Saturday 30 July 2022

Imperial War Museums - 1945: Churchill vs Attlee



Clement Attlee (seated left) takes Churchill's place at the Potsdam Conference, 1 August 1945
On 26 July 1945, the results of a General Election were announced. Winston Churchill, victorious wartime leader, was not re-elected.
Why did Churchill lose an election that came just months after VE Day? And what did the result mean for Britain's future, and the way we live today? 

A few days into the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, Churchill flew back to Britain to be present for the general election result. Few among his entourage saw anything to worry about. One was confident enough to leave most of his baggage behind in expectation of a swift return. 

He was soon making arrangements to have it sent back. Labour had won a landslide victory. Labour leader and Britain’s new Prime Minister Clement Attlee took Churchill’s place at the Potsdam Conference table. 

Unlike Churchill’s Conservatives, the Labour Party seemed to offer a vision of a new social order in Britain. Labour promised affordable housing, full employment and free health care. 

The Conservatives, by contrast, appeared to many like the party of the past. Many blamed the Conservatives for not standing up to Adolf Hitler’s territorial demands before the war, a policy known as appeasement. 

Churchill himself had been appeasement’s most outspoken opponent. But even in 1945, many were still angry at former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the guilty men of the Conservative party. 

But Churchill had another problem. His overriding priority had been victory over Nazi Germany and then Japan. This meant that he was seen above all else as a wartime leader. But British voters wanted real social change as well. They wanted a leader who would win the peace. 

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In the Cockpit:
Spitfire N3200
Selected dates until August 2022

Join our expert guide at IWM Duxford for a unique opportunity to sit at the controls of an airworthy combat veteran Mk I Spitfire.   

Enjoy a private talk about the aircraft and get a sense of how it felt climbing into the pilot's seat before this very Spitfire was flown from Duxford to Dunkirk in 1940.
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The blueprint for social change in Britain came in 1942, in the form of a 300-page document written by the economist Sir William Beveridge. Officially titled ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’, it became more commonly known as the Beveridge Report. 

Beveridge recommended huge, radical social reforms that would take care of citizens from the cradle to the grave. This included the creation of a Welfare State and National Health Service. People were so inspired by these ideas that some even queued to buy copies of the report.

The Labour Party enthusiastically supported Beveridge’s ideas. Its manifesto emphasised public ownership and the nationalisation of industry as the way to a better future. 

Churchill argued that Labour would have to ‘fall back on some kind of Gestapo...’, a reference to the Nazi secret police. Such scaremongering did not go down at all well with voters. 

Labour’s campaign emphasised the people’s role in rebuilding after the war. The war had been fought by the people, they argued, and the people would fight for the peace.

The Conservatives on the other hand focused on Churchill’s personal appeal. Conservative election posters implored people to ‘help him finish the job’ by winning the war against Japan. This only served to convince voters that Churchill was a Prime Minster for wartime and not for peacetime. 

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Crown and Conflict
Until Sunday 8 January 2023

Drawing from IWM’s extensive archive, this new The Queen's Platinum Jubilee exhibition at IWM London explores the breadth and  scope of The Queen’s role in times of war.

A series of poignant photographs chart The Queen’s experience of war, from serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War, to carrying out important public duties involving the armed forces.
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On the 5 July 1945, polling day finally arrived. The results were delayed until 26 July to allow votes to come in from those still serving overseas. 

The Conservatives expected to win, but they were to receive a huge shock. Churchill’s party had suffered a crushing defeat, with Labour winning 393 seats to the Conservatives’ 213. 

Churchill was still a hugely popular leader. During his time in office, his approval rating never dropped below 78%. But he became a victim of a new dawn for British politics.

The new Labour government went on to create much of the social fabric of the Britain that we know today. From the National Health Service to National Insurance, it changed Britain forever. 

Churchill returned to power after the 1951 General Election, despite Labour winning more votes. During his second term, he kept the welfare reforms enacted by Labour since 1945.  
Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in 1940
IWM In Conversation:
The Battle of Britain
Saturday 17 September 2022

Join us at IWM Duxford for a packed day of fascinating talks telling the story of a pivotal moment in history, the Battle of Britain. 

Guest historians and IWM curators will offer fresh and insightful perspectives on the events of 10 July to 31 October 1940, when the fate of a nation was decided in the skies. 
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