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LABOUR IN POWER (1945)

At the end of the war in Europe, in May 1945, Labour resolved not to repeat the Liberals' error of 1918 but promptly withdrew
from government to contest the 1945 general election in opposition to Churchill's Conservatives. Surprising many observers,
Labour won a formidable victory, winning just under 50% of the vote with a majority of 145 seats. Everywhere Labour was
winning in the wartime election of 1945. The Liberals were looking for between 80 and 100 seats, and the Communists
thought they had gained 4 or 5. Among the early results which startled Conservatives were the defeats of two Cabinet
members, Brendan Bracken at Paddington in London, and Harold Macmillan, the future Prime Minister, at Stockton-on-Tees.
Churchill handed in his resignation as Prime Minister to King George VI just after 7 p.m. Clement Attlee, the Labour Leader,
was asked by the King to form a government. The final figures gave Labour 393 seats. In addition, four other MPs joined
Labour after being elected. These were three from the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which had broken with Labour in
1931, and one from the left-wing Common Wealth Party. The Conservatives and their allies won 213 seats and the Liberals
12. In addition, the Conservatives could usually count on 12 university members elected by the graduates of the universities.
The total Churchill government vote recorded was 9,960,809, over 900,000 of which had gone to candidates describing
.themselves as National or Liberal National. The total opposition vote was 15,018,140, of which Labour got 11,992,292
Incredulity as conservatives lose: The Conservatives appeared at an advantage because of the greater means being the
party in power. Winston Churchill, who had been Prime Minister from May 1940, was thought to be the Conservative Partys
greatest asset. They put great emphasis on him during the election campaign. They thought they could repeat the
performance of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister in the First World War, who won so convincingly in 1918. Yet, although he
was not opposed by the other parties in his constituency, an unknown independent candidate gained 10,000 votes against
Churchill, who of course retained his seat. Many people, it seems, felt that although he did well during the war he was not the
.leader Britain needed for the post-war reconstruction
In broad terms, the Conservatives lost because they were seen as the government party which had failed to deal with
Britains interwar social and economic problems, including the misery of great unemployment, and had failed to prepare
Britain to stand up to Hitler. They had been in office from 191622 (in coalition), 192224, 192429, 193140 and 194045
(in coalition). They were seen as the party of privilege, wealth, stuffiness and nostalgia. Labour was seen as the party of the
underdog, of ordinary people and of hope. The Conservative class was undoubtedly linked in many peoples minds with
incompetence. There had been so many disasters in the war which pointed to amateurism and incompetence on the part of
the officers, the generals, the strategists, Churchill himself. The defeat at Singapore in 1942, the greatest disaster in our
history, was one of these, the fiascos in France, Norway and Greece were others. There were the naval tragedies, including
.the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse
Many of the Labour leaders, on the other hand, were tried and trusted politicians, having served in Churchills coalition but not
having been tainted by his policies. This was true of Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Sir Stafford Cripps, Arthur
Greenwood, Dr. Hugh Dalton, A.V. Alexander and Lord Jowitt. Others had served in more junior roles. It was unconvincing to
present these men as a threat to liberty, as Churchill did in his campaign, when he claimed, They would have to fall back on
some form of Gestapo to realize their socialist plans. Although too much emphasis should not be placed on the fact, Labour,
in its candidates, was an all class party. It had many aspiring middle-class contenders in addition to its traditional trade union
candidates. The Conservatives, on the other hand, stood as a middle-class and upper-class party. The overall impression of
1945 is that many people wanted a Britain in which social origins, family background and place of education would no longer
be of great importance. They wanted a Britain in which people were treated with equality and had equal opportunities to
.make something of their lives; a Britain in which poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, ignorance and fear were banished
There was surprise around the world as news spread that Churchill had been dismissed by the British electorate. On the
London stock market prices fell. The Financial Times commented, The City, with the nation was shocked by the
.political landslide revealed yesterday
THE POST-WAR CONSENSUS: It is a name given by historians to an era in British political history which lasted from the end
of World War II in 1945 to the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. The post-war
consensus can be characterised as a belief in Keynesian economics, a mixed economy with the nationalisation of major
industries, the establishment of the National Health Service and the creation of the modern welfare state in Britain. The
policies were instituted by all governments (both Labour and Conservative) in the post-war period. Britain emerged from the
1939-1945 war triumphant, but economically exhausted. It was one of the top three superpowers, although in reality a distant
third behind the United States and the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, its political system and the British state had been
vindicated by success in war, and over the next few years Britain emerged as a model social democracy, combining planning
and collectivism with civil liberties. The 1945 Labour government was largely responsible for what is called the 'post-war
.'consensus
The foundations of the post-war consensus (also sometimes referred to as Butskellism) can be traced to the reports of
William Beveridge, who in 1942 formulated the concept of a more comprehensive welfare state in the United Kingdom.
Shortly after the surrender of Germany in May 1945, a general election was held in the UK. The result was a landslide victory

for the Labour Party, whose leader was Clement Attlee. The policies undertaken and implemented by this Labour government
laid the base of the consensus. The Conservative Party accepted many of these changes and promised not to reverse them
.in its 1947 Industrial Charter
THE MAJOR FEATURES of the Consensus included: 1. The mixed economy, with a large role for state ownership of the
utilities (such as gas, electricity, coal, rail, etc) and intervention and planning in the economy. Governments accepted a
commitment to maintain full employment by Keynesian techniques of economic management. Ministers would use their
levers, such as cutting taxes and boosting state spending, to increase the level of economic activity. 2. Acceptance and some
encouragement of the role of the trade unions. In contrast to the pre-war years, governments recognised and consulted them
regularly on workplace relations and economic policy. The unions access to government was increased partly by full
.employment and partly by governments turning, post-1961, to income policies as a way of curbing inflation
The welfare state.: the object of the national insurance system and the National Health Service was to provide an adequate .3
income and free health when a familys income was hit by, for example, sickness, old age, unemployment or death of the
main breadwinner. The services were provided out of general taxation, or insurance, and represented social citizenship.
There was a belief that government could play a positive role in promoting greater equality through social engineering, for
example, by progressive taxation, redistributive welfare spending, comprehensive schooling and regional policies. 4. Abroad,
the parties agreed on: the transition of the empire to the British Commonwealth, an association of independent states; British
membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato); nuclear weapons, (regarded as a mark of being a major power);
and, on balance, that Britain should join the European Community. These policies were pursued by both Labour and
Conservative governments, the latter because they thought it was necessary to gain working class support to win general
elections and gain the consent of the major interest groups. Consensus is not an ideal term because it may be read as
suggesting that there were no differences between the parties. In fact, the above ideas and policies were often challenged by
the left of the Labour party and by the free market or right wing of the Conservatives. But much of the political elite the
media, civil service and the leaderships of the parties, particularly when they were in government - shared many of these
.ideas