After the tragedy of the Second World War (WW2), the British public wanted a strong, united party who would help Britain recover; they wanted a party who was progressive and brought hope for the future. It was the Labour Party who appeared to fulfill these requirements and won 393 seats in 1945 – 239 more seats than the previous election!I believe that the experiences of WW2 were crucial in this landslide victory because it brought to light the benefits of increased state intervention and decreased class divisions. However, I think that the past experiences of the Conservative administration, and Labour’s manifesto, were also an important part in this victory.
A well-known experience of WW2 was evacuation; because of air raids, children from the city had to part with their family homes to live in the countryside, often with a middle-class family. This exposed much of the middle class to the poor lifestyles and conditions faced by the working class in the cities – what the middle class took for granted, for example their own beds, running water and toilets, appeared to be an unknown luxury to many of the children. The middle class typically became sympathetic of these children and wanted change; this led to the middle class ‘shifting left’ on the political spectrum as they became more in favour of liberal policies – such as the Welfare State and the Beveridge Report, which I will go into more detail later – which will benefit the lower classes. Labour were the keen advocates of these liberal policies, hence these members of the middle class thought that voting for the Labour Party would be the ethical thing do do.
Another experience of the war was collectivism; due to the Conservative coalition during the war, a strategy of “Total War” was enforced; this meant that everyone was forced to give up something for the greater good of the country and the war effort. This often meant taking up some kind of wartime employment: many women got their first taste of full-time employment during this period, and I think that this was important in Labour’s victory. This is because Labour presented themselves as the party who would be most likely to continue this trend of female employment post-war, and women wanted to continue this work. Moreover, the treatment of these workers was quite good compared to the 1920s and 30s, given the circumstances. Many believed that this was due to increased nationalisation during wartime, such as London Transport. This led to state intervention being seen in a positive light, and helped with higher employment, a stronger economy, and a sense of stability and unity. Labour supported nationalisation, so this gave them the competitive advantage over the Conservatives and helped them win by a landslide victory.
Labour’s “Let Us Face The Future” manifesto helped Labour win the election because it was progressive and optimistic; it offered hope to the British, unlike the Conservative’s dull “Winston Churchill’s Declaration of Policy to the Electors” manifesto which had a now unappealing “Laissez Faire” outlook on economical and political matters. A specific policy which the two parties had differing opinions on was the 1942 Beveridge report which aimed to abolish issues in society like idleness and want, through establishing a Welfare State. Labour actively supported the report – this was in line with the British public’s opinion as the report had sold over half a million copies by the 1945 election. On the other hand, the Conservatives didn’t really promote the idea and the public got the impression that the Tories didn’t care about it. The 1944 Butler Education Act was another policy which of which the two parties had different opinions on. Again, Labour proudly supported the idea whilst the Tories remained neutral. This Act was important as it appealed to parents who wanted their children to have the opportunity to learn and have a bright future, after having such a hard time in the war. Therefore, I believe that Labour’s manifesto was very important to their landslide victory as it showed that their ideas were what the people wanted.
Another factor was the reputation of the past Conservative Administrations; although Churchill was the man who won the war, his comment on Labour’s policies needing the equivalent of the German Gestapo (Nazi secret police) horrified the British public, and Churchill’s claims were uncalled for and exaggerated, so the public didn’t think that he was suitable to lead the country into peace time. The public also had memories of the post-World War One conservative government and its failures to build the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’. They also remembered scandals surrounding Lloyd George, such as Cash for Honours; Churchill suggesting that Britain should be put onto the Gold Standard in 1925; the failure to cope with the 1931 financial crisis; and Chamberlain’s failed ‘Policy of Appeasement.’ All of this culminated into the idea that the Conservative party were not suitable for peace-time Britain. In contrast, Labour didn’t really have any negative connotations to post-war Britain as they only had a small amount of time in office during the interwar years (1924, 1929-31). therefore, the public based their opinions on the experiences of Labour during the war – and these were generally good. Ernest Bevin helped the TUC achieve the 1938 Holidays with Pay Act and used his position to improve wages and working conditions; Aneurin Bevan was known for being the champion of the working class and supporting a ‘cradle to grave’ system of welfare; and Clement Attlee cleverly manipulated the committee system to mobilise Britain’s resources as well as keeping the Home Front prospering. I believe that the mistakes of previous conservative post-war governments and the successes of Labour cabinet members during ww2 was more important than Labour’s manifesto in the landslide victory.
In conclusion, I believe that Britain’s experience during WW2 was crucial in Labour’s victory. Evacuation opened the middle-class’ eyes to the poor conditions faced by the working class, which in-turn shifted Britain left on the political spectrum. Collectivism united the country, and the successes of Nationalisation – which Labour championed – was seen as a good way to boost the economy and meet workers’ wants and needs. All of this would’ve have been brought to light if it weren’t for WW2. However, I think that Labour’s manifesto should be given some credit for their victory as it showed that they knew what Britain needed. Labour promoting progressive policies such as the Butler Act and the Beveridge Report was in agreement with what Britons wanted, whereas the Tories missed this opportunity to connect with the public. The successes of Labour members in the war cabinet, such as Bevin, Bevan and Attlee, gave the Labour Party a positive reputation; whereas the Tories were still remembered for their failure to build a ‘Home fit for Heroes’ and Chamberlain’s failed ‘Policy of Appeasement.’ Britain wanted a fresh start after the war – of course, they were to never forget the fallen – but they wanted to be able to move on from the past into a brighter future, and it was Labour who promised to give them this helping hand; and that is why Labour won by a landslide victory.