Churchill caretaker ministry
The Churchill caretaker ministry was a short-term United Kingdom (UK) government during the latter stages of the Second World War, from 23 May to 26 July 1945. The prime minister was Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservative Party. This government succeeded the national coalition which he had formed after he was first appointed prime minister on 10 May 1940. The coalition had comprised leading members of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties and it was terminated soon after the defeat of Nazi Germany because the parties could not agree on whether it should continue until after the defeat of Japan.
|Churchill caretaker ministry|
|Caretaker government of the United Kingdom|
Winston Churchill on 2 August 1944
|Date formed||23 May 1945|
|Date dissolved||26 July 1945|
|People and organisations|
|Prime Minister||Winston Churchill|
|Prime Minister's history||1940–1945|
|Deputy Prime Minister||[note 1]|
|Total no. of members||92 appointments|
|Status in legislature||Majority (coalition)|
|Opposition party||Labour Party|
|Opposition leader||Clement Attlee|
|Outgoing election||1945 general election|
|Legislature term(s)||37th UK Parliament|
|Predecessor||Churchill war ministry|
The caretaker government continued to fight the war against Japan in the Far East but Churchill's focus was on preparation for the Potsdam Conference where he and his foreign secretary Anthony Eden would meet Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman. The main concern on the home front, however, was post-war recovery including the need for reform in key areas such as education, health, housing, industry and social welfare. Campaigning mostly on those issues, the parties canvassed for support in the forthcoming general election, the first held in the UK since 1935. The result of the general election was announced on 26 July 1945 and was a landslide victory for Labour. Churchill thereupon resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by his erstwhile coalition deputy Clement Attlee, who formed a Labour government.
The 1935 general election had resulted in a Conservative victory with a substantial majority and Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister. In May 1937, Baldwin retired and was succeeded by Neville Chamberlain who continued Baldwin's foreign policy of appeasement in the face of German, Italian and Japanese aggression. Having signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938, Chamberlain became alarmed by the dictator's continuing aggression and, in March 1939, signed the Anglo-Polish military alliance which supposedly guaranteed British support for Poland if attacked. Chamberlain issued the declaration of war against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939 and formed a war cabinet which included Winston Churchill (out of office since June 1929) as First Lord of the Admiralty.
Dissatisfaction with Chamberlain's leadership became widespread in the spring of 1940 after Germany successfully invaded Norway. In response, the House of Commons held the Norway Debate from 7 to 9 May. At the end of the second day, the Labour opposition forced a division which was in effect a motion of no confidence in Chamberlain. The government's majority of 213 was reduced to 81, still a victory but in the circumstances a shattering blow for Chamberlain.
Two days later on Friday, 10 May, Germany launched its invasion of the Netherlands and Belgium. Chamberlain had been contemplating resignation but then changed his mind because he felt a change of government at such a time would be inappropriate. Later that day, the Labour Party decided that they could not join a national coalition under Chamberlain's leadership but agreed to do so under a different Conservative prime minister. Chamberlain now resigned and advised the King to appoint Churchill as his successor. Churchill quickly created the national coalition, granting key roles to leading figures in the Labour and Liberal parties. The coalition held firm despite some critical setbacks and, ultimately, in alliance with the Soviet Union and the United States, Britain was able to defeat Nazi Germany.
Plans to extend the coalitionEdit
In October 1944, Churchill had addressed the House of Commons and moved to extend Parliament by a further year pending the final defeat of Nazi Germany and, if possible, Japan. There had not been a general election since 1935 and Churchill was determined to hold one as soon as hostilities ceased. While he could not accurately predict the end of the war against Japan, he was confident that Germany would be defeated by the summer of 1945 and he told the Commons that "we must look to the termination of the war against Nazism as a pointer which will fix the date of the next general election".
In early April 1945, with victory then imminent in the European theatre of operations, Churchill met his deputy prime minister Clement Attlee, who was the leader of the Labour party, to discuss the future of the coalition. Attlee was due to depart for America on 17 April to attend the San Francisco Conference on creation of the United Nations. Travelling with him were ministers Anthony Eden, Florence Horsbrugh and Ellen Wilkinson. They would be out of the country until 16 May and Churchill assured Attlee that Parliament would not be dissolved in their absence. After VE Day on 8 May, Churchill changed his mind about an early election and decided to propose continuation of the coalition until after the defeat of Japan.
In the meantime, however, Labour's Herbert Morrison, home secretary in the coalition, had published a declaration called Let Us Face The Future which was effectively a party manifesto for the election. Several leading Conservatives made speeches in response. The electioneering may have been premature and it subsided after the death of Hitler on 30 April but quickly regathered pace after VE Day. On 11 May, Churchill met Morrison and Ernest Bevin, the coalition's minister of labour, telling them that he wished to maintain the coalition until Japan had been defeated. Their view, confirmed by Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), was that the general election should be held in October regardless of the situation in the Far East. Churchill was receiving calls from his own party to announce a June election – leading Conservatives like Lord Beaverbrook and Brendan Bracken wanted to cash in on Churchill's personal popularity as "the man who won the war".
Attlee and Eden returned from America on 16 May and Attlee met Churchill that evening. While Attlee himself favoured continuation until the defeat of Japan, he was aware that the majority of Labour Party members thought differently. Churchill sought a compromise and wrote a letter to the NEC which was amended by Bevin to include a pledge on social reform, but it was not enough. On Sunday, 20 May, the NEC voted for an October election and their resolution was backed overwhelmingly by the conference delegates next day. Attlee phoned Churchill with the news and an element of discord arose between the two which was fuelled by Beaverbrook in his newspapers.
At noon on Wednesday, 23 May, Churchill tendered his resignation to King George VI. He insisted on returning to Downing Street to keep up the pretence that the King had a free choice as to whom to invite to form the next government. He was summoned back to Buckingham Palace at four o'clock and the King asked him to form a new administration pending the outcome of the general election. Churchill accepted. It was agreed that Parliament would be dissolved on 15 June and the election would be held on 5 July. With many service personnel out of the country, it was decided that votes would not be counted until 26 July, allowing time to collect the service votes.
Formation of the caretaker governmentEdit
The new government was known officially as the National Government and unofficially as the Caretaker Ministry. The official title implied a continuation of the Conservative-dominated coalition of the 1930s, especially as it was composed mostly of Conservatives, supplemented by the small National Liberal party and some other individuals like Sir John Anderson who had been associated with that government. Speaking at his Woodford constituency on 25 May, Churchill commented on the nickname: "They call us 'the Caretakers'; we condone the title, because it means that we shall take every good care of everything that affects the welfare of Britain and all classes in Britain".
The Labour and Liberal parties formed the Opposition, except that one Liberal member, Gwilym Lloyd George, accepted Churchill's invitation to continue as Minister of Fuel and Power, the office he had held since 3 June 1942. While Churchill was obliged to replace all the other Labour and Liberal ministers in the coalition, he made no significant changes to the structure of the government. There were just two new posts: a Parliamentary secretary (Peter Thorneycroft) was appointed to the Ministry of War Transport and there was an additional Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs – Lord Lovat was appointed to share the role with future prime minister Lord Dunglass.
Pending the general election, Parliament sat on only fourteen days from 29 May to 15 June during the caretaker administration, but there was some controversy on Thursday, 7 June, the same day that King George VI visited the recently liberated Channel Islands, when Churchill refused a demand from the House of Commons to reveal all that was discussed at the Yalta Conference, but said that there were no secret agreements.
Continuing the war against JapanEdit
The war against Japan continued for the duration of the caretaker ministry and ended on 15 August, three weeks after Churchill's resignation. Even before the defeat of Germany, Churchill had told the Americans that he wanted the Royal Navy to play a prominent role in the defeat of Japan and the liberation of Britain's Asian colonies, especially Singapore. The Americans were unenthusiastic, suspecting that Churchill's intentions were primarily imperialist. Neither Franklin Roosevelt nor Harry Truman had any intention of helping to sustain the British Empire.
In their successful campaigns of 1944 and the early months of 1945, the British Army and its allies had mostly cleared Burma of Japanese forces by May 1945. Rangoon had fallen to the Allies on 2 May following the Battle of Elephant Point. Soon afterwards, the Japanese requested a cease-fire which enabled British and Commonwealth forces to land unopposed in parts of western Malaya. They also temporarily occupied Thailand. Mopping up operations continued in parts of Burma through the rest of May. While Churchill hoped for a triumphant re-entry to Singapore, its recovery was logistically difficult and it remained under Japanese control until 12 September when it was finally recovered, peacefully, by British forces in Operation Tiderace.
Churchill was Great Britain's representative at the post-war Potsdam Conference when it opened on 17 July. It was a "Big Three" event with Joseph Stalin representing the Soviet Union and President Harry Truman the United States. Churchill was accompanied at the sessions not only by Eden as Foreign Secretary but also by Attlee, pending the result of the general election held on 5 July. They attended nine sessions in nine days before returning to England for their election counts. After the landslide Labour victory, Attlee returned to Potsdam with Ernest Bevin as the new Foreign Secretary and there were a further five days of discussion. Potsdam went badly for Churchill and Eden later described his performance as "appalling", saying that he was unprepared and verbose. Churchill upset the Chinese, exasperated the Americans and was easily led by Stalin, whom he was supposed to be resisting.
Earlier, on 31 May, Churchill and Eden had intervened in the so-called Levant Crisis which had been initiated by French General Charles de Gaulle. Acting as head of the French Provisional Government, de Gaulle had ordered French forces to establish an air base in Syria and a naval base in Lebanon. The action provoked a nationalist outbreak in both countries and France responded with an armed retaliation, leading to many civilian deaths. With the situation escalating out of control, Churchill gave de Gaulle an ultimatum to desist. This was ignored and British forces from neighbouring Transjordan were mobilised to restore order. The French, heavily outnumbered, had no option but to return to their bases. A diplomatic row broke out and Churchill reportedly told a colleague that de Gaulle was "a great danger to peace and for Great Britain".
General election and resignation of ChurchillEdit
Having formed his new government, Churchill was formally reappointed prime minister on 28 May, and Parliament was dissolved only eighteen days later, on 15 June.
Churchill mishandled the election campaign by resorting to party politics and trying to denigrate Labour. On 4 June, he committed a serious political gaffe by saying in a radio broadcast that a Labour government would require "some form of Gestapo" to enforce its agenda. It backfired badly and Attlee made political capital by saying in his reply broadcast next day: "The voice we heard last night was that of Mr Churchill, but the mind was that of Lord Beaverbrook". Roy Jenkins says that this broadcast was "the making of Attlee".
The real reasons for Churchill's defeat lay in widespread dissatisfaction with the Conservative-dominated government of the 1930s. Churchill personally had a very high approval rating in opinion polls and was expected to win the election. Labour ran a very effective campaign which focused on the real issues facing the British people in peacetime – the 1930s had been an era of poverty and mass unemployment, so Labour promised a new social order that would ensure better housing, free medical services and employment for all. These issues were foremost in the minds of the voters and Labour was trusted to resolve them.
Polling day was on 5 July and, after a delay caused by the need to collect the votes of those serving overseas, the results – a landslide victory for the Labour Party – were declared on 26 July. Churchill had intended to remain in office until defeated in a Vote of No Confidence by the House of Commons, but instead was persuaded to resign that evening and was succeeded as prime minister by Attlee.
This table lists those ministers who held Cabinet membership in the caretaker ministry. Many retained roles they held in the war ministry and these are marked in situ with the date of their original appointment. For new appointments, their predecessor's name is given.
Ministers outside the CabinetEdit
This table lists those ministers who held non-Cabinet roles in the caretaker ministry. Some retained roles they held in the war ministry and these are marked in situ with the date of their original appointment. For new appointments, their predecessor's name is given.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 485–486.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 514–515.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 543.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 551–552.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 576–582.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 583.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 586.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 585.
- Hermiston 2016, p. 356.
- Hermiston 2016, pp. 356–357.
- Hermiston 2016, p. 357.
- Hermiston 2016, p. 358.
- Hermiston 2016, p. 359.
- Hermiston 2016, p. 360.
- Roberts 2018, p. 879.
- Hermiston 2016, p. 364.
- Butler & Butler 1994, pp. 17–20.
- Mercer, Derrick, ed. (1989). Chronicle of the 20th Century. London: Chronicle Communications Ltd. p. 626. ISBN 978-05-82039-19-3.
- Leonard, Thomas M. (1977). Day By Day: The Forties. New York: Facts On File, Inc. p. 500. ISBN 978-0-87196-375-8.
- "Text of Hirohito's Radio Rescript". New York City: The New York Times. 15 August 1945. p. 3. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 756.
- Tugwell, Maurice (1971). Airborne To Battle – A History Of Airborne Warfare 1918–1971. London: William Kimber & Co. Ltd. p. 285. ISBN 978-07-18302-62-7.
- Park, Keith (August 1946). "Air Operations in South East Asia 3rd May 1945 to 12th September 1945" (PDF). London: War Office. published in "No. 39202". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 April 1951. pp. 2127–2172.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 795–796.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 796.
- Fenby, Jonathan (2011). The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France he saved. London: Simon & Schuster. pp. 42–47. ISBN 978-18-47394-10-1.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 791–795.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 792.
- Addison, Paul (17 February 2011). "Why Churchill Lost in 1945". BBC History. BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
- Jenkins 2001, p. 793.
- Hermiston 2016, pp. 366–367.
- Jenkins 2001, pp. 798–799.
- Butler, David; Butler, Gareth (1994). British Political Facts 1900–1994 (7 ed.). Basingstoke and London: The Macmillan Press. ISBN 978-03-12121-47-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Hermiston, Roger (2016). All Behind You, Winston – Churchill's Great Coalition, 1940–45. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 978-17-81316-64-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Jenkins, Roy (2001). Churchill. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 978-03-30488-05-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking with Destiny. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 978-02-41205-63-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Churchill war ministry
| Government of the United Kingdom
First Attlee ministry