United Kingdom general election, 1945

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1945 election
1950 election

The British general election of 1945 held on July 5th 1945 but not counted and declared until July 26 1945 (due to the time it took to transport the votes of those serving overseas) was one of the most significant general elections of the 20th century.

Held just months after VE Day, it was the first general election to be held since 1935, as general elections had been suspended during World War II. It resulted in the shock election defeat of the Conservatives led by Winston Churchill and the landslide victory of the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee, who won a majority of 145 seats.

The result of the election was almost totally unexpected, given the heroic status of Winston Churchill, but reflected the voters' belief that the Labour Party were better able to rebuild the country following the war than the Conservatives. Churchill and the Conservatives are also generally considered to have ran a poor campaign in comparison to Labour; Churchill's statement that Atlee's program would require a Gestapo-esque body to implement is considered to have been particularly poorly-judged. Equally, whilst voters respected and liked Churchill's wartime record, they were more broadly distrustful of the Conservative Party's domestic and foreign policy record in the late thirties. (It is worth remembering that the last election had been held in 1935, and voters had been given no opportunity, due to the war, to 'let off steam' electorally between then and 1945.) Labour had also been given, during the war, the opportunity to display to the electorate their domestic competence in government under men such as Ernest Bevin at the Ministry of Labour.

The Labour Party, promised to create full employment, a tax funded universal National Health Service, and a cradle-to-grave welfare state. Which they duly did once elected.

Party Votes Seats Loss/Gain Share of Vote (%)
Labour 11,967,746 393 + 239 48.0
Conservative 8,716,211 197 - 190 36.2
Liberal 2,177,938 12 - 9 9.0
National Liberal 686,652 11 - 22 2.9
Independent 133,191 8 + 6 0.6
National 130,513 2 + 1 0.5
Common Wealth 110,634 1 + 1 0.5
Communist 97,945 2 + 1 0.4
Irish Nationalist 92,819 2 0.4
National Independent 65,171 2 0.3
Independent Labour 63,135 2 0.3
Independent Conservative 57,823 2 + 2 0.2
Independent Labour Party 46,769 3 - 1 0.2
Independent Progressive 35,072 1 + 1 0.1
Independent Liberal 30,450 2 + 2 0.1
SNP 26,707 0 0.1
Plaid Cymru 16,017 0 0.0
Common Wealth Labour 14,096 0 0.0
Independent Nationalist 5,430 0 0.0
Liverpool Protestant 2,601 0 0.0
Christian Pacifist 2,381 0 0.0
Democratic 1,809 0 0.0

Total votes cast: 24,073,025. All parties with more than 1,100 votes shown. Conservative total includes Ulster Unionists.

Reason for Labour victory

With the Second World War coming to an end in Europe, Churchill called a general election. What followed was perhaps on of the greatest swing of public confidence of the 20th century. Labour won overwhelming support while 'Churchill... was both surprised and stunned' by the crushing defeat suffered by the conservatives. How this swing of opinion came about is not only due the failings of the conservative party but also to Labour's manifesto of social reform.

With the war drawing to an end by 1945, the national government sought to call an election in a bid to return to a two party system. As Churchill's personal popularity remained high, Conservatives were confident of victory and based much of their election campaign on this, rather than propose new programs. Meanwhile, Labour offered a new comprehensive welfare policy, reflecting a general consensus that social improvements were needed. The Conservatives were not willing to make the same concessions that Labour proposed, and hence appeared disjointed with public support.

In addition to the Conservative poor election strategy, Churchill went so far as to accuse Attlee of seeking to behave as a dictator, in spite of Attlee's service in Churchill's war cabinet. Another blow to the Conservative campaign was the memory of the 1930s policy of appeasement, which had been conducted by Churchill's Conservative predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. This policy led many to blame the Conservatives for the outbreak of the war, damanging its re-election efforts.

The single greatest factor in Labour's dramatic win appeared to be the policy of social reform. In one opinion poll, 41 percent of respondents considered housing to be the single most important issue that faced the country. The welfare state, based on the Beveridge report, proposed a dramatic turn in British social policy, with provisions for nationalized health care, expanded education, national insurance and a new housing policy.

See also

Template:British elections

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