In June 1945, with World War II as good as over, Winston Churchill was voted out of power and the Labour party, under the leadership of Clement Attlee, was swept in with high public expectations and promises of major reforms in social welfare. These included housing, nationalizations of certain industries, public healthcare provisions,...
In June 1945, with World War II as good as over, Winston Churchill was voted out of power and the Labour party, under the leadership of Clement Attlee, was swept in with high public expectations and promises of major reforms in social welfare. These included housing, nationalizations of certain industries, public healthcare provisions, and the like. However, not more than a few years had gone by and the economy was in crisis. In January 1948 Sir Stanford Cripps, Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, began discussing the upcoming Economic Survey, and he painted an “excessively grim” picture; the picture of a nation that would have shortages of food and raw materials unless the expected large influx of money from the United States would come in, if the Marshall Plan passed Congress.
The opposition Conservative Party advocated for private enterprise, personal self-reliance, and a movement away from ‘state control’ over people’s lives. As the party’s leader, Churchill saw the Cripps Economic Survey as both a challenge and an opportunity; a challenge in that his party needed to express to the nation its vision and ideals in counterpoint, and show that it deserved to be returned to power; an opportunity in that Cripps’ unpopular revelations created a chink in Labour’s armor, begging to be exploited by the Conservatives.
Churchill determined to speak to the nation on February 14, 1948, in a broadcast talk. The creator of some of the most extraordinary phrases in the English language created another for the title of this talk: “Set the People Free.” In the broadcast, he played-up his successful wartime record (symbolised by depicting his two-finger V-sign for victory), articulated his program, labeled Labour the “British Socialist Party”, and condemned its “wanton and reckless” actions. “Set the People Free” became a battle-cry and was used by the Conservatives as their slogan in the 1950 and 1951 general elections, in the latter of which they were returned to power.
A. Beverley Baxter was a Conservative member of Parliament. During the debates about foreign policy in the late 1930s, Baxter strongly supported Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. During World War II, Churchill appointed Baxter to a post with the Ministry of Aircraft Production where he was responsible for keeping up production of engines. He became as strong a campaigner for the new Prime Minister as he had been for the old. Always of an independent mindset, he was part of the large Conservative rebellion against the Anglo-American loan in December 1945, and in 1948 was one of just eight Conservatives to oppose accepting American aid under the Marshall Plan.
Just two days before his talk, Churchill called in some leaders of his party to discuss these matters; this is Baxter’s invitation to participate. Typed Letter Signed in his Hyde Park Gate letterhead, London, February 12, 1948, to Baxter. “I am asking a few of my Parliamentary colleagues to luncheon on Thursday, February 26, at 1 p.m., and I should be so glad if you could come.”
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