Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Election '45: the PLP gathers

More extracts from Austin Mitchell's Election '45, the book published by the Fabian Society in 1995 to collect memories of the most celebrated election in British political history.

On Monday, we marked the 65th anniversary of the count and declarations, including Tony Benn's account of why Attlee was one of the last people to find out he would be Prime Minister. It was another two days before the PLP met for the first time at Beaver Hall in London on 28th July, 65 years ago today. Labour had gained 209 seats to make the PLP 393-strong. When they then also assembled in the Commons on 1st August, John Parker's wife Zena said of the new intake "it looks like an enormous Fabian school".


"I got to Paddington and stood waiting for a taxi to go to the Beaver Hall. One came along and I jumped in it and said 'Beaver Hall'. I probably told him I was a new Labour member of Parliament and we were going to elect our leader. When we got to the Beaver Hall, he wouldn't take my fare. That was the great mood of the moment. It was a mood of such hope and such aspiration and of something unfulfilled. At the meeting I was so ignorant that I didn't understand the undertones and I didn't realise at all there had been this attempted coup against Attlee that was staged by Morrison and others. To me they were all sitting on the platform, a band of brothers united in victory. So I am afraid the possible tensions of the occasion passed over my head. I was just there as one of the rank and file to sit and join in the applause. It went over rather quickly. I don't remember it as a long meeting at all. We elected Clem".
- Lieutenant James Callaghan, Labour MP, Cardiff South.

"In Beaver Hall, members met from everywhere in England. Overwhelming excitement, we all cheered at any excuse. When Attlee arrived and walked on to the platform with Dalton and Bevin, to everyone's amazement he had changed Dalton from being Foreign Minister to Bevin being Foreign Minister overnight".
- John Platts-Mills, Labour MP, Finsbury.

"We had a meeting at Beaver Hall and on the way down to the meeting I ran into Ellen Wilkinson, who said, "You won then". I said "yes". So she said "what seat was that?" I said "Chislehurst". She said, "my God, the revolution has arrived". The meeting was electric, because one of the questions that we put was when were we going to get an increase of salary, because a lot of us were out of the forces with no pay. On polling day, I had a letter stating 'If you are elected, you may remain in civvy street for the time being. If unelected, you are to report at your headquarters by 23.00 hours on the same day.

The reaction was very sympathetic. The Chancellor said they were considering it, and eventually we got a thousand but a lot of us who were in the forces were released, and lost the bounty that was paid to other forces. So we saw the Minister of Defence and he said I can't help you, I'm in the same boat. We could just about manage on a thousand".
- Sergeant George Wallace Labour MP, Chislehurst.

"I was very innocent - I didn't know people like Herbert Morrison and company would stand against each other. All the leaders of the Labour Party were more or less saint-like. When we got to Beaver Hall, everybody thought it was awful plain sailing. There was some sort of vague movement going on n the background - Morrison wanted a vote but that was pretty quickly squashed by Bevin, who wouldn't have any nonsense. He disliked Morrison more than anybody in the world, I think. I rather liked Morrison, he had this wonderful quiff of hair. He complained to me once about why he didn't get the leadership before the war. He said it was all the Freemasons who got together against him because he was out for a bit and Attlee took over as leader and the Freemasons ganged up against him"
- Major Woodrow Wyatt, Labour MP, Birmingham Aston.

* This Election '45 series will conclude with the King's Speech and debate, August 15th-16th.

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