Kyt I will have to read the links later, I have a yard to mow.

    A follow-up question alluded to by my post. Was there a feeling among the Britons that they had shown him ingratitude for his steadfast resolve to see the country to victory, even though his party did not offer the best hoped-for recovery?

    Here in the US, he was Great Britain, embodying the drive, desire and forthrightness in which the Islands met the challenge, even when days were darkest. "We will fight them on the beaches...We will never surrender!" still sends chills up my spine. Living now in a relative land of plenty, I cannot appreciate the needs of a war weary country wanting to move beyond the war.

    You veterans in here, Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Sapper (I'm sorry I can't remember your last name), what were your opinions of Mr. Churchill, as returning veterans?
  5. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    I don't think the British public held Churchill is such a high regard, politically, straight after the war. It was certainly the case that he ws held in high esteem as war-time leader, and he was appreciated as such. But as VP stated, people wanted a change, and one for the better. Soldiers and their families still remembered the way that the promises of the post-WW1 period had been broken, and they imagined that Churchill and the Conservatives would do the same. Churchill didn't do himself any favours with speeches like this (1945 election broadcast):

    I must tell you that a socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas on freedom. There is to be one State, to which all are to be obedient in every act of their lives. This State, once in power, will prescribe for everyone: where they are to work, what they are to work at, where they may go and what they may say, what views they are to hold, where their wives are to queue up for the State ration, and what education their children are to receive. A socialist state could not afford to suffer opposition - no socialist system can be established without a political police. They (the Labour government) would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo

    It seemed to be a desperate tactic. I've also seen film of Churchill being booed by soldiers during the 1945 campaign.
  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    The anomaly is that he was widely seen in a similar light here too Jeff, his personal stock remained mostly high. However politics and voting patterns are always more complex than that, as Kyt suggests the personal and the political reputation are not always the same thing. The war sharpened voters political awareness and expectations and even a personality such as Churchills could not overcome the greater hopes expressed by the public and the solutions offered by the opposition.

    There's also the 'war-weary' factor that churchill, no matter his high contemporary reputation (he had been a figure of some fun in the pre-war years and had never quite got rid of that), was utterly and inextricably associated with the war and thus to some extent part of what the public wished to move away from. Perhaps this is reflected in his return to power in '51 when the raw memory of war was healing somewhat?
  7. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    I have to disagree with VP on one point - the 51 election was a vote for Churchill and the Conservatives but rather a vote against the six years of Labour austerity. Even though Labour created a welfare state etc, the dire economic straits that Britain was left in meant that Labour was forced to tighten rationing, limit imports etc, and people were very unhappy that they had to endure such austerity. There were even grumblings that defeated Germany was fairing better than victorious Britain.
  8. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    A fair assessment of the post war period and of Churchill whose domestic policies were Victorian.It is a pity that he did not win the 1945 election and had to deal with a bankrupt post war Britain.I do not think he would have handled the economy any better than Attlee.

    The problem,as now was that the Conservatives thought that they should have continuous office even though they were unaware of life beyond Watford.
  9. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    I guess in some ways I am trying to transpose the way we in the US choose the head of our government onto how the PM is chosen there, which is incorrect.

    Since the PM* is chosen by the legislative branch of government and not by direct (or as it is done here, indirect) vote of the people, it is not possible (except by consensus of Parliment) to have PM not to be a member of the party in power as can be done here, where the Executive and Legislative branches of government can be led by different parties. A good example of this is Ronald Reagan being chosen as President in 1980 while the Senate and House of Reprehensibles were dominated by the opposition.

    Then, Churchill being removed from power was not necessarily a repudiation of him as a leader, but of the party he reresented?

    *I am assuming that the Prime Minister functions as the head of the executive branch of the government of the UK, even though he is chosen by the legislative.
  10. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Fair point on the face of it but the austerity largely continued and Labour stayed out of power for the next 13(?) years which somewhat dilutes the argument that this was the sole reason for Labours loss.
  11. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member


    the PM is not chosen by the excutive but by the party. The leader of the party that gets the most parliamentary seats (as opposed to the most votes), is then declared PM. The methods to choose the head of the party differs between parties. The PM then chooses members for the executive (some of who may already have been 'shadow' / opposition members already). There isn't the same split between the executive and legislature as there is in the States.
  12. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    We have discussed this matter on an earlier thread so I went back to see what my views were at that time and I do not think they have changed.

    I said:

    " I would stay on record as an unmitigated admirer of Churchill who just happened to be the Colonel of my old Regiment, the 4th Queen's Own Hussars.

    I had the pleasure of attending the first postwar reunion of the Regiment at which he was present BBC - WW2 People's War - Churchill and Ron enjoy a meal together,
    I kept vigil when he was dying at his home in Kensington and stood for hours in Trafalgar Square to see his funeral procession "

    Despite my admiration and utter respect for the man, in 1945 at the age of 22, I was able to vote for the first time and I stood by my family's Labour roots by voting for the party that I thought was best for the United Kingdom at that time.

    It was obvious that Churchill was dismayed and disgusted at what he felt was rank injustice by the people he had just led to Victory but as an astute politician he must have realised that he was always at risk.
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  13. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    That is, in effect what I said or at least what I intended to say. The legislative branch, in this case, the party that controls Parliment, chooses the PM.
  14. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    Fair point on the face of it but the austerity largely continued and Labour stayed out of power for the next 13(?) years which somewhat dilutes the argument that this was the sole reason for Labours loss.

    The 1951 election was a defeat because of the austerity of the preceeding 6 years (and the winds of change were seen in the 1950 election that didn't give Labour a enough of a majority). However, the 1955 and 1959 election wins for the Conservatives was clearly down to the feeling that they had created the prosperity that now existed. However, considering the fact that this prosperity would not have been possible without Labour's austerity measures, it just shows how fickle voters can be.

    And it was also in the 1950s that the cult of Churchill, and the war, started emerging, through the films of the time. The immediate post-war period still produced 'realistic' war films that represented the all the participants (women, the w/c, civilians etc) - however, the new films became more heroic, and Churchill benefited from that initially. He would have stayed as PM for much longer if his health hadn't deterioted.
  15. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Mr. Goldstein,

    Thank you for you input.

    I think that after reading the above mentioned postings and the attached links and your posting, I better understand the actions that resulting in the May 1945 change in the PM.
  16. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    I think Ron's contemporary view sums it up rather succinctly, it seems illogical but it's perfectly possible to feel enormous respect and affection for a man but still not gratuitously carry that over to a vote.
    The feelings he (Ron) expresses seems to have been common ones in '45.

    I'm an enormous Churchill fan, but feel I would likely have voted for change in that election too.

    (Funnily enough a major part of why I like Churchill is bound up with the contradictions of his political history & the large amount of what would be seen now as 'flaws', both personal and political. Such a remarkable, interesting and genuinely human figure wouldn't even get off the plastic political starting blocks today.:( )
  17. Kyt

    Kyt Very Senior Member

    I'll probably get lynched for this but I am not a Churchill fan - opportunist, imperialist, disdainful - and the list goes on. He may have been a good leader of wartime Britain, but he was no military strategist (even though he thought he was - his interferences often did as much damage as good. North African anyone? Singapore?)
  18. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    You have to understand the mood of the country after 1945. Under the Conservatives the land would have gone back to what is was before. A class ridden admin concerned only with looking after its own.
    A Country where Service men were barred from entering the Bournemouth gardens. They were "Undesirables"

    There was no way that the men and women would allow that to return. As to Attlee. He was probably the best PM this Country ever had. He was a strong leader without appearing to be so. He also steered the country through a postwar period when the country was completely bankrupt. We had nothing! we had no exports. The Country was in a parlous state far worse than anyone today could possibly imagine.

    We had been at war for 6 long years, we had lost the cream of our young men, men that we desperately needed. We had no fuel, no coal, the railways were busted, and we had terrible winters.

    We had no money to buy ANYTHING! The greatest trouble was trying to buy meat from Argentina without exports........We were utterly BROKE...yet through that terrible time Attlee steered us, even though we had to help out the Germans to stop mass starvation to our former enemies....

    Churchill? A great man for war...Not for the peace,,,,,,, That is how massive numbers of the returning service men saw it. (A landslide of votes)

    The old order that the war had been swept away, was not going to return. No more the unemployment, The half starved young men that had their ribs poking through their chests... the unhealthy pallid colour of their bodies through lack of medical care and nutrition.

    I remember during the war the huge numbers of young men called up for service, so weak, that they were deemed unfit to serve. They could not even drill, they were that weak and undernourishment...Thousands of them.
    The war swept all that away, the neglect, the sickness the undernourished and half starved,

    NO way were they going to let the old ways return.
    What did save us? The Marshall plan. That is what saved us, and the dedicated long hours of work for a pittance that we struggled with. 12 hour shifts on a poor diet, and without warm clothing. rationing and no money to buy anything!!!!

    Attlee brought us through that period..There was no one else that could achieve that..certainly not Churchill for he was part of that "Old Order"

    We the British people dragged ourselves up by our shoe strings. The people of today have hot the faintest idea of what the conditions were like in the UK post war,,,I do.
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  19. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    From Sapper
    Thank you for your reply and the insight it provided. It is extroidinarily difficult for us in this age to fully appreciate the difficulties that people faced in the depression and the subsequent war. My daughter is amazed that I didn't have 100 channels on TV and a VCR, she can't possibly understand they way things were, when food was scarcer than hen's teeth. It is difficult for me, but I did get a mild taste of when I was boy, when my mother lost her job because the doc she worked for died and my father went on strike. We had beans & rice and rice & beans a lot.

    I listened to my grandparents about that time in our history and the stark difficulties they faced in the 1930s. Things that are so foreign to me, like working 45hrs a 5 day work week for pay, then another 6hrs on Sat for free, if you wanted to keep your job. I have never had to face such work conditions.

    However, they all talked glowingly of the post-war period. It was a good time for them and life was much better than it ever had been before. They still worked HARD, but they got good money for it. My dad's father came out of the war still a sharecropper, but he prospered enough to get out from under it. My mom's father worked in a cotton mill and it was boom time for them and the pay was good. Both sides of the house were able to move out of the poverty they lived in a into a middle to upper middle class lifestyle, with many of us able to attend college and have good-paying professions.

    I'm guessing from what I have read outside and comments made above, that societal classes were far more prevalent and rigid in the UK than the US. I'm excluding the blacks in this comment, but even within their strata at that time, there was ease of change within the class structure of their race.
  20. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Sapper, I would agree with what you have posted apart from the fact Great Britain were not recipients of the Marshall Plan.We did receive loans from the US which were repayable and were paid up last December.

    On the other hand, Stalin refused Marshall Aid which incidentally did not involve any repayment and was intended to rebuild war torn economies.The Plan gave a flying start to the rebuilding of to the Western Europe particularly Western Germany.

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