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The 1945 United Kingdom general election was a national election held on 5 July 1945, but polling in some constituencies was delayed by some days, and the counting of votes was delayed until 26 July to provide time for overseas votes to be brought to Britain. The governing
Conservative Party Conservative Party may refer to: Europe Current *Croatian Conservative Party, *Conservative Party (Czech Republic) *Conservative People's Party (Denmark) *Conservative Party of Georgia *Conservative Party (Norway) *Conservative Party (UK) Histor ...

Conservative Party
sought to maintain its position in
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but faced challenges from public opinion about the future of the United Kingdom in the post-war period.
British Prime Minister The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The head of government is either the highest or second highest official in the executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, auton ...
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The head o ...

Winston Churchill
proposed to call for a general election in Parliament, which passed with a majority vote less than two months after the conclusion of the
Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved —including all of the great powers—forming two opposing s: the and the . In a total war directly involving m ...
in Europe. The election's campaigning was focused on leadership of the country and its future. Churchill sought to use his wartime popularity as part of his campaign to keep the Conservatives in power after a wartime coalition had been in place since 1940 with the other political parties, but he faced questions from public opinion surrounding the Conservatives' actions in the 1930s and his ability to handle domestic issues unrelated to warfare.
Clement Attlee Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, (3 January 18838 October 1967) was a British politician who served as from 1945 to 1951 and from 1935 to 1955. He was during the under , and served twice as from 1935 to 1940 and from 1951 to 195 ...

Clement Attlee
, who led the
Labour Party Labour Party or Labor Party may refer to: Angola *MPLA, known for some years as "Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party" Antigua and Barbuda *Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party Argentina *Labour Party (Argentina) Armenia ...
, was seen as a more competent leader by voters, particularly those who feared a return to the levels of unemployment in the 1930s and sought a strong figurehead in British politics to lead the postwar rebuilding of the country. Opinion polls when the election was called showed strong approval ratings for Churchill, but Labour had gradually gained support for months prior to the war's conclusion. The final result of the election showed Labour to have won a landslide victory, making a net gain of 239 seats and winning 47.7%, thus allowing Attlee to be appointed prime minister. This election marked the first time that the Labour Party had won an outright majority in parliament, and allowed Attlee to begin implementing the party's post-war reforms for the country. For the Conservatives, the Labour victory was a shock, as they suffered a net loss of 189 seats although they won 36.2% of the vote and had campaigned on the mistaken belief that Churchill would win as people praised his progression of the war. Of the other two major parties, the
Liberal Party The Liberal Party is any of many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, ...
faced a serious blow after taking a net loss of nine seats with a vote share of 9.0%, many within urban areas and including the seat held by its leader, Sir
Archibald Sinclair Archibald Henry Macdonald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso, (22 October 1890 – 15 June 1970), known as Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt, between 1912 and 1952, and often as Archie Sinclair, was a British politician and leader of the Liberal Party Lib ...
. The National Liberal Party fared significantly worse, enduring a net loss of 22 seats with a vote share of 2.9%, with its leader Ernest Brown losing his seat. The 10.7% swing from the Conservatives to an opposition party is the largest since the
Acts of Union 1800 The Acts of Union 1800 (sometimes referred to as a single Act of Union 1801) were parallel acts of the Parliament of Great Britain The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in May 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by ...
; the Conservative loss of the vote exceeded that of the 1906 Liberal landslide ousting of a Conservative administration. Churchill remained actively involved in politics and returned as prime minister after leading his party into the 1951 general election. For the National Liberals, the election was their last, as they merged with the Conservatives in 1947; Brown resigned from politics in the aftermath of the election.


Dissolution of Parliament and campaign

Held less than two months after
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, it was the first general election since
1935 Events January * January – Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia creates a military school at Holeta.during the Second World War.
Clement Attlee Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, (3 January 18838 October 1967) was a British politician who served as from 1945 to 1951 and from 1935 to 1955. He was during the under , and served twice as from 1935 to 1940 and from 1951 to 195 ...

Clement Attlee
, the leader of the
Labour Party Labour Party or Labor Party may refer to: Angola *MPLA, known for some years as "Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party" Antigua and Barbuda *Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party Argentina *Labour Party (Argentina) Armenia ...
, refused
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The head o ...

Winston Churchill
's offer of continuing the wartime coalition until the Allied
defeat of Japan File:Surrender of Japan - USS Missouri.jpg, upright=1.35, Representatives of the Empire of Japan stand aboard prior to signing of the Instrument of Surrender. The surrender of Imperial Japan was Jewel Voice Broadcast, announced by Japanese Emp ...
. On 15 June,
King George VI George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominion The word Dominion was used from 1907 to 1948 to refer to one of several self-governing colonies of the ...

King George VI
dissolved Parliament, which had been sitting for ten years without an election. The Labour manifesto, "Let Us Face the Future", included promises of
nationalisation Nationalization (or nationalisation) is the process of transforming privately-owned asset In financial accountancy, financial accounting, an asset is any resource owned or controlled by a business or an economic entity. It is anything (tangi ...
,
economic planning Economic planning is a resource allocation In economics Economics () is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Co ...
,
full employment Full employment is a situation in which there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment. Full employment does not entail the disappearance of all unemployment, as other kinds of unemployment, namely structural A structure is an arrangement ...
, a
National Health Service The National Health Service (NHS) is the umbrella term for the publicly funded healthcare systems of the United Kingdom (UK). Since 1948, they have been funded out of general taxation. There are three systems which are referred to using the " ...
, and a system of
social security Welfare (or commonly, social welfare) is a type of government support intended to ensure that members of a society can meet basic human needs Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an idea in psychology Psychology is the science of mind and ...
. The Conservative manifesto, "Mr. Churchill's Declaration to the Voters", on the other hand, included progressive ideas on key social issues but was relatively vague on the idea of postwar economic control, and the party was associated with high levels of unemployment in the 1930s. It failed to convince voters that it could effectively deal with unemployment in a postwar Britain. In May 1945, when the war in Europe ended, Churchill's approval ratings stood at 83%, but the Labour Party had held an 18% poll lead as of February 1945. The polls for some seats were delayed until 12 July and in Nelson and Colne until 19 July because of local
wakes week The Wakes Week is a holiday A holiday is a day set aside by custom Custom may refer to: Sense: Customary * Convention (norm), a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted rules, norms, standards or criteria, often taking the form of a cus ...
s. The results were counted and declared on 26 July to allow time to transport the votes of those serving overseas.
Victory over Japan Day Victory over Japan Day (also known as V-J Day, Victory in the Pacific Day, or V-P Day) is the day on which Imperial Japan surrendered in World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a ...
ensued on 15 August.


Outcome

The
caretaker government A caretaker government is a temporary ' that performs some governmental duties and functions in a country until a regular government is elected or formed. Depending on specific practice, it usually consists of either randomly selected or approved ...
, led by Churchill, was heavily defeated. The Labour Party, led by Attlee won a landslide victory and gained a majority of 145 seats. It was the first election in which Labour gained a majority of seats and the first in which it won a plurality of votes. The election was a disaster for the
Liberal Party The Liberal Party is any of many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, ...
, which lost all of its urban seats, and marked its transition from being a party of government to a party of the political fringe. Its leader,
Archibald Sinclair Archibald Henry Macdonald Sinclair, 1st Viscount Thurso, (22 October 1890 – 15 June 1970), known as Sir Archibald Sinclair, Bt, between 1912 and 1952, and often as Archie Sinclair, was a British politician and leader of the Liberal Party Lib ...
, lost his rural seat of Caithness and Sutherland. That was the last general election until
2019 2019 was designated as International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements by the United Nations General Assembly The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or GA; french: link=no, Assemblée générale, AG) is one of the six pr ...
in which a major party leader lost their seat, but Sinclair lost only by a handful of votes in a very tight three-way contest. The National Liberal Party fared even worse by losing two thirds of its seats and falling behind the Liberals in seat count for the first time since the parties split in 1931. It was the final election that the Liberal Nationals fought as an autonomous party, as they merged with the Conservative Party two years later although they continued to exist as a subsidiary party of the Conservatives until 1968. Future prominent figures who entered Parliament included
Harold Wilson James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995) was a British politician who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The hea ...

Harold Wilson
,
James Callaghan Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, (; 27 March 191226 March 2005) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1976 to 1980. Callaghan is the only person to have held all fo ...

James Callaghan
,
Barbara Castle Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn, (' Betts; 6 October 1910 – 3 May 2002), was a British Labour Party (UK), Labour Party politician who was a Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), Member of Parliament from 1945 United Kingdom ...
,
Michael Foot Michael Mackintosh Foot (23 July 19133 March 2010) was a British Labour Party Labour Party or Labor Party may refer to: Angola *MPLA, known for some years as "Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party" Antigua and Barbu ...
and
Hugh Gaitskell Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell (9 April 1906 – 18 January 1963) was a British politician who served as Leader of the British Labour Party The Leader of the Labour Party is the head of the Labour Party (UK), Labour Party of the United Kingdom. ...
. Future Conservative Prime Minister
Harold Macmillan Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, (10 February 1894 – 29 December 1986) was a British Conservative Conservatism is an aesthetic Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nat ...

Harold Macmillan
lost his seat, but he returned to Parliament at a
by-election A by-election (also spelled bye-election), also known as a special election in the United States and the Philippines, or a bypoll (India), is an election used to fill an office that has become vacant between general elections. In most cases these ...
later that year.


Reasons for Labour victory

Ralph Ingersoll reported in late 1940: The historian
Henry Pelling Henry Mathison Pelling (27 August 1920 – 14 October 1997) was a British historian best known for his works on the history of the British Labour Party, including: *''The Origins of the Labour Party'' (1954) and *''A Short History of the Labour ...
, noting that polls showed a steady Labour lead after 1942, pointed to long-term forces that caused the Labour landslide: the usual swing against the party in power, the Conservative loss of initiative, wide fears of a return to the high unemployment of the 1930s, the theme that socialist planning would be more efficient in operating the economy and the mistaken belief that Churchill would continue as prime minister regardless of the result.


Labour strengths

The greatest factor in Labour's dramatic win appeared to be its policy of
social reform A reform movement is a type of social movement A social movement is a loosely organized effort by a large group of people to achieve a particular goal, typically a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting pop ...
. In one opinion poll, 41% of respondents considered housing to be the most important issue that faced the country, 15% stated the Labour policy of full employment, 7% mentioned social security, 6% nationalisation, and just 5% international security, which was emphasised by the Conservatives. The
Beveridge Report William Beveridge in 1943 The Beveridge Report, officially entitled ''Social Insurance and Allied Services'' ( Cmd. 6404), is a government report, published in November 1942, influential in the founding of the welfare state The welfare state is ...
, published in 1942, proposed the creation of a welfare state. It called for a dramatic turn in British social policy, with provision for nationalised healthcare, expansion of state-funded education,
National Insurance National Insurance (NI) is a fundamental component of the welfare state in the United Kingdom Welfare is a type of government support intended to ensure that members of a society can meet basic human needs such as food and shelter. Social s ...
and a new housing policy. The report was extremely popular, and copies of its findings were widely purchased, turning it into a best-seller. The Labour Party adopted the report eagerly, but the Conservatives accepted many of the principles of the report (Churchill did not regard the reforms as socialist) but claimed that they were not affordable. Labour offered a new comprehensive welfare policy, reflecting a consensus that social changes were needed. The Conservatives were not willing to make the same changes that Labour proposed and appeared out of step with public opinion. Labour played to the concept of "winning the peace" that would follow the war. Possibly for that reason, there was especially strong support for Labour in the
armed services A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare War is an intense armed conflict between states, government A government is the system or gro ...
, which feared the
unemployment Unemployment, according to the OECD The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; french: Organisation de Coopération et de Développement Économiques, OCDE) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 38&nbs ...
and
homelessness Homelessness is the condition of lacking stable, safe, and adequate housing Housing, or more generally living spaces, refers to the construction Construction is a general term meaning the art and science to form Physical object, o ...

homelessness
to which the soldiers of the
First World War World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainmen ...

First World War
had returned. It has been claimed that the left-wing bias of teachers in the armed services was a contributing factor, but that argument has generally not carried much weight, and the failure of the Conservative governments in the 1920s to deliver a "land fit for heroes" was likely more important. The role of
propaganda films Propaganda Films was a music video and Filmmaking, film production company founded in 1986 by producers Steve Golin and Sigurjón Sighvatsson and directors David Fincher, Nigel Dick, Dominic Sena and Greg Gold. By 1990, the company was producin ...
produced during the war, which were shown to both military and civilian audiences, is also seen as a contributory factor because of their general optimism about the future, which meshed with the Labour Party's campaigning in 1945 better than with that of the Conservatives. The writer and soldier
Anthony Burgess John Anthony Burgess Wilson, (; 25 February 1917 – 22 November 1993), who published under the name Anthony Burgess, was an English writer and composer. Although Burgess was primarily a comic writer, his Utopian and dystopian fiction, d ...
remarked that Churchill, who then often wore a colonel's uniform, was not nearly as popular with soldiers at the front as with officers and civilians. Burgess noted that Churchill often smoked
cigars A cigar is a rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco village in Xanthi, Greece Tobacco is the common name of several plants in the '' Nicotiana'' genus Genus (plural genera) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the pract ...

cigars
in front of soldiers who had not had a decent
cigarette A cigarette is a narrow cylinder containing burnable material, typically tobacco, that is rolled into Rolling paper, thin paper for smoking. The cigarette is ignited at one end, causing it to smolder; the resulting smoke is orally inhaled via ...

cigarette
in days. Labour had also been given during the war the opportunity to display to the electorate its domestic competence in government, under men such as Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister,
Herbert Morrison Herbert Stanley Morrison, Baron Morrison of Lambeth, (3 January 1888 – 6 March 1965) was a British Labour politician who held a variety of senior positions in the Cabinet. During the inter-war period, he was Minister of Transport during th ...

Herbert Morrison
at the
Home Office The Home Office (HO), also known (especially in official papers and when referred to in Parliament) as the Home Department, is a ministerial department of the Government of the United Kingdom ga, Rialtas na Ríochta Aontaithe sco, Govren ...

Home Office
and
Ernest Bevin Ernest Bevin (9 March 1881 – 14 April 1951) was a British statesman, trade union A trade union (or a labor union in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. ...

Ernest Bevin
at the
Ministry of Labour The Ministry of Labour (''British English, UK''), or Labor (''American English, US''), also known as the Department of Labour, or Labor, is a government department responsible for setting national labour standards, labour dispute mechanisms, employm ...
. The differing wartime strategies of the two parties likewise gave Labour an advantage. Labour continued to attack prewar Conservative governments for their inactivity in tackling Hitler, reviving the economy and rearming Britain, but Churchill was less interested in furthering his party, much to the chagrin of many of its members and MPs.


Conservative weaknesses

Though voters respected and liked Churchill's wartime record, they were more distrustful of the Conservative Party's domestic and foreign policy record in the late 1930s. Churchill and the Conservatives are also generally considered to have run a poor campaign in comparison to Labour. As Churchill's personal popularity remained high, the Conservatives were confident of victory and based much of their election campaign on that, rather than proposing new programmes. However, people distinguished between Churchill and his party, a contrast that Labour repeatedly emphasised throughout the campaign. Voters also harboured doubts over Churchill's ability to lead the country on the domestic front. In addition to the poor Conservative general election strategy, Churchill went so far as to accuse Attlee of seeking to behave as a dictator, despite Attlee's service as part of Churchill's war cabinet. In the most famous incident of the campaign, Churchill's first election broadcast on 4 June backfired dramatically and memorably. Denouncing his former coalition partners, he declared that Labour "would have to fall back on some form of a
Gestapo The (), abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brevis'', meaning ''short'') is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters, or words taken from the full version of the word or phrase; for ...

Gestapo
" to impose
socialism Socialism is a political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in Social group, groups, or other forms of Power (social and political), power relations between individuals, ...
on Britain. Attlee responded the next night by ironically thanking the prime minister for demonstrating to people the difference between Churchill the great wartime leader and Churchill the peacetime politician and argued the case for public control of industry. Another blow to the Conservative campaign was the memory of the 1930s policy of
appeasement Appeasement in an international context is a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an aggressive power (international relations) , power in order to avoid conflict. The term is most often applied to the foreign pol ...
, which had been conducted by Churchill's Conservative predecessors,
Neville Chamberlain Arthur Neville Chamberlain (; 18 March 18699 November 1940) was a British politician of the Conservative Party Conservative Party may refer to: Europe Current *Croatian Conservative Party, *Conservative Party (Czech Republic) *Conservative ...

Neville Chamberlain
and
Stanley Baldwin Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, (3 August 186714 December 1947) was a British Conservative Conservatism is an aesthetic Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and ...
, but had been widely discredited for allowing
Adolf Hitler Adolf Hitler (; 20 April 188930 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician who was the dictator of Nazi Germany, Germany from 1933 to 1945. Adolf Hitler's rise to power, He rose to power as the leader of the Nazi Party, becoming Cha ...

Adolf Hitler
's Germany to become too powerful. Labour had strongly advocated appeasement until 1938, but the interwar period had been dominated by Conservatives. With the exception of two brief minority Labour governments in 1924 and 1929–1931, the Conservatives had been in power for all of the interwar period. As a result, the Conservatives were generally blamed for the era's mistakes: appeasement and the
inflation In economics, inflation refers to a general progressive increase in prices of goods and services in an economy. When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services; consequently, inflation corresponds to a r ...

inflation
and the
unemployment Unemployment, according to the OECD The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; french: Organisation de Coopération et de Développement Économiques, OCDE) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 38&nbs ...
of the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
. Many voters felt that although the First World War had been won, the peace that followed had been lost.


Results


Votes summary


Seats summary


Transfers of seats

This differs from the above list in including seats where the incumbent was standing down and therefore there was no possibility of any one person being defeated. The aim is to provide a comparison with the previous election. All comparisons are with the 1935 election. *In some cases the change is due to the MP defecting to the gaining party. Such circumstances are marked with a *. *In other circumstances the change is due to the seat having been won by the gaining party in a by-election in the intervening years, and then retained in 1945. Such circumstances are marked with a †.


Opinion polls

Polls showed a lead for Labour since 1943, except for one poll in June 1945 when both Labour and the Conservatives tied on 45%.


See also

*
List of MPs elected in the 1945 United Kingdom general election Composition This diagram show the composition of the parties in the 1945 general election. Note: This is not the official seating plan of the House of Commons, which has five rows of benches on each side, with the government party to the righ ...
* 1945 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland * 1945 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours *
Attlee ministry Clement Attlee Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, (3 January 18838 October 1967) was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of governm ...


References


Sources

* * * * McCallum, R. B. and Alison Readman. ''The British General Election of 1945'' (Nuffield Studies) (1964) * * * *


Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links


Catalogue of general election ephemera held at LSE Archives
* * http://www.election.demon.co.uk/geresults.html


Manifestos



, 1945 Conservative Party manifesto *
Let Us Face the Future
', 1945 Labour Party manifesto

, 1945 Liberal Party manifesto {{British elections
1945 It marked the end of World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany. It is also the only year in which nuclear weapons have been used in combat. Events Below, the events of World War II have the "WWII" prefix. January * January – WWII: The ...
General election A general election is a political voting election where generally all or most members of a given political body are chosen. These are usually held for a nation, state, or territory's primary legislative body, and are different from by-election ...
July 1945 events