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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