- This is lifted directly from RB McCallum and Alison Readman: The British General Election of 1945, chapter XIII The Forecasts and the Result (the first of the Nuffield Studies).
And my copy is an original, as sold (says the wee sticker on the back of the front hard-back) by Collet’s London Bookshop Ltd. 66 Charing Cross Road, W.C.1 Temple Bar 6306.
On 25 July … the ballot-boxes were opened and the service votes and proxy votes verified. The counting staffs were sworn to secrecy and although in many places they must have gained a fair idea of how the voting had gone, the secret was kept. If it was known that night in Fleet Street, it was not even hinted at in the next morning’s press. Since the verification of the service and proxy votes had enabled each ballot-box to be checked, there was less to do next day. It was only necessary to separate the votes according to the candidates voted for and to count them. Results therefore were expected early in the day. The BBC arranged to give the news hourly from midday on the Home Service. On the Forces programme, however, there was a news bulletin at 11.0 a.m. and those who listened in to that had the first inkling of the results, which showed startling Labour gains. The news was also published in frequent editions of all evening papers and, in clubs and such places, on tape machines.
The Daily Express of Friday, 27 July, devoted nearly a page to an admirable and dramatic description of how the results reached its office. Shortly after ten o’clock in the morning the first result came in. South Salford was a Labour gain. Kingston-on-Thames followed, Conservative, no change, but Manchester Exchange was a Labour gain. Two more Socialist gains in Lancashire followed, and Rotherham and Burnley were held for Labour with vastly increased majorities. By 10.25 the first Cabinet Minister had fallen: Mr. Harold Macmillan was out at Stockton-on-Tees by 9,000 votes; Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook’s son, held Holborn but only by 925 votes. By 10.40 the most significant news of the whole election was reaching the office. Birmingham was going Labour. A little later, Sir Percy Harris, the Liberal Whip, was known to have been defeated in Bethnal Green after twenty-three years’ membership. The BBC news to the Forces at 11.0 showed a tremendous swing to Labour. Actually it exaggerated it. A rough calculation at 11.0 suggested that the Conservatives would be reduced to a figure not much over 100. Mr. Brendan Bracken’s defeat was known shortly before 11.0. At 11.15 Mr.Lyttleton was reported to be in at Aldershot, an important survival for the Conservatives. By 11.30 Mr. Ernest Bevin and Mr. Attlee were known to be returned. At the same time news of more Conservative defeats was arriving from Birmingham, where Mr. Amery, the veteran Conservative Minister, had been defeated. By 12.0 o’clock it was clear that the London suburbs were going strongly Labour. The Government had lost 50 seats and the Socialists had gained 55 , the difference being made up by Liberal seats lost to Labour. Just after 12.0 Mr. Morrison was returned at East Lewisham, with a majority of 15,000 , in spite of Mr. Churchill’s visit to the division and his special plea to turn Mr. Morrison out. Sir William Beveridge’s defeat at Berwick was heard of next, and Sir Richard Acland’s in Putney followed. At about 12.20 Mr. Churchill’s return at Woodford was known.
By 1.15 the state of parties was: Labour 196, Conservatives 58. Labour gains 106. Scottish results, nearly always later than English, began to arrive after 1.0. The Liberal National leader, Mr. Ernest Brown, was defeated at Leith. Sir Archibald Sinclair’s defeat in Caithness and Sutherland was not known till 2.15. By 2.30 as many as 544 results were known, and the magnitude of the Socialist victory was clearly evident. The flow of results began to slow down, ending with the Hornchurch division of Essex at about ten o’clock in the evening. The universities had still to come, but they could not affect the general political situation.
When one party decisively defeats another at a General Election, and reverses the situation in Parliament, constitutional practice prescribes that the defeated ministry should resign without delay. Disraeli set this precedent after his defeat by Gladstone in 1868, and Gladstone followed the same course when defeated in 1874. Before 1868 it had been usual for the ministry to wait and meet Parliament, which would record a vote of no-confidence through the House of Commons. A ministry which has lost its majority in the House, but with no other party holding a clear majority, may delay until Parliament meets and gives its decision. Mr. Baldwin followed this course very reasonably in 1923 . But for Mr. Churchill the verdict was clear. The strength of parties in the House had been almost reversed as the result of the Election, and the Liberals, who might have been a balancing factor, reduced to only twelve members. Mr. Churchill decided not to wait even until next day, thereby establishing a new record in speed of resignation. The times were pressing and dangerous, and it was of high public importance that the new ministry should be formed without delay, in order that Mr. Attlee might be free as soon as possible to go to Potsdam to continue the conference with President Truman and Marshal Stalin. Mr. Churchill had heard the results in the map room of the Cabinet at 10 Downing Street. At seven o’clock in the evening he went in a car to Buckingham Palace. He left it at 7.25 having tendered his resignation to the King. Five minutes later Mr. Attlee drove into the Palace court-yard to be received in audience, and to kiss hands on his appointment as Prime Minister. One of the greatest reversals in our political history produced the speediest change of government ever known, and a remarkable example of the continuity of constitutional authority.