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The United Kingdom General Election of 1945 was a general election held on 5 July 1945, with polls in some constituencies delayed until 12 July and in Nelson and Colne until 19 July, due to local wakes weeks. It was ultimately counted and declared on 26 July, due in part to the time it took to transport the votes of those serving overseas.

A khaki election held just months after VE Day, it was the first general election to be held since 1935, as general elections had been suspended until the Allied victory in the Second World War had been assured. It resulted in the 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 came as a major shock to the Conservatives, 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 run a poor campaign in comparison to Labour; Churchill's statement that Attlee's programme would require a Gestapomarker-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 distrustful of the Conservative Party's domestic and foreign policy record in the late thirties. Labour had also been given, during the war, the opportunity to display to the electorate their domestic competence in government under men such as Attlee, Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin at the Ministry of Labour.

The Labour Party ran on promises to create full employment, a tax funded universal National Health Service, and a cradle-to-grave welfare state, with the campaign message 'Let us face the future.'

This was the first election in which Labour gained a majority of seats, and also the first time it won a plurality of votes. If it had won another 68,767 or 0.3% of votes it would have had over 50% of all those cast.

Results

Total votes cast: 24,073,025. All parties shown. Conservative total includes Ulster Unionists.

Reasons for Labour victory

With World War II coming to an end in Europe, the Labour Party decided to pull out of the wartime national government, precipitating an election which took place in July 1945. King George VI dissolved Parliament, which had been sitting for ten years without an election. What followed was perhaps one of the greatest swings of public confidence of the 20th century. In May 1945, the month in which the war in Europe was ended, Churchill's approval ratings stood at 83%, although the Labour Party held an 18% lead as of February 1945. Labour won overwhelming support while 'Churchill... was both surprised and stunned' by the crushing defeat suffered by the Conservatives.

The greatest factor in Labour's dramatic win appeared to be the policy of social reform. 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, published in 1942, proposed the creation of a Welfare State. It called for a dramatic turn in British social policy, with provision for nationalised health care, expanded state funded education, national insurance 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. The Conservatives accepted many of the principles of the report (Churchill did not regard the reforms as socialist), but claimed that they could not be afforded. Labour offered a new comprehensive welfare policy, reflecting a general consensus that social changes were needed. The Conservatives were not willing to make the same concessions that Labour proposed, and hence appeared out of step with public opinion.

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 programmes. However, people distinguished between Churchill and his party — a contrast which 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 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. 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 Gestapomarker" to impose socialism 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, which had been conducted by Churchill's Conservative predecessors, Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin, and was at this stage widely discredited for allowing Hitler to become too strong. The inter-war period had been dominated by Conservatives. Excepting two brief minority Labour governments in 1924 and 1929-1931, the Conservatives had been in power for its entirety. As a result, the Conservatives were generally blamed for the era's mistakes, not merely for appeasement but for the inflation and unemployment of the Great Depression. Many voters felt that while the war of 1914-1918 had been won, the peace that followed had been lost. Labour played to the concept of "winning the peace" that would follow the second war.

Possibly for this reason, there was especially strong support for Labour in the armed services, who feared returning to the unemployment and homelessness to which the soldiers of the First World War had returned. It has been claimed that the pro-Labour bias of teachers in the armed services was a contributing factor, but this argument has generally not carried much weight, and the failure of the Conservative governments of the 1920s to deliver a "land fit for heroes" was likely more important. Writer and soldier Anthony Burgess remarked that Churchill himself was not nearly as popular with soldiers at the front as with officers and civilians: he noted that Churchill often smoked cigars in front of soldiers who hadn't had a decent cigarette in days.

The differing strategies of the two parties during wartime also gave Labour an advantage. Labour continued to attack pre-war Conservative governments for their inactivity in tackling Hitler, reviving the economy, and re-arming Britain, whilst Churchill was less interested in furthering his party, much to the chagrin of many of its members and MPs.

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