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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Churchill Loses General Election

26 July 1945

Location: Britain
Players: Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee.
Outcome: A Labour landslide in the general election, with Labour leader Clement Attlee becoming Prime Minister.

Winston Churchill giving his characteristic 'victory' sign on election day, 1945
Winston Churchill giving his characteristic 'victory' sign on election day, 1945©
News of Germany's surrender came on 7 May 1945. The British wartime parliament met for the last time on 15 June 1945, and polling day was scheduled for 5 July with a delay in the announcement of results for three weeks, so that a service vote (of Britain's armed forces) could be collected.

Churchill attended an Allied conference in Potsdam, Germany, from 17 July to 2 August. When the results of the general election came in on 26 July, he was replaced midway through the conference by Clement Attlee, the new Prime Minister.

During his electoral campaign Churchill did not mince his words at the prospect of a Labour party in government:

'I must tell you that a socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas on freedom... A socialist state could not afford to suffer opposition - no socialist system can be established without a political police. [The Labour government] would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo.'

Yet Churchill was a firm believer in democracy and would not have delayed a general election any further. In an address to the Commons he said:

'The prolongation of the life of the existing parliament by another two or three years would be a very serious constitutional lapse. Even now, no one under 30 has ever cast a vote at a general election, or even at a by-election, since the registers fell out of action at the beginning of the war... we must look to the termination of the war against Nazism as a pointer which will fix the date of the general election.'

Labour's manifesto (entitled 'Let Us Face the Future') contained proposals to nationalise the Bank of England, fuel and power, inland transport and iron and steel. Government intervention would be necessary, the party argued, to keep a check on raw materials, food prices and employment. Following the Beveridge Report of 1942, Labour also formed plans to create a National Health Service and social security.

The result of the election was a Labour landslide achieving 12 million votes and 393 seats - a majority overall of 146 seats. After 14 years in opposition, Labour was now in power.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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