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What Did 'The People' Want?: The Meaning of the 1945 General Election

Steven Fielding
The Historical Journal
Vol. 35, No. 3 (Sep., 1992), pp. 623-639
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2639633
Page Count: 17
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What Did 'The People' Want?: The Meaning of the 1945 General Election
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Abstract

Labour's victory at the general election of 1945, the first in which the party won an absolute majority in the house of commons, had fundamental implications for Britain's post-war history. Despite this, historians have failed to examine the popular political temper which made Labour's term of office possible. Instead, they have largely assumed that the Second World War radicalized the public, turning an unprecedented number into enthusiastic Labour voters. Whilst not denying that the war had a profound impact on the politics of some sections of society this article proposes a rather different perspective to that normally offered. Instead of promoting pro-Labour sentiment it seems that the conflict left many members of the public disengaged from the political process and cynical about the motives of all politicians. As a consequence, rather than have Labour hold office by itself the generally favoured outcome appears to have been the formation of a progressive coalition committed to the implementation of the Beveridge report. However, in reality, electors who did not want to see the return of a Conservative government had no choice but to vote `straight left'.

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