1945 GE: Why was Churchill turned out?

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

  1. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    A couple of amusing (apocryphal) stories therein:

    - When attending the palace to accept the seals of officer and after a period of shy silence, Attlee apparently broke it by saying to the king "I won the election", and the response was "I know, I heard it on the 6 o'clock news..." later the King supposedly said "Attlee ought not to be called Clem Attlee but Clam Attlee"

    - When offered the Order of the Knight of the Garter, Churchill declined the honour and said that he couldn't accept it "because the voters had just given him the Order of the Boot."
  2. ritsonvaljos

    ritsonvaljos Senior Member

    Losing the General Election in 1945 was not the only time "... Churchill was turned out".

    Other elections Churchill lost (when standing as a Parliamentary candidate) were as follows:

    Oldham by-election (1899)

    Manchester North West by-election, after promotion to the British Cabinet (1908)

    Dundee General Election (1922)

    Leicester General Election (1923)

    Westminster Abbey by-election (1924)

    His Win / Lose record as a Parliamentary candidate was:

    Won - 16; Lost 5.

    In the 1945 General Election, with the Labour and Liberal parties declined to put up a candidate against Britain's wartime Prime Minister in the constituency of Woodford. An independent candidate, Alexander Hancock, polled more than 10,000 votes (27.5% of the vote). So even in 1945 and in his own constituency, here is hard evidence that Winston Churchill did not necessarily have quite as high a personal popularity as has often been assumed in more recent times.

    Further information can be found on the relevant page on the Churchill Centre website:
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  3. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I have enjoyed reading many of the posts and threads about WSC lately. So thanks to all who have contributed.

    My favourite quote of his is about Clem Attlee; who he described as "a sheep in sheep's clothing." :D
  4. TLang

    TLang New Member

    As an American it is very interesting to hear your thoughts on all of your topics from Churchill to the landings at Normandy. As it is always the case, the truth of what really happened is only as true as the person telling the story. It is always so much more interesting to hear a first hand account of what actually took place. As far as Churchill is concerned, he was a very shrewd politician when it came to convincing Roosevelt that Hitler needed to be defeated first. Especially since the Japanese were the people who attacked the US first. Churchill did not do a very good job of convincing Roosevelt of the dangers of the Russians near the end of the war. Although I thought he was correct is seeing this threat just like General Patton did. That danger still exists to this day.
  5. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    WSC and Attlee headed the successful coalition which presided over the defeat of Nazism and Japan.I do not think that WSC made the sheep observation during the war but was made postwar when WSC was campaigning to return to power.WSC depended on Attlee to manage the country while he prosecuted the war against Nazism and Japanese expansion in the Pacific....latter surrendered unconditionally in August 1945 but WSC had been the British political vanguard in the war against Japan.

    One thing that history will record is that of the two,WSC had nothing to offer for a country recovering almost bankrupt from nearly 6 years of war other than maintaining the status quo_On the other hand,Attlee offered social reform, a vision of improving the living standards of the British people....many proved to anticipate prospects an improvement than the prewar era.

    WSC approach to the 1945 election was illustrated in a documentary a couple of years ago and gave an insight to WSC,his politics and personality....it covered WSC appreciation of the state of politics and showed him campaigning in the election and portrayed him as not possessing a domestic policy expected by a postwar Britain recovering from war.

    On point I found very interesting was that WSC,when he was returned to power in 1951 was, that despite not enjoying the best of health, he was reluctant to stand down as PM until four years later.In his later years in office, he suffered at least two mini strokes,unknown to the electorate.His state of health accelerated his decision to resign but not before there was a serious level of concern from those close senior colleagues as to his capacity to carry on in the post.

    In the end,he resigned in April 1955 and would appear to have been dominant in the selection of his successor,Anthony Eden
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I enjoyed listening to that, thanks for posting the link Richard.

    Some arguments put forward by Bogdanor:

    Churchill’s pre-election speeches against Socialism (warning against Gestapo tactics and quoted earlier in the thread) did not cost him the election. Polls - still a new thing then and in the main disregarded - showed they were already well behind (20%) and that the election campaign actually bought the Conservatives some small gains.

    People were not voting for radical socialist transformation - but for social reform with limitations. (Interestingly, regarding “Soviet socialism”, Bogdanor quotes from a 1943 Home Intelligence report: “there was almost unanimous belief [in UK] that the success of the Russian armies was due to the political system of that country.”) While Churchill had been associated with failures and successes in the war itself, it was the Labour politicians in key positions who in the main had engaged with the public on domestic issues. This meant that in 1945 the electorate were in fact voting in some regards for a continuity of the domestic policies witnessed during the war years, and not for the suspected old regime under the Conservatives.

    He maintains that the servicemen did not have as great an effect on the result as some have suggested. Their turnout (59% voted & only 2/3 of those eligible actually registered) was much lower than that of the general population.

    Bogdanor also elaborates on the generational factor: the younger generation were more inclined to vote for the Labour party which it had always known, and the older population who were more inclined to vote Conservative had died off. He points out that a good part of the swing (average 13%, and as high as 23% in parts of London and in Birmingham) could be put down to the middle class, who were later to vote against Labour in 1950 as a result of austerity and higher taxation.

    Churchill’s own majority in his constituency was reduced to 17000 (from over 20,000 in 1935) by ‘an unknown Independent’ who stood against him when the Labour and Liberal parties declined to put forward a candidate.

    He points out that in one respect there is a parallel with the post WW1 GE result. The people voted against the party which they blamed for failing to prepare the country properly for war... even though in point of fact the public in the 1930s were against “drastic rearmament”.

    He agreed with Harold Macmillan who summarised that the electors were 'not voting against Churchill but against the ghost of Neville Chamberlain'. Finally Bogdanor also suggested that “1945 was a great victory from which the Labour Party has never recovered”.


    In response to his wife’s suggestion that “It may well be a blessing in disguise”, Churchill said, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”

    To another he said of the election result, “They are perfectly entitled to vote as they please: this is democracy, this is what we fought for.”
  7. Drusus Nero

    Drusus Nero Banned

    I must ask this question also.

    Was postwar reconstruction on a North/South axis?

    I am reading Mark Lewisohn's history of the Beatles. Mr. Lewisohn describes Liverpool in the late 1950's and early sixties as a very depressed urban center, with bomb damage /piles of rubble still visable, blackened brickwork, and southern executives in clean and orderly London and other centers describing Liverpool as "Karziland".

    Was the reconstruction effort dominated by Southern centers, whilst Northern towns like Liverpool got bugger all?

    For that matter, were southern voting areas the voters that swept Clem Atlee to power? Were the reconstruction monies allocated in true pork-barrelling style? Or was it the traditional North/South disdain for eachother that contributed to a lack of reconstruction for anyone with a Yorkshire/Lancashire accent?
  8. Drusus Nero

    Drusus Nero Banned

    Also, something occurred to me while I was watching a re-run of Warren Mitchell's "Till Death Us Do Part".

    In the film, Warren's street is hit by a German bomb. A 40mm Bofors gun and crew arrive and are stationed there for the rest of the war. The Seargeant of the Bofors crew does not get along with Alf. On walking past the gun one day, alf spots them having a 'cook-off" featuring steaks the size of dinner plates, and around twenty eggs. To Alf Garnett, who is rationed to a single egg per week, this is another source of friction with the bofors crew. Their freely available tobacco issue, (whilst Alf can get none at the store even with coupons), is yet another reason for Alf Garnett to be not on freindly terms with the military.

    Historically, the truth of this is quite evident.

    Could this be another, yet overriding reason why Churchill was turned out at the hour of triumph? The British people put up with massive shortages and privations, whilst the armed services seemed to want for nothing. Can six years of lingering dissatisfaction over this state of affairs be a factor in the election? Sweeping away the military, as represented by Churchill, and replacing him with someone of a not so privelaged background, a man of the people?
  9. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Thanks for doing the hard yards on transcribing and summarising some of the headline points of the lecture...

    One of a number of other fascinating points was that a number of Attlee's colleagues were trying to get rid of him as leader throughout the period and even after the Labour party had secured such a stunning election victory.

    It was noted that Herbert Morrison was one of the leaders of the putative putsch (my hyperbole) and was of course Peter Mandelson's grandfather (plus ca change)

    DN, if you are in the UK, I would encourage you to watch the linked programme as it covers a range of social and economic drivers that may have contributed to the change of government in 1945. As noted also, the 1945 GE was the first national election since 1935 and during that 10 year period a generational change had continued and even without the impact of a world war, the electoral dynamics would have moved forward apace since Nov 1935.

    For a corollary, have a look at this analysis of the 1959 election...on the face of it it's much less interesting but does link to/move on from the concluding comments made at the end of the 1945 edition.

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  10. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Mentioned in the 1959 edition the "intervention" by FM Montgomery who said:

    "Anyone voting Labour (in 1959) must be completely barmy, absolutely off his rocker, and should be locked up in a lunatic asylum as a danger to the country..."

    and the response was:

    "If Labour voters had been locked up during the war, Montgomery would have been left with half an army (sic)..."

    That would include both my Mum and Dad... I suspect Dad forgave the esteemed Field Marshal as later he used to mention the fact that Monty (the famous non smoker) had given him (as CQMS) 2000 cigarettes before the Sangro battle ...
  11. redtop

    redtop Well-Known Member

    I do not know why Churchill was not elected.
    Even thou only a child I thought he was some sort of God (No doubt inspired by my parents) Before the election we were living at Hainault ( A new estate) and part of the Woodford constituency at that time.
    I saw him as he drove past and was amazed that some people shouted "Warmonger" and shook their fist at him
    I do not want to paint the wrong picture there were not crowds of people lining the pavement just the odd group here and there.
  12. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I always understood that it was not Churchill who was voted out, but the Conservative Party. I am not an expert in British politics, so forgive me if I get some of this not quite right.

    Churchill seems to have been more popular with the left than any other Tory. In 1940. The Labour leadership refused to serve under anyone else in a national government. The other choice at the time was the odious Halifax, who was completely unacceptable. Labour's attitude is not surprising. Churchill was never an orthodox Conservative, and he did not belong to his party's inner circle. He was an outsider, as he had always been. He was a great deal less snobbish and class-conscious than many Conservatives. (At the Admiralty, he pushed hard to get more promotions to officer ranks from the lower deck). If his wartime management of Britain's internal affairs is any guide, then he was flexible on socio-economic matters too. (The Welfare State, after all, was supposed to be an extension of the fairness and equality of wartime Britain).

    The Conservative Party was another matter. Recent studies suggest that the Conservatives managed Britain's economy fairly well during the 30's, but of course that was not likely to be accepted by the millions in the depressed areas. It was obvious to all that the Conservatives had made a miserable hash of foreign and defense policy. For reasons of tactics, Churchill was obliged to retain some of the most prominent of the Tory old guard in his government, including Halifax (an advocate of a negotiated peace in 1940). That would have stunk in the nostrils of most intelligent people, left-wing or not.

    Labour's record in the 30's was far from perfect, of course. On foreign and defense policy, the party stuck to orthodox pacifism and anti-militarism for too long. But the war changed this. By 1945, Labour had what it had lacked in 1939, a cadre of leaders (Attlee, Bevin) with long and succesful experience of government, maturity, and willingness to learn. Large sections of the middle class had been won to what had previously been mostly a working class party, another development due to wartime conditions. There was a widespread resolve that there could be no returning to the old ways. Churchill was not the problem in 1945, his party and the system it represented was.
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  13. m kenny

    m kenny Senior Member

    When I was growing up (in the grim north)we always used to play on 'bomb sites' even until the early 60's the kids always used to use that term.
    I can't help comparing Churchill's wartime standing in the USA v at home with the situation today with Tony Blair. It would be hard to put into words the almost universal visceral hatred directed towards Blair in the UK. He is seen as a lying cheating money obsessed man with no moral compass and yet in the USA he is feted as a national hero of impeccable character!
  14. Peccavi

    Peccavi Senior Member

    Just personal experience and my answer is no.

    If you visited Portsmouth in 1950's the description you give for Liverpool would be equally appropriate - still loads of war damage (at least 3 large bomb craters on the way to school) and many derelict spaces where once buildings had stood.

    Maybe the common link is the massive destruction of port cities.
  15. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day slipdigit.28th july 2007.05:12 pm.re:wy was churchill turned out?.he had passed his use-by date as they say today.he was a great leader.as for other leaders of the day.look where britain is today,there would be many who regret there vote back then,may he rest in peace.regards bernard85
  16. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    There may have been other reasons amongst the voters for electing a Labour Post War Government, but I think that your reasoning is pretty much on the ball.

    Unfortunately for Churchill he was leading a Co Party Government during the War and Post War the Conservative Party just no longer appealed to the masses for the reasons outline in the above Posts.

  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    In spite of his warnings against Socialism, (so it was explained in the programme in Richard's link) Churchill had proposed an extension to the coalition government until the defeat of Japan: in ignorance of the atomic bomb this was presumed to take at least another 18 months. The original agreement had been until the end of the war in Europe. Attlee was for this but his party wasn't, despite not having any expectation of a win in the GE, particularly as far as those like Morrison were concerned under Attlee's leadership. Churchill was especially aggrieved, not about any prospect of defeat, but over the thought of losing Bevin. Apparently this proposal wasn't known to the electorate at the time.

    Leaders are viewed as synonymous with their party, despite them being occasionally at odds with the membership. So although only those in his own constituency could vote for Churchill and indeed kept him in his seat, I'd think those no longer voting Conservative elsewhere would not have had much faith in his steering of the party's policies. Although not entirely in support of him in the past, in Churchill the Conservatives hoped to take advantage of having a leader who was victorious in war, yet the Labour party had a leader who was considered by some of his own as a "mouse" and a liability.

    I believe therefore that although the fear of Conservative policies was more of a factor than the man himself, Churchill as a leader was still unable to steer them to victory in the election either.
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  18. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    My maternal grandparents were Conservative voters (always), but they thought Churchill was a 'warmonger'. My mother holds the same opinion to this day.

    I noted all of their opinions, did my own research/learning and then made up my own mind. Thank god for Winston Spencer Churchill...

    Will we see his like again?


  19. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    and distrust that the Conservative party may/would break the "promises" made during the war time period...some remembering the period after the First World War where the promises of war time were not delivered afterwards.
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  20. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    There's one important element left out of all the above....and it's necessary to understanding WHY events in 1945 turned out as they did...

    V-P early in the history of this thread mentioned Churchill disregarding the Beveridge Report - and that hints of the important piece of history missing...

    But it would be more important to think of the Beveridge Report as the ONLY effort towards social change that the Conservatives made During the war years! ;) Even before Churchill chose to disregard it! But why is that so important?

    What's missing so far is the events of 1940 - and how the Labour Party became willing to take part in the National Government! One of the important things they demanded for taking part in the national Government was a swift move towards a full Welfare State....and it appears that in the several days' horsetrading between the famous Norway Debate and that morning when Chamberlain called Winston and Halifax into his office....Churchill had given that undertaking to the Labour Prty and they telephoned their assent to taking part in government under Churchill from the party conference. Halifax did NOT signal his willingness to move forward on the Welfare State...and the Labour Party were unwilling to serve in a government where HE was Prime Minister...

    This is the bit that gets left out of most of the history books on the event so of May 1940! Chamberlain going to the King and recommending WInston as Prime Minister was actually very little to do with the issue of a Prime Minister trying to lead his government from the House of Lords; that is the version "sold" to the public since, but there was some very basic and very unedifying Whitehall horsetrading behind the scenes from the 7th of May to the 10th of May.

    In effect therefore - when Churchill did nothing towards social reform during the war years - he had broken the undertakings he'd given to Attlee AND handed the labour Party a huge stick to beat him with....a stick that became even bigger when the veterans started return home. And it REALLY didn't help that the government had just spend the last five years after Dunkirk "rebranding" the War as "Everyman's War"....and Everyman was getting bugger all out of it except for perhaps even more blood,sweat, toil and tears!

    In other words - when the British political scene suddenly returned to party politics, and the normal concerns of party politics...there was no way on this earth that Churchill was going to win an election fought on peoples' normal concerns.

    The 1940 aspect of this is almost forgotten now. It's been replaced in almost everyone's mind by the description of events contained in The World At War LOL It's almost comical to see Leo Amery's and "Rab" Bulter's comments on camera there...once you know the true sequence of events. I only came across it by accident - at a car boot sale! :)...when I picked up a copy of Laurence Thompson's 1940 several years ago. Thompson was the political correspondent of the Telegraph for almost forty years, and was on first name terms with ALL the 1940 players....and had access to their private diaries and the Commons Library for his book. the last third is about the events of CATAPAULT and Mers-el-Kebir, in the context of Winston demonstrating to FDR that he meant business about staying in the war and being prepared to take the hard decisions....but the first TWO-THIRDS of the book is about how Churchill got into office.

    It's been out of print for years now - my copy is a 1970s paperback version! - but if you find a copy it's a must-read. And incidently a good read too!

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