Labour's High Noon: The Government and the Economy, 1945-51

Labour's High Noon: The Government and the Economy, 1945-51

Labour's High Noon: The Government and the Economy, 1945-51

Labour's High Noon: The Government and the Economy, 1945-51

Excerpt

The Labour Party won an overwhelming victory at the general election which followed the end of the Second World War in Europe. The two administrations over which Clement Attlee presided as Prime Minister between late July 1945 and October 1951 are the subject of the essays in this volume. The 1945 electoral result surprised many inside Britain and almost everyone outside. The political and electoral record of the Labour Party in the decades before 1939 had been uninspiring; and the first question to be answered is how did it come about that the dispirited and disunited Party of the summer of 1939 achieved such a commanding position at the end of six years of war, a war that had been conducted under the leadership of Winston Churchill.

During the 1930s, following the debacle of 1931, the Labour Party had been slowly but steadily re-building itself. The 1935 general election, held almost exactly four years after 1931 – years of massive unemployment – showed how far there was still to go. The total number of votes cast for Labour nearly reached the previous peak total of 1929, but the electorate had increased by two and a half million and the turn-out on election day was eight per-cent lower. The main Labour gains in 1935 were in London, Scotland and Yorkshire. The main centres of Labour strength, measured by votes cast, were still the coalfields and selected urban areas. Trade union MPs numbered seventy-nine out of a total of 154, with the miners easily the most important occupational group. Birmingham had twelve constituencies and, as in 1931, had not a single Labour MP returned in the 1935 election.

Labour, throughout the 1930s, failed to win over the very large number of manual workers, skilled and unskilled, who either voted . . .

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