The 1945 General Election in St Marylebone
In July 1945, after six years of war, the British people looked forward to casting their vote in the first General Election for 10 years. Would they vote for Conservative Winston Churchill, the country’s victorious Second World War leader, or the Labour Party led by the more subdued Clement Attlee? With Churchill’s personal popularity rating at over 80 per cent, few predicted anything other than a Conservative victory.
But, memories of the dark days of the 1930s, when mass unemployment and widespread poverty were common, were deeply ingrained in the population, including the millions of servicemen and women who fought so bravely in the war. The ground-breaking Beveridge Report, published in 1942, offered a vision of a better society where people would have access to health services and other social benefits. Would people vote Conservative in gratitude for Churchill’s inspirational war leadership? Or would they vote Labour in the hope of a new, prosperous future for them and their families?
Paul Dimoldenberg’s new book about the 1945 General Election, ‘Cheer Churchill. Vote Labour’explains how the election campaign unfolded. In this article, Paul takes a look into the General Election campaign in St Marylebone.
In 1945, four candidates faced each other in the St Marylebone constituency which stretched from Oxford Street in the south, through the Harley Street and Baker Street areas, up Lisson Grove past Marylebone Station to Lord’s Cricket Ground, Abbey Road and St John’s Wood High Street.
St Marylebone had always elected Conservative MPs and the sitting member was Captain Alec Cunningham-Reid who won the seat at a by-election in 1933. His majority at the last election, in 1935, was a massive 23,175.
Cunningham-Reid, however, was fighting the 1945 election as an Independent Conservative, as he had relinquished the Conservative whip in 1942 “several years after the Tory Party in St Marylebone had decided to sever relations with him”,according to Labour. A supporter of Neville Chamberlain in the famous Norway debate in May 1940, Cunningham-Reid was not expected to be re-elected.
The official Conservative candidate was Sir Wavell W. Wakefield (known as W.W.W) who had been MP for Swindon and was seeking a much safer seat in the constituency in which he had been living for the past 20 years. Wakefield saw active service in the RAF until he joined the Air Ministry in 1942. A former England rugby international with 31 caps, he was the firm favourite to win.
Wakefield, too, had voted for Chamberlain in May 1940. He was attacked by Labour for “dishonestly insinuating that our local housing problem could be in some serious degree aided by kicking out of the country the limited number of foreign refugees who have been relying on the traditional hospitality for which Britain is honoured throughout the world”.
The Liberals were represented by Thomas Lodge and was described by Labour as “the Liberal candidate in a Borough where no Liberal Party exists. Out of nowhere into a vacuum”. Lodge was one of the Commissioners appointed to rule Newfoundland after Dominion status was scrapped.
Labour’s candidate was local GP, Dr Elizabeth Jacobs who lived in Circus Road and whose surgery was in Church Street. During the War, she volunteered for ARP (Air Raid Precautions) work. She had fought the seat in 1935 and had been a St Marylebone Borough Councillor since 1928. According to the ‘Marylebone Mercury’, she “needs introducing only to the newer residents of St Marylebone”.Her election leaflet said:
“For nineteen years now she has practised as a doctor in her unpretentious surgery set in the heart of the working-class streets of our Borough and thousands have found health, and life itself, at her hands. Not all doctors are loved by their patients. Dr Elizabeth Jacobs’ name is a handshake”
Indeed, such was Dr Jacobs’ record as local doctor that it was acknowledged by all her opponents. They could only respond by saying that her patients “do not want to see her go to Parliament, but to remain in her surgery”.
Sir Wavell Wakefield, for the Conservatives, presented himself as the Medical Practitioners representative. In a letter to Marylebone’s doctors he argued that he was “fully qualified to represent the majority view of the medical profession in Parliament in no narrow party spirit”. That “majority view” was that “private practice should continue with absolute freedom”.
Thomas Lodge, the Liberal Candidate, argued at his ‘well-attended’ meeting at the Rudolf Steiner Hall in Park Road, that the “Conservative Party could have prevented the war but didn’t”, while Labour“were just as dangerous because their methods were unsound”.
A feature of Captain Cunningham-Reid’s Independent Conservative campaign was his nightly ‘open air meetings’. According to the ‘Marylebone Mercury’, “a loudspeaker-van tours a different district each evening and announces that the meeting is just about to begin. While the Chairman is opening the meeting a team of canvassers tell neighbouring residents that if they have any questions the candidate is there to answer them”.
The Labour campaign started with a Public Meeting at the Rudolf Steiner Hall which, according to the Marylebone Mercury’, “was inadequate to accommodate the large crowd”.The guest speaker was Professor Harold Laski, Chairman of the Labour Party. Dr Jacobs was described by Councillor Charles Vernon as “no political careerist”. The size of the audience was so great that an overflow meeting was held and the collections at both meetings amounted to £213 18 shillings – a massive amount of money in 1945.
Three days before polling day, on 2nd July, Labour held a ‘Mass Rally’ in Seymour Hall, Seymour Place, at which the comedian Tommy Trinder and actors Peggy Ashcroft and Bernard Miles spoke. The following day, at Marylebone Grammar School, at the corner of Marylebone Road and Lisson Grove, Labour appealed to its trade union roots at a meeting addressed by NUR, ASLEF and Railway Clerks Association speakers.
Of the 48,570 residents and business voters eligible to vote, 33,221 voted (69.3 per cent) as follows:
Conservative majority 5,152
The Conservative majority was reduced from 23,175 in 1935. Both Cunningham-Reid and Lodge lost their deposits.
The service vote represented 4,292 voters (including 17 Prisoners of War) of whom 58.7% voted.
Sir Wavell Wakefield successfully defended St Marylebone at the 1950, 1951, 1955 and 1959 General Elections before retiring from Parliament in 1963 and accepting a Life Peerage. He was succeeded by Quintin Hogg who renounced his hereditary peerage as Lord Hailsham.
Dr Elizabeth Jacobs continued to represent Labour on the Council until 1964 when she became the first Labour Deputy Mayor of St Marylebone Borough Council. She retired as a GP in 1973 and continued to campaign for better housing. She told the ‘Marylebone Mercury’, “Housing is one of the greatest needs. Young people can’t find homes and poor accommodation is causing a lot of misery and unhappiness. We still have a long way to go.”She continued as a Labour activist into the 1980s when she was a regular attended at meetings of the Church Street branch of which she was Treasurer.
To learn more about the 1945 General Election, read ‘Cheer Churchill. Vote Labour’by Paul Dimoldenberg which is available in e-book and paperback format at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08975HFS7/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1590583600&sr=1-3
All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Foodbanks in Westminster.