How did Churchill win the war but lose 1945 elections

Jun 2015
London UK
VE Day was widely celebrated and VJ Day. So did Churchill and his party believe the popular up beat mood would sweep them back into power? Were they complacent? Why did the country vote in for the first time a new untested Labour government over a successful coalition headed by Churchill? From what I gather most of the voters would be men coming back from the war. So was Churchill not popular with servicemen? The same way he wasn't liked by the unions? I read where on his funeral some unions dockers merchant navy etc did not want to take part in the procession on the thames. There was a strong dislike for him despite his success during the war


Ad Honoris
Jan 2008
The British electorate did not vote for or against Churchill in 1945. They voted for the Labour Party and against the Conservative Party.

Shrewd observers of British politics had seen this coming for a long time. The British people had stoically endured the hardships of the war and the grinding recovery from the Depression, but now they wanted what was coming to them. There was a real and fierce appetite in the country for a dramatic redistribution of wealth. Clement Attlee's socialist agenda was what they wanted. And the new Labour government was not "untested" - they'd been helping to run the government in coalition for most of the war. Attlee had been Churchill's Deputy Prime Minister.

If there had been a poll on Churchill's success as war leader he would have been backed overwhelmingly, but people were more skeptical about his ability to meet the challenges of peacetime. He did not help his case by making daft comments such as his assertion that "some sort of gestapo" would be needed to run the welfare state Labour were planning to create.


Ad Honorem
Jun 2015
Churchill was a weak, or more to the point uneventful, PM in peacetime. He carried on much of what Attlee laid down post-war, and hands down I feel Attlee is the better PM. Churchill was the right man at the right time in the war, but lacked the nous to develop a sound economy/society in peacetime.


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Substantially I agree with what has been said here. From an external point of observation, I would say that Churchill had the right charisma and the suitable skills for a period of emergency. May be ordinary administration wasn't his most congenial job.

To be a great statesman doesn't mean to be perfect for any circumstance.

Furthermore, as mentioned, the British electorate felt the need for a change, so they voted for the other party, not properly against Churchill.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
What is missing from the views thus far advanced is the fact that Churchill behaved like an idiot during the 1945 General Election by making his notorious ''Labour if elected, will use Gestapo methods .. speech in an BBC radio election broadcast during the July 1945 election .
This absurd bilge alienated further the millions of British servcemen whose experinces of life under the Tories between 1920 -39 i.e mass unemployment; the ''Means Test and pay cuts and little attempt to allievate slum housing coupled with their experinces during g the war i.e. liberating Belsen et all made them leftwing and determined to ensure via Labour that there would be no repeat of the great betrayal of the 1918 '''Khaki election '' When returning servicemen -the fathers of the armed forces class of 1945 had been told that if the Liberal/Conservative coalition of 1918 were elected they -the armed services working classes would be given quote -''A land fit for heroes to live in ...'' unquote.
What the class of 1918 got were more slum housing wage cuts the MeansTest and mass unemployment so bad that a future Tory Prime Minster who had been wounded as an officer in the First W.W. Harold McMillan called the 1930's Coalition (Conservative led C Coalition govt of 1931-39 ''Disused slag heaps...' for all the sympathy and help the unemployed received. Or for all the use successive Tory or Tory led Coalition govts were to the socially deprived vets of WW I after 1918.
Churchill was also resented by many returing working class soldiers in 1945 because they recalled how had personally sponsored the reactionary 1927 Trades Dispute Act which castrated British trade unions from figtinhg their members corner until Labour repealed the 1927 Act in 1946.
Churchill's idiotic and counterproductive ''Labour wil use Gestapo methods in govt ''broadcast was doubly insulting because both Atlee and Bevan had been highly effective and loyal members of his wartime Coalition govt.
Also Major Atlee had a far more distnguished war record than Churchill did in W.W. ONE,
Atlee was wounded and invalided out sick at Gallipoli while Churchill played at soldiers for a brief spell as subaltern with the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
However, Churchill did redeem himself in 1946 wheh he secretly intervened while visting the USA to make his famous Fulton Missouri ''IRON CURTAIN '' SPEECH (EVEN THOUGH HE STOLE THE PHRASE ''IRON CURTAIN'' FROM NAZI MINISTER JOSEPH GOEBBELS WHO USED IT FIRST).
In 1945/46 Harry Truman at first refused the mega massive American loan funded by American taxpayers to bankroll the 1945 Labour Govt 's Socialist programme i.e, The National Health servce;nationalistion of the Bank of England and coalmines and railways and road haulage transport firms etc.
Truman had the typical American attitiude that anything left of the American Democratic party must be Communistic so he initially regarded Atlee and his govt as dangerous possible Reds. But Churchill told Truman that this was nonsense they were reliable social democrats who had been in his own Coaltion govt of 1940-45 so the massive loan went ahead and Labour got their Sociailst programme through between 1945-51.
Even though he did obtain one spell as a peacetime Prime Minister in 1951 the British working class still voted against Churchill as he was elected overall on a minority total vote -More folks voted against the Conservatives in 1951 than for them despite them winning 15 more seats an all other parties.


Ad Honoris
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
"......'As soon as electioneering began in earnest I knew what the result would be … I had little hope of success … The election in my view was lost before it started. Vast crowds turned out in flocks to see and applaud him [Churchill]. They wanted to thank him for what he had done for them. But this did not mean that they wanted to entrust him and his Tory colleagues with the conduct of their lives in the years that were to follow … Nor had they forgotten or been allowed to forget the years before the war … It was not Churchill who lost the 1945 election, it was the ghost of Neville Chamberlain.' -" Harold Macmillan

The British General Election, 1945 | History Today

Pretty much tells you all you need to know

Space Shark

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
Redneck Country, AKA Texas
Simple. Churchill was an effective wartime leader, but people didn't think he'd be as good in peacetime.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Kevin -Harold McMillan was wrong in attributing the downfall of the Tories &churchill to Chamberlain entirely because A-Chamberlain before he became Prime Minister was a socially progressive Minister when in charge of social policy -up to a point-.
On the other hand, when McMiilan , in his capacity as the local backbench MP for the northern English industrial constituency of Stockton-on Tees called the Tory leadership ''As useless as Disused slag heaps'' he was thinkng of Stanley Baldwin who Chamberlain succeeded as Prime Minster.
Baldwin who in the year 1935 didn't hesitate to give the four privately owned rail companies who ran the UK rail system the colossal sum of £26.5 million (at 1935 prices0 because they were making such horrendous losses that they were on the point of bankruptcy -but also just 12 months later-in 1936-when starving desperate shipyard workers in Palmer's shipyard in the northern town of Jarrow marched several hundred miles to London to petition Baldwin to help keep the shipyard and their jobs going Baldwin refused point blank/
To add insult to injury Baldwin -a Midland ironmaster's son-refused to meet a small delegation of these desperate shipyard workers from arrow at NO 10 Downing Street
July 1945 was payback to the Conservatives time for pre 1939 incidents like Jarrow.
n fairness to aldwi n the early 1920's he as Prime Minister had averted a coalminersw strike by subsidising miners wages with taxpayers money but few reacalled that in July 1945 when Jarrow 193 was still much rawer ad remenbered in the British working class voters psyche in July 1945.
Many voters who voted for Atlee in July 1945 called taxpayer's money no object for private enterprise owned British rail companies shareholders in 1935 but no dice for socially deprived shipyard workers in Jarrow. in 1936.


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Note -such was the swing to Labour in July 1945 that had Dambuster legend Guy Gibson survived the war he would have gone against the national trend by being elected for the Cheshire seat of Macclesfield -but on a majority considerably reduced from the majority obtained by the Tories in 1936.
Gibson V.C was adopted in 1944 as the Tory candidate for Macclesfield, Cheshre and would have stood as such in the 1945 July election.-had he not been killed over the Netherlands by a Gerry Rheydt.

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
Damned England
Before the war, due to austerity, general strikes and unrest, there was already agitation for real change: the kind of change promised post WW1: "A land fit for heroes".

Churchill was not always popular even during the war. And, of course, he headed a coalition Government, thus proving to many who wanted change, that careful Government control and planning can do what "free for all" capitalism cannot. WW2 era was probably the most equal and egalitarian British society had ever been up to that point, although that's really not saying much and wartime society was a long was from equal.

War weariness was a major factor in Labour winning. Not a rejection of Churchill per se, but certainly most people had had enough of war. Churchill was seen as being part of the war. in 1945, they did not have the nostalgia or sentiment we have now about WW2. How could they? Most had lost friends or relatives, most endured rationing, long hours, bombing, shortages, boredom....

Churchill, also, was seen as a warmonger, with his strictures about the USSR, and regaining the British empire.

An old man I met once told me that immediately the war was over, a lot of warplanes were simply scrapped, and with no sentiment at all. Most people were glad to see them go, symbolising what they did. Same with Churchill, for many.