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The British wartime coalition

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Discuss the wartime coalition, May 1940 to May 1945: policies and personalities Many people in Britain were immensely proud of having 'won' the war, though it would be more accurate to say that Britain's great achievement was to keep the war going long enough for the Russians and Americans to win it. Britain came out of the war with the country badly battered and facing massive debts. Despite this, almost everyone believed the struggle had been worth it. Unlike 1918, the country was not full of a sense of loss and wasted lives. The war had produced a very strong sense of unity and purpose. People mostly accepted government restrictions as right and necessary. Most were ready for wartime planning to continue into the work of post-war reconstruction. Two questions emerge: How the British government coped with the crisis and management of the national war effort? How far did the impact of the war change the lives and attitudes of the British people. From May 1940 until his defeat in the 1945 election, Winston Churchill led a coalition government that was a truly national one, bringing together politicians from all the leading parties. ...read more.


Afterwards, Churchill quickly came to be recognised as the ideal leader - but this was not at all clear at the time. Lord Halifax had been Foreign Secretary in the 1930s and was familiar with German leadership. Many MPs across all parties saw him as the better choice for PM and in the days before the German invasion of the Benelux countries, it was still possible to imagine some form of negotiated deal with Hitler to avoid war. Halifax was seen as the man most able to do this. For others, however, Halifax was too closely associated with appeasement, a policy which was now discredited and whose failure to prevent a European war was now clear. Moreover, he sat as a peer in the House of Lords and not in the Commons. His opponents felt that as a leading appeaser and as a peer he was not the right man to lead a democracy in a great war. There was also question of motivation and self-belief. Whereas Churchill was eager to take on the responsibility, convinced that it was his political destiny, Halifax was not at all sure in his own mind that he was the right man for the job - as was revealed in the memoirs of both men. ...read more.


Even those devoted to him noticed these failings. The Australian PM noted how Churchill was not interested in anything besides warfare. Churchill was lucky in his deputy PM however, Clement Attlee, a man with no charisma but an extremely effective organiser. There was great difference between the two men - whilst Attlee was quiet, hard-working and an efficient worker, Churchill was spontaneous and erratic and could not work to schedule. There have been several revisionist historians who discredit Churchill as the great war hero he's often thought of. On becoming PM, Churchill's first task was to form a new government. Given the desperate situation unfolding across the Channel this needed to be a government of national unity. Although Churchill was PM, Chamberlain continued to lead the Conservatives and this made it easier for Churchill to act as if he was above party politics and to bring into government Labour and Liberal politicians as well as Conservatives. He also brought in talented individuals from outside political parties. In addition to his cabinet, others made important contributions in Churchill's government - as well as Conservatives, two Liberal ministers were appointed and 14 Labour politicians at various levels of government. Churchill also brought in men with experience outside Westminster. Examples of this wide range of talents were seen in William Beveridge. ...read more.

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