Monday 26 July 2010

Election '45 ... the results come in

Today is the 65th anniversary of the day in July 1945 on which the General Election results were announced. These extracts are from Election '45: Reflections on the Revolution in Britain, edited by Austin Mitchell. In the book, published by the Fabian Society in 1995, the story of the 1945 election is told by those who took part: from MPs of all three parties, candidates and Fabians around the country with their memories of the campaign and the result.


Polling on 5 July ushered in a three-week lull ... Only in nineteen constituencies did the fight go on. There the election had been postponed because of Wakes Week ... Meanwhile the Forces' vote came in - 986,784 by proxy, 1,032,688 by postal ballots. Parties and candidates waited for counts and declarations on 26 July. Most assumed this would confirm Churchill in power.

"We had worked hard on 5 July, but did not celebrate beyond saying 'Thank God that's over'. In the early evening of 25 July, the ward agent called and invited me to a victory celebration at a nearby union and a club. I wondered how we could celebrate the night before the count. It seems that on 25 July in Stratford, and I assume elsewhere, the ballot boxes were taken to the town hall and the ballot papers counted to reconcile the number with the number issued. Thus anyone present could see which way things were going. I have always wondered why the result next day apparently took Churchill and the press by surprise. Surely impressions as to how various constituencies had voted were fed back to party HQ".
- Arthur Edwards

"It was a morning count three weeks later, to let the service vote come in. That did produce less tension than a late-night count. A long time to keep up tension. I don't think I went into that count thinking I was going to win and therefore I don't remember a great shock of ebbing hope. The result wasn't overwhelming. It was probably one of the smallest Tory majorities there has ever been in Solihull. But then of course the national result came out gradually over that afternoon and that was sensational. That was superb. Tremendous sense of exhiliration, I suppose on my part tinged with just the smallest hue of disappointment. Four hundred Labour MPs had been elected. I hadn't managed to be one of them. None the less, at twenty-four, you couldn't expect too much. But it left me very determined to get into the House of Commons as soon as I could. It took me a while after that, another two years and ten months. But that wasn't so bad".
- Captain Roy Jenkins, Labour, Solihull, defeated by 5049.

"I was carried literally shoulder high from the city hall almost before the speeches had been concluded, my supporters were so enthusiastic. There were men and women in their with tears in their eyes. It was so unexpected. I don't think we had really imagined a victory of that sort. It was the consummation of so many hopes and aspirations over such a long period and here we seemed to be on the point of achieving it all. I recall going into the local hotel at lunchtime, 12.55pm, and the 1 o'clock news came on, and sitting in the corner unknown and isolated because he didn't belong to Cardiff and nobody knew him was the Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg, who had been elected in a by-election for Cardiff East against Fenner Brockway in about 1942 or so. As the news came in on the 1 o'clock bulletin it seemed inconceivable to hear these impregnable names of Tory ministers toppling one after another, cut down like trees in the forest as they crashed to the ground. When the name of Sir James Grigg came over the air, as they read out this list of names, there was a group of young army officers sitting in the other corner. They didn't know Grigg. They didn't know he was there, and instinctively shouted with a loud 'Hoorah!' and there was the poor man, literally without anybody with him because his campaign people had all gone".
- Lieutenant James Callaghan (Labour, Cardiff South, majority 5944)


All morning on 26 July, BBC bulletins carried the news of the fall of ministers and Labour's toll of seats mounted. By the lunchtime news it was clear a great victory was in the offing and the final figures showed that Labour had made 209 net gains to win 393 seats on 11,992,000 votes. The Conservatives were reduced to 189 seats and 8,666,000 votes. The Liberals were a rump of twelve MPs, fewer than ever before and fewer than the independents. Labour had a majority of 146 over all other parties, more than enough to build the New Britain. All the world over, supporters rejoiced.

"I spent 26 July on a flight across the Atlantic. The pilot passed round a message - 'First results show Churchill relected'. Was this a garble for 'rejected' or 're-elected'? The huge headlines in New York removed the doubt. Then came anxious questions from Americans about the meaning of the result, and for me a belief - alas naive - that never again would there be a Tory government in Britain".
- David Jones (London Fabian)

"When the result was declared we were on a holiday in Southport. We were walking back from the beach one lunchtime when we saw people standing in groups in the middle of the road, talking excitedly. My father rushed into the nearest newsagent's and came out with an early edition proclaiming a Labour victory. My sister and I danced a jig - my mother was in tears - and we were soon all celebrating with complete strangers. This in the middle of Lord Street - the Bond Street of the North!"
- Margaret Wright (Suffolk Fabian)

"I was at Pachmarhi, the hill station, during the hot weather as an instructor at the Army School of Education (India). The General Election at home was followed with the greatest interest by the staff. For one thing, it would probably result, if Labour won, in a different policy for India, even eventual independence. This point was of particular concern for the regular army officers who ruled the school - the commandant and chief instructor, who were colonels both - and all those who had served the British Raj for many years. They were natural Conservatives, only at home in the Indian wing of the school where the language was Urdu. They were however all at sea in our British wing for there we trained leaders for discussion groups dealing with current affairs in Britain about which they were ignorant. In our wing all the staff were Labour or Liberal supporters or sympathisers. On 26 July, the day in which the election results were announced,, there was considerable excitement in our mess. One of us had brought a blackboard from the lecture room. As the results came in from Delhi Radio, he was busy, jumping up and down during dinner, writing them up on the board while we cheered every victory and the mess servants, in their immaculate white, watched the sahibs with amusement".
- Peter Kingsford

"I was working at the gas company. A friend was one of the telephonists there and she rang through to me and said 'Dotty, Dotty, the results are coming through. It's 99 Labour, Conservative 22'. I said 'You must've got it the wrong way around'. She said 'I haven't', and the general manager just put his head around the door and said 'Oh well, we'll be nationalised in five minutes".
- Dot Voller, Brighton Fabian.


Returning from the first session of Potsdam, Churchill was stunned by first results, which he got while in his bath on 26 July. 'A blessing in disguise' said Clementine. 'At the moment, it seems quire effectively disguised', he retorted. It also surprised the Labour leadership. By nightfall Churchill had resigned and Attlee had been asked to form a government. 'Quite an exciting day', he commented.

"We got Mr Attlee to come to a Central London Fabian dance on the night the final election results came out. As I had a car and some petrol left from the allocation they gave us for the election, I and Jack Diamond drove him to his next appointment. He could not stay long at the dance. He seemed very surprised and pleased at the election result, as we all were. He kept saying he must hurry as he had a government to make that night".
- Philip Soper

"On the day of the declaration, I went to Transport House. I think we may have had an opinion poll but nobody talked about it and we never thought we would win. Who thought we would beat Churchill? He had won the war single-handed. So when I was at Transport House, at Transport Hall on the ground floor, we sat there in the dark with the results being written on smoked glass and flashed up on an epidascope, and the Tory ministers were falling like ninepins. The door opened and there, blinking from the bright sunshine, was Clem, who had just come back from Potsdam and he had been picked up at Northholt by a police car which didn't have a radio. When he arrived he didn't know what had happened and a BBC man came up to me with a microphone and said 'Would you give three cheers for the Prime Minister'. I was a bit too shy, so somebody else did. But I saw Clem at the very moment when he realised he had become Prime Minister.

That night I went to Central Hall Westminster, which was packed with Labour supporters. I was up in the gallery looking down and I saw Clem come on to the platform and he said 'I have just returned from the Palace where the King has asked me to form a government'. The whole place erupted. But what was so exciting about it was that everybody was so surging with confidence. Here we were, so utterly bankrupt, saved by the skin of our teeth by the Red Army who carried the brunt of the Nazi attack and then by the Americans who came over and provided the main forces at D-Day. And yet my generation thought we could beat Hitler, beat Mussolini, end the means test, end re-armament, build the welfare state, have the health service, and we did".
- Tony Benn.

1 comment:

Harry Barnes said...

I was 8 when the 1945 election campaign started and my first introduction was to see a "Vote for Shinwell" poster flyposted on a lampost. I also believe that I saw Winston Churchill on Pathe News repeat his famous wireless (radio) party political in which he warned that Labour would run its own form of Gestapo. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks - can anyone else confirm the cinema version? I have never been able to trace it.