Gestapo In Britain: The Speech that Kicked Off the 1945 General Election

Britain. Election 1945.

The great war heroes turn on each other. Clement Attlee responds to Churchill’s ‘Gestapo’ Speech in a BBC broadcast with an attack on Conservatism: 

‘For years every attempt to remedy crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor’

The story of the speech that kicked off the historic election

On the 4thJune, Churchill kicked off the 45 campaign with his first election broadcast:

‘there can be no doubt that Socialism is inseparably interwoven with Totalitarianism and the abject worship of the State’

‘there is to be one State to which all are to be obedient in every act of their lives. This State is to be the arch-employer, the arch-planner, the arch-administrator and ruler, and the arch-caucus boss’

‘Socialism is, in its essence, an attack upon the right of the ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils.’

‘Many of those who are advocating Socialism or voting Socialist today will be horrified at this idea. That is because they are short-sighted, that is because they do not see where their theories are leading them’.

‘No Socialist Government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp, or violently-worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance.’

‘And this would nip opinion in the bud; it would stop criticism as it reared its head, and it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of Civil servants, no longer servants and no longer civil’

In response, Attlee used his broadcast to tackle Churchill’s claims:

‘When I listened to the Prime Minister’s speech last night, in which he gave such a travesty of the policy of the Labour Party, I realized at once what was his object. 

‘He wanted the electors to understand how great was the difference between Winston Churchill, the great leader in war of a united nation, and Mr. Churchill, the party leader of the Conservatives’

‘The voice we heard last night was that of Mr. Churchill, but the mind was that of Lord Beaverbrook.

‘The Prime Minister made much play last night with the rights of the individual and the dangers of people being ordered about by officials. I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others.’

‘There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day. I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases.

For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor.

‘Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners. 

‘The Conservative Party remains as always a class Party. In twenty-three years in the House of Commons, I cannot recall more than half a dozen from the ranks of the wage earners. It represents today, as in the past, the forces of property and privilege. 

‘The Labour Party is, in fact, the one Party which most nearly reflects in its representation and composition all the main streams which flow into the great river of our national life.’

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