The New Conservatism? 1945–1951

  • David Willetts


This was one observer’s explanation of the Conservative Party’s massive defeat in July 1945, after the end of the Second World War in Europe. They had dominated British politics since the fall of Lloyd George in 1922, but polled 9.4 million votes (41.5 per cent of those cast) to the Labour Party’s 11.7 million votes (49 per cent of the poll), and were reduced from 358 seats to only 214 in the new House of Commons. Three crucial publications captured the way in which the world had moved against Conservatives. First, there was the belief that Conservatives were the ‘Guilty Men’, the famous title of the 1940 book co-authored by Michael Foot and others.2 The Conservatives were held responsible for pre-war depression and for appeasement. The most lurid caricature was painted of the Conservatives’ record in government and there was little that they appeared to be able to do to escape from it. Secondly, it was argued that these mistakes were not just accidental — it was because Conservatives only represented the narrow self-interest of the affluent. ‘Simon Haxey’ (a pseudonym) produced a book in 1939, Tory MP, published for the Left Book Club, which argued that Baldwinism, corporatism and reluctance to confront Hitler were directly related to the conspicuous commercial interests and property-holdings across the Empire of many Tories.3


Election Campaign Labour Government Labour Party Conservative Party Party Organization 
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© David Willetts 2005

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  • David Willetts

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