26th July 1945. American Aid to Beleaguered Britain.
‘Let us face the future’: 1945 Labour Party slogan.
The results were announced Today for the 1945 General Election, after an extended period, which gave three million servicemen scattered throughout the world, time to register.
It resulted in Labour polling 393 seats, Tories with 213 and Liberals 12, confounding all expectations.
Canon Collins, recalled the undisguised horror he encountered in many RAF officers’ messes, following the news that Labour had won: ‘Was it for this…that that the war had been fought and won?'(1).
History has shown that if a tide is running against a government as in 1906 or 1951, the election campaign seems irrelevant. In 1945 Labour polled 11,992,292: (48% of the vote).
Attlee was eventually to use this landslide majority to push through Nationalization, a National Health Service (NHS), and Welfare improvements.
To pay for it economist John Maynard Keynes was sent to America with a ‘begging-bowl’ and negotiated a loan on the 15th July 1946, of $3.7b at 2%, with the proviso that we make the pound fully convertible, as repayment was wanted in dollars. Debts of $650m under ‘Lend-Lease’ were written off.
The net result was a run on the pound, the 1947 devaluation of the pound and the loss, in currency exchange, of a large part of the loan, which was not settled until December 31st, 2006. A surprise to Sir Christopher Mayer, ex-Ambassador to the US, who never knew it was still outstanding.(2)
Britain was also a beneficiary of $2.7b, the largest share, under the 1948 US ‘Marshall Plan’ of loans and grants to devastated Europe, which the Soviets refused, a division to develop into the ‘Cold War’.(3)
One demand of this largesse was the integration of Europe as a Free Trade area, as a buffer to Communism, and industrial modernization.
It resulted in the ‘Common-Market’, European Economic Community(EEC), now the European Union(EU).
Britain was thus in uncharted territory after the Churchillian war-time era. On 23rd May 1945 he resigned as wartime Prime Minister to form a ‘Caretaker Government’.
On the 15th of June, the National Government, which had begun 9½ years before ended, until the July 5th elections. Attlee refused to carry on in coalition, until Japan was defeated.
The new age now required an austere man for austere times, not the rumbustious Churchill; a ‘modest little man, who has much to be modest about’, as Churchill wrongly and sourly described him.
It was a difference shown by Churchill leaving Buckingham Palace in a chauffeur-driven Rolls, whilst Attlee arrived in his Standard 10 saloon driven by his wife ‘Vi'[olet].(4)
(1) Quoted in ‘Faith under Fire’ Frewn 1966 pp. 89-90, quoted in Martin Frances, ‘The Flyer’, OUP. 2008 p.190-1. Collins was later a notable leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament CND).
Even in Churchill’s constituency where Liberals and Labour abstained, an eccentric Independent, polled 10,000 votes.
(2) As revealed on BBC TV January 2007.
(3) The 1948 Marshall Plan, officially the European Recovery Programme (ERP). Canada also loaned us $1.2b.
In today’s dollar-rate, increase figures by factor of 10.
Statistics abstract of US 1949 p.846.
(4) Herbert Morrison thought he was the man to lead Labour, saying an election in the Party was needed, but Trade Unionist Leader Ernest Bevin and war-time Minister of Labour, told Clement Attlee ‘to get in that taxi to the Palace.’
Ref: bbc.co.uk/What’s a little debt between friends? 10.5.2006.
Voting was spread over a three week period as in the old days when communications were more difficult.
The first time everyone voted on the same date was on Saturday 14th December 1918 in the ‘Coupon Election’.