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  • KIT KOWOL (a1)

The British general election of 1945 and the return of the nation's first ever majority Labour government was a profound turning point in Britain's political history. The scale of Labour's victory, and the belief in its inevitability, has, however, obscured important developments in British Conservatism. Historians have subsequently characterized the Conservative party as either unwilling to develop their own distinct plans for the post-war future, or divided between those who were willing to embrace the policies of social democracy and those with a neo-liberal approach to political economy. This article challenges this depiction by examining the thoughts and actions of those within what it terms the wartime ‘Conservative movement’: the constellation of fringe and pressure groups that orbited around the Conservative party during the period. In examining this movement, it identifies three major traditions of Conservative political thinking, and three sets of activists and parliamentarians all committed to developing radical Conservative plans for post-war Britain. The article demonstrates how these different traditions built upon but also radicalized pre-existing currents of Conservative thought, how the language of social democracy was co-opted and reinterpreted by those within the Conservative movement, and how the war changed Conservative perception of the British people.

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Christ Church, Oxford, ox1 2dp
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This article greatly benefited from presentation to the Modern British Studies Conference in Birmingham and the S. R. Gardiner Society at Christ Church in 2015. For invaluable comments and suggestions, I am grateful to the audiences on these occasions as well as Stuart Ball, Clarisse Bethèrzene, Lawrence Black, Nigel Copsey, Steve Fielding, Anne Levitsky, Ross McKibbin, Sam Wetherell, Camilla Schofield, Marc Stears, Melissa Turoff, James Vernon, and Robert Watt as well as the two anonymous Historical Journal reviewers.

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1 Marwick, Arthur, ‘Middle opinion in the thirties: planning, progress and political “agreement”’, English Historical Review, 79 (1964), pp. 285–98; Addison, Paul, The road to 1945: British politics and the Second World War (London, 1977).

2 For the most comprehensive treatment of these issues, see Thorpe, Andrew, Parties at war: political organization in Second World War Britain (Oxford, 2009).

3 For contrasting perspectives, see Fielding, Steven, ‘What did “the people” want?: the meaning of the 1945 general election’, Historical Journal, 35 (1992), pp. 623–39; McKibbin, Ross, Parties and people: England, 1914–1951 (Oxford, 2010), ch. 4.

4 Vernon, James, ‘The local, the imperial and the global: repositioning twentieth-century Britain and the brief life of its social democracy’, Twentieth Century British History, 21 (2010), pp. 404–18.

5 Charmley, John, A history of Conservative politics since 1830 (2nd edn, Basingstoke, 2008), pp. 119–20.

6 Blake, Robert, The Conservative party from Peel to Thatcher (London, 1985), p. 254 .

7 See, for example, Kandiah, M. D., ‘The Conservative party and the 1945 general election’, Contemporary British History, 9 (1995), p. 29 ; Cockett, Richard, Thinking the unthinkable: think-tanks and the economic counter-revolution, 1931–1983 (London, 1995), p. 67 ; Harriet Overton Jones, ‘The Conservative party and the welfare state, 1942–1955’ (Ph.D. thesis, London, 1992), p. 71.

8 Ramsden, John, The age of Churchill and Eden, 1940–1957 (London, 1995), pp. 44–5; Green, E. H. H., Ideologies of Conservatism: Conservative political ideas in the twentieth century (Oxford, 2002), pp. 218–20.

9 On the American Conservative movement, see Nash, George H., The Conservative intellectual movement in America, since 1945 (New York, NY, 1976); Skocpol, Theda and Williamson, Vanessa, The Tea Party and the remaking of Republican Conservatism (New York, NY, 2012).

10 Thackeray, David, Conservatism for the democratic age: Conservative culture and the challenge of mass politics in early twentieth-century England (Manchester, 2013), ch. 4.

11 Cowling, Maurice, The impact of Labour, 1920–1924: the beginning of modern British politics (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 57–9.

12 Love, Gary, ‘The periodical press and the intellectual culture of Conservatism in interwar Britain’, Historical Journal, 57 (2014), pp. 1027–56.

13 Berthèzene, Clarisse, Training minds for the war of ideas: Ashridge College, the Conservative party and the cultural politics of Britain, 1929–1954 (Manchester, 2015), p. 15 .

14 Thorpe, Parties at war, pp. 164–7.

15 For other examples of wartime ‘radical’ Conservative traditions and the breadth of figures participating in the wartime Conservative movement, see Kit Kowol, ‘The lost world of British Conservatism: the radical tory tradition, 1939–1951’ (D.Phil. thesis, Oxford, 2014).

16 For the methodology of political traditions, see Bevir, Mark and Rhodes, R. A. W., ‘Decentering tradition’, Administration & Society, 33 (2001), pp. 107–32.

17 For discussion of this theme, see Ball, Stuart, Portrait of a party: the Conservative party in Britain, 1918–1945 (Oxford, 2013), pp. 1516, 18, 25, 27, 49.

18 On the TRC and Beveridge, see H. Kopsch, ‘The approach of the Conservative party to social policy during World War II’ (Ph.D., London University, 1970), pp. 112–38.

19 R. A. Butler, ‘Objects of organisation as discussed with the prime minister on January 8th’, n.d., CRD 2/28/1, Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian, Oxford (hereafter CPA).

20 On the role of intellectuals in the CCNP, see Harris, Jose, ‘Political ideas and the debate on state welfare, 1940–1945’, in Smith, Harold L., ed., War and social change: British society in the Second World War (Manchester, 1986), pp. 241–6.

21 ‘Notes on a discussion held on July 19th, 1940’ n.d., CRD 2/28/1, CPA.

22 ‘Dynamic democracy’, Economist, 3 Aug. 1940, p. 2.

23 Kennedy, Thomas C., ‘The next five years group and the failure of the politics of agreement in Britain’, Canadian Journal of History, 9 (1974), p. 53 .

24 Roberts, Matthew, Political movements in urban England, 1832–1914 (Basingstoke, 2009), p. 120 .

25 ‘Resolutions passed at the party conference, March 14th and 15th, 1945’, n.d., NUA 4/1/6, CPA.

26 ‘Notes on a meeting held at 28, Wynnstay Gardens, W.8, at 8.30 p.m., on August 6th, 1940’, n.d., CRD 2/28/1, CPA.

27 ‘Executive committee minutes’, 14 May 1941, NUA 4/1/6, CPA.

28 R. A. Butler, ‘Establishing a Christian civilization’, Listener, 2 Jan. 1941.

29 Orwell, George, The lion and the unicorn: socialism and the English genius (London, 1941); Priestley, J. B., Postscripts (London, 1940).

30 ‘Minutes of the 1922 committee’, 23 Apr. 1941, 1922/4, CPA; ‘Minutes of the 1922 committee’, 2 July 1941, 1922/4, CPA.

31 William Weir, ‘The need of the house: equality of sacrifice’, 6 June 1940, CRD 2/28/1, CPA.

32 Orwell, Lion and the unicorn, p. 35.

33 ‘Notes on a discussion held on July 19th, 1940’, p. 3.

34 ‘Executive committee minutes’, 12 Nov. 1941, NUA 4/1/6, CPA; ‘Executive committee minutes’, 8 July 1942, NUA 4/1/6, CPA; ‘Women tories’ peace plan’, Economist, 2 Sept. 1944.

35 Butler, ‘Establishing a Christian civilization’.

36 Kurlberg, Jonas, ‘Resisting totalitarianism: The Moot and a new Christendom’, Religion Compass, 7 (2013), pp. 517–31.

37 Conservative sub-committee on education, A plan for youth (London, 1942); Astor, William Waldorf, Our imperial future (London, 1943); James Edward Hubert Gascoyne-Cecil Salisbury, Post-war Conservative policy (London, 1943).

38 Edward Grigg, ‘The future of freedom’, Observer, 28 May 1939.

39 A modern Conservative, A national faith (London, 1938), pp. 1617 .

40 Northam, Reginald, Conservatism, the only way (London, 1939), pp. 248–9.

41 Williamson, Philip, Stanley Baldwin: Conservative leadership and national values (Cambridge, 1999), p. 291 .

42 Hinchingbrooke, Viscount, Full speed ahead! Essays in tory reform (London, 1944), p. 21 .

43 Abel, Deryck, Ernest Benn: counsel for liberty (London, 1960), p. 53 .

44 Ibid., ch. 3.

45 For example, see Allen, Carleton Kemp, What price the British constitution? (London, 1941); Benn, Ernest J. P., The B.B.C. monopoly (London, 1941); Hearnshaw, F. J. C., The socialist ‘new order’ (London, 1941).

46 Maurice Petherick, ‘Party politics in war’, Times, 22 Sept. 1942.

47 Report’, Individualism, 1 (1953), pp. 24 .

48 David Low, ‘Sure you've got the right war, blokes?’, Evening Standard, 20 Aug. 1942.

49 Cockett, Thinking the unthinkable, pp. 70–2; Dorey, Peter, British Conservatism: the politics and philosophy of inequality (London, 2011), pp. 120–4; Farrant, Andrew and Nicola, Tynan, ‘Sir Waldron Smithers and the long walk to Finchley’, Economic Affairs, 32 (2012), pp. 43–7.

50 Hayek, F. A., The road to serfdom (London, 1944); Smithers, Waldron, Socialism offers slavery (London, 1945).

51 Jackson, Ben, ‘At the origins of neo-liberalism: the free economy and the strong state, 1930–1947’, Historical Journal, 53 (2010), pp. 129–51.

52 Jacks, L. P., Construction now (London, 1940).

53 Ibid., pp. 53–4.

54 Benn, Ernest J. P., Hard times ahead? (London, 1942), p. 25 .

55 Ibid., pp. 24–5.

56 For examples of this sentiment in resolutions to the National Union, see ‘Executive committee minutes’, 14 Jan. 1942, NUA 4/1/6, CPA; ‘Executive committee minutes’, 13 May 1942, NUA 4/1/6, CPA; ‘Executive committee minutes’, 13 Jan. 1943, NUA 4/1/6, CPA.

57 ‘Backward to freedom’, Irish Times, 22 Apr. 1943.

58 E. A. Ormerod, ‘Personal freedom’, Times, 30 Apr. 1943.

59 ‘United Kingdom Provident Institution’, Manchester Guardian, 15 Mar. 1943.

60 Smithers, Socialism, p. 21.

61 ‘The community first’, Economist, 20 June 1942.

62 For the way in which this term is used, see Cain, Peter J., ‘The Conservative party and “radical Conservatism”, 1880–1914: incubus or necessity?’, Twentieth Century British History, 7 (1996), p. 377 .

63 ‘Lord Croft’, Times, 29 Dec. 1947.

64 Hollis, Christopher, Quality or equality (London, 1944), pp. 1315 ; Amery, L. S., The framework of the future (London, 1944), p. 103 .

65 Amery, Framework, 126.

66 Read, G. B., ‘Imperial unity’, Ashridge Journal, 62 (1942).

67 Basil Peto, ‘The Beveridge principle’, Times, 18 Mar. 1943; ‘Cost of the war’, Times, 26 May 1943; Mackenzie, Cyril, ‘Overseas settlement – Canada’, Ashridge Journal, 53 (1941).

68 Amery, Framework, p. 80.

69 Carpenter, L. P., ‘Corporatism in Britain, 1930–1945’, Contemporary History, 11 (1976), p. 6 .

70 Empire Economic Union, Agricultural policy past, present and future (London, 1939).

71 Montague Barlow, ‘Post-war planning’, Times, 12 Aug. 1940; Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, ‘Transport after the war’, Times, 8 Sept. 1944.

72 ‘No monopolies for air transport’, Times, 16 July 1943; Read, ‘Imperial unity’; Col. Harold Mitchell MP, ‘War and the empire – part II’, Ashridge Journal, 72 (1943).

73 Gammans, L. D., Singapore sequel (London, 1944), p. 25 .

74 L. D. Gammans, ‘Post-war reconstruction’, Times, 15 Oct. 1942.

75 L. S. Amery, The future of parliament (n.p., 1944), p. 4.

76 Gleason, Abbott, ‘Totalitarianism’, in Krieger, Joel, ed., The Oxford companion to politics of the world (2nd edn, New York, NY, 2001), p. 840 .

77 Williamson, Philip, ‘Christian Conservatives and the totalitarian challenge, 1933–1940’, English Historical Review, 115 (2000), pp. 607–42.

78 Society of Individualists, Proceedings of the Public Inaugural Meeting (London, 1943), p. 8 .

79 Greenaway, J. R., ‘British Conservatism and bureaucracy’, History of Political Thought, 13 (1992), p. 143 .

80 Cripps, Stafford, ‘Can socialism come by constitutional methods?’, in Stafford Cripps, ed., Problems of a socialist government (London, 1933), p. 37 .

81 On this speech, see Toye, Richard, ‘Winston Churchill's “crazy broadcast”: party, nation, and the 1945 gestapo speech’, Journal of British Studies, 49 (2010), pp. 655–80.

82 On Baldwin's public doctrine, see Williamson, Stanley Baldwin.

83 Ball, Portrait, p. 511.

84 For various examples, see Leo Amery to Henry Page Croft, 29 Jan. 1924, Henry Page Croft papers 1/2, Churchill Archives Centre; Ernest Benn, ‘The general election’, Times, 8 Jan. 1929; Crisp, Dorothy, The rebirth of Conservatism (London, 1931), pp. 4750 .

85 Witherell, Larry L., ‘Lord Salisbury's “Watching Committee” and the fall of Neville Chamberlain, May 1940’, English Historical Review, 116 (2001), pp. 1134–66.

86 Schwarz, Bill, ‘The tide of history: the reconstruction of Conservatism, 1945–1951’, in Tiratsoo, Nick, ed., The Attlee years (London, 1991), p. 155 .

87 Ramsden, Age of Churchill, pp. 15–20; Ramsden, John, The making of Conservative party policy: the Conservative Research Department since 1929 (London, 1980), p. 96 .

88 Benn, Ernest J. P., This soft age, with the optimistic theory of the 30/50 man (London, 1933), pp. 1415 .

89 Society of Individualists, Proceedings, p. 13.

90 Ibid., pp. 7–8.

91 Calder, Angus, The myth of the blitz (London, 1991).

92 Amery, Framework, p. 132.

93 Amery, L. S., In the rain and the sun: a sequel to days of fresh air (London, 1946), pp. 234–5.

94 ‘Need for a crusading spirit’, Times, 6 Apr. 1940.

95 Grimly, Matthew, ‘The religion of Englishness: puritanism, providentialism, and “national character”, 1918–1945’, Journal of British Studies, 46 (2005), pp. 885–6.

96 Thorpe, Parties at war, pp. 20–2.

97 Conservative sub-committee on education, Plan for youth; Conservative sub-committee on education, Educational aims (n.p., 1942).

98 Conservative sub-committee on industry, Work: the future of British industry (n.p., 1944).

99 R. A. Butler to Cuthbert Alport, 17 Oct. 1944, GI4, R. A. Butler papers, Trinity College, Cambridge.

100 Mr. Churchill's declaration of policy to the electors (London, 1945).

101 Green, Ideologies, p. 2.

102 Swift, John, ‘Randolph Churchill and the general election in Preston, 1945: bucking the trend’, Northern History, 48 (2011), pp. 123–44.

103 Lancelot Spicer, ‘Memorandum on lunch, December 16th, 1942, with Sir Archibald Sinclair’, MS Balfour dep. 71, Honor Balfour papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

104 Clement Attlee, ‘The electoral truce’, 1 Mar. 1944, MS Attlee dep. 12, Clement Attlee papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

105 Schofield, Camilla, Enoch Powell and the making of postcolonial Britain (Cambridge, 2013), ch. 4.

106 For the classic ‘anti-consensus’ view, see Jefferys, Kevin, The Churchill coalition and wartime politics, 1940–1945 (Manchester, 1991).

107 Brooke, Stephen, Labour's war: the Labour party during the Second World War (Oxford, 1992).

108 Green, E. H. H., ‘Thatcherism: an historical perspective’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6 (1999), pp. 1742 .

109 Gamble, Andrew, The free economy and the strong state: the politics of Thatcherism (Basingstoke, 1988).

110 Love, ‘Periodical press’; Berthèzene, Training minds; Kowol, Kit, ‘An experiment in Conservative modernity: interwar Conservatism and Henry Ford's English farms’, Journal of British Studies, 55 (2016), pp. 781805 .

111 Addison, The road to 1945, p. 188.

* This article greatly benefited from presentation to the Modern British Studies Conference in Birmingham and the S. R. Gardiner Society at Christ Church in 2015. For invaluable comments and suggestions, I am grateful to the audiences on these occasions as well as Stuart Ball, Clarisse Bethèrzene, Lawrence Black, Nigel Copsey, Steve Fielding, Anne Levitsky, Ross McKibbin, Sam Wetherell, Camilla Schofield, Marc Stears, Melissa Turoff, James Vernon, and Robert Watt as well as the two anonymous Historical Journal reviewers.

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