1945 at 75: The Week That Made Modern Britain

July 26th 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the 1945 General Election result. The election itself was conducted three weeks earlier. While commentators across the globe predicted a landslide for Churchill, Labour hammered home their plans for social reform.

Here is a day by day account of the final week of campaigning in what would become a historic election for Britain.

Friday 29th June 1945

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A week to go in the election.

Churchill concludes a 1000 mile four day tour of the North in Edinburgh. At Princes Park, he is greeted by an estimated 100,000 people. In Glasgow he speaks to 50,000 and ‘eulogises the deeds of Scots in the war’

Churchill tells the crowd:

‘Now at the end of the European war we have a great position in the world. We have to sustain that position. We shall not do that without the greatest deployment of our energies, of our brains and of our talent that we have ever made’

In an emotional aftermath, with tears in his eyes – he claims: ‘I shall never look upon a scene like this again. So splendid. My memory will last with me for as long as I live’

As the parties enter the final weekend of campaigning, experts say about 33 million people have registered to vote.

The Daily Mirror ups its campaign ‘I’ll vote for him’ after it publishes a letter from a Mrs C Gardiner of Ilford. The paper supports her call to ‘use her vote on behalf of her husband’.

Gardiner had written that many men would be deprived of votes with proxies not certain to reach the destination in time. She claimed that the men had had no opportunity of studying the candidates.

In Lewisham, Labour’s Herbert Morrison calls on the voters to take up the Daily Mirror’s ‘I’ll Vote for Him’ message.

‘Women have got the responsibility of trying to interpret how their men in the Forces would want them to vote’

Morrison then quoted from the Gardiner’s letter:

‘He wants a good house with a bit of garden. He wants a job at a

fair wage, however hard the work may be. He wants a good education for the children. He wants to feel they won’t have to go through what he has gone through in this war’

Morrison says that ‘her husband’s ideals, his outlook and aspirations would require her to vote Labour’.

Morrison then took to the radio for his broadcast:

‘The election is about who is going to organise the producing power of our country and how and for what ends. It’s about whether a great national plan can win the peace’

The alternative was for ‘the speculators, the buccaneer barons of Fleet Street, the sluggish leaders of big business monopolies an cartels to sit comfortably for another shameful period of national decline’.

Liberal Sir William Beveridge – in a broadcast to the nation – urges the country not to fall for Churchill’s rhetoric again:

‘He demanded the last word. Remember as you listen that a last word cannot be answered. That is why every last word should be taken with a grain of salt’

Beveridge claims that his report would ‘set out a practical detailed plan for ensuring that every man and woman in Britain…shall then have an income as of right – enough to buy the necessaries of life’

‘If there had been three Liberal Ministers in the War Cabinet instead of Labour Ministers, the report would probably have been law by now’

In North Wales, a young soldier reports back from ‘his experience in Germany and Japan’. He tells a crowd that ‘everywhere I have travelled, Mr Churchill is loved and respected by all except the Germans who hate him’.

Harry Pollitt – Secretary of the Communist Party – uses an election broadcast to criticise the coal owners who have neglected working pits because they could not make sufficient profit out of them. He calls for immediate nationalisation.

Tribune – in their eve of election ‘Wallsheet edition’ – declare it a historic moment:

‘We have reached a point in the history of Britain where the Tories can no longer tolerate the continued growth of Labour. If they are returned to power they will concentrate their energy to break the rising strength of the people’

‘A Labour victory will inspire and together we shall be able rebuild our homes and make sure that we shall be able to enjoy the fruits of our labour in peace and international harmony’

‘Labour can win the election and also win the peace. Churchill cannot do it. This is the issue of July 5th.’

Saturday 30th June 1945

 

Churchill gives his final broadcast from Chequers and states that he could not under any circumstances serve in a Labour Government. Attlee immediately responds that he must be ‘badly rattled’.

Churchill says ‘I am convinced that I can help you through the dangers and difficulties of the next few years with more advantage than would fall to others and I am ready to try my best’

Churchill resents the election Labour has forced – and that it has been conducted as ‘a flood of violent altercations and extreme bitterness has broken loose’

Churchill instead speaks fondly of the late coalition that people ‘would have been well pleased to give it a vote of confidence’.

He warns that of falling into ‘faction and party politics’ under Labour which would ensure a ‘loss of influence upon other nations’. He argued that ‘in an incredibly short space of time we might fall to the ranks of a secondary power’.

He finishes with an appeal to the voters:

‘I have an invincible confidence in the genius of Britain. I believe in the instinctive wisdom our well tried democracy’

Responding to the charge, Attlee declares it a ‘disgraceful’ attack:

‘He must indeed be badly rattled to stoop to making such charges against colleagues who served with him so loyally’

The New York Times reports that Churchill ‘will get his majority’ but ‘even he will not know how great or how slim until July’

The paper says that ‘there can be no doubt that the great mass have no desire to return’ to the pre-war world of unemployment but ‘the chance of a thoroughgoing change does not appear to have arrived yet’

Mass Observation records little enthusiasm for the election at all in London. ‘Only one in seven feel happy or elated, a third feel no different from the war, fifteen per cent depressed generally while many argued there should be no election at all.’

The Observer reports that ‘election fireworks are exploding rather damply. Part seriousness, party apathy and psychological flatness of a restless rather than passive kind’

The Guardian visits the coalfields of Wigan, Ince and Leigh to gage the mood. They report ‘the heart of the Lancashire coalfield is a Labour solid block and seems likely to remain so’

Sunday 1st July 1945

The campaign hits the final week with major speeches across the country.

In Peckham, Attlee calls Churchill a ‘mass of inconsistencies’ for on the lamenting the end of the coalition but claiming that Labour Ministers would ‘reveal Cabinet and military secrets to outsiders’.

Over the weekend, the Sunday Times had claimed a Conservative landslide was in sight ‘unless there is some radical change in public judgment at the last moment’

Reynolds News, however, reports that ‘from all parts of Britain, there is a big swing over to Labour candidates. Labour is certain to win a substantial number of seats’.

After the Guardian claims the contest would be ‘nearer than the Tories seem to imagine’ the Express calls it ‘a strange commentary on the claims that anti-government forces are sweeping the country’

Beaverbrook’s Express reports that Labour have already given up any hope of victory:

Their last hope is to work hard to bring out the vote ‘to impress the Government with the fact that there is strong opposition’ but ‘not any longer in the hope that this will lead to the election of a Socialist Government’

And that the Tories had received reports from all across the country from ‘election experts’ which pointed to a Conservative landslide. The Express claims the reports are ‘objective and impartial’ as they are not for public release.

Arthur Greenwood rejects this in a speech in Halifax

‘Some people say we are not out to win the election. I can tell you, that we have three times as much money in the kitty as we had at any previous election. I have no intention of putting it down the drain to fight a defeatist battle’.

‘At the rate of progress between 1918 and 1939 the Conservative Party policy would take not three years to carry out but three hundred years’

In Peckham, Clement Attlee rejects the allegation – made by Churchill – that Harold Laski would be deciding foreign policy via a committee. Attlee says ‘this vile suggestion is false’

Attlee claimed it was Churchill ‘who has deliberately lowered the whole tone of the contest in his first broadcast with his closest friend the chief mud slinger’

Attlee called Churchill a ‘mass of inconsistencies’ for on the one hand lamenting the end of the coalition government but on the other claiming that Labour Ministers would ‘reveal Cabinet and military secrets to outsiders’

‘He can’t have it both ways. As a matter of fact: he knows perfectly well from experience that this vile suggestion is false’

In Norwich, Herbert Morrison also rejects the Laski conspiracy:

‘I don’t want to be unkind to Churchill but that the men who worked side by side with the Prime Minister to suddenly become conspirators against the state. That is nonsense’

Morrison urged the electorate to move on from the War

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‘This election is not to determine who won the European war but to determine the future policy of this country’

In Chester, more than 1000 people wait two and a half hours to hear Ernie Bevin speak after his car had breaks down in Leicester. When Bevin arrives he tells them:

‘Everyone believes in one days rest and I couldn’t get anyone to do the repairs. I expect the railwaymen will laugh’

Bevin returns to the issue of controls: ‘Labour would fight to retain controls until they were satisfied that neither through shortage nor trusts could the people be robbed’

Before an attack on Churchill:

‘You will agree that never was there a more disgraceful episode over the wireless than that (Gestapo) speech. If you compare the broadcast with that of our leader you have not far to go to decide which is nature’s gentleman’.

In Bristol, Sir Stafford Cripps harks back to the failure of war preparations:

‘It is not surprising that after Dunkirk we had only six tanks to meet the enemy after having 1,000,000 unemployed’

‘When we got rid of Chamberlain the first thing we did was to take over the whole organisation of industry and finance. It is because we did that, we were able to celebrate victory in Europe this year’

‘Let us learn from the lesson of this War and apply what we have learnt to the problems of peace’

Meanwhile Gavin Henderson (Lord Faringdon) speaks in Staffordshire about the abolition of the Lords

‘I am certain that the Labour Government will have the most bitter opposition and even sabotage from the House of Lords. I know that place. Labour will have a mandate to abolish the Lords if necessary’

George Tomlinson – supporting Barbara Castle in Blackburn – warns of false scare stories in the media:

‘Somebody will come along and tell you of the dire consequences that will happen if you send the Socialists back’

‘Mr Churchill, great though he might be as a war leader, would have been helpless and hopeless without the assistance of Mr Ernest Bevin’

In Bucklow, ‘disorderly scenes’ bring a debate to a halt at the Electra Cinema hall. Lieutenant Shepherd had incited the crowd when he claimed socialism appeals to the lowest instincts in society ‘not to be the best man but be the worst’

Declaring he would not kowtow to ‘socialist hooliganism’ Shepherd declared ‘We can’t continue this debate. I shall have to go’. The Guardian reported that the Tories refused to pay their share for the hiring of the cinema so Labour supporters raised the £20 10s required.

Monday July 2nd 1945

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Hundreds of thousands turn out to see Churchill, as London comes to a standstill. The Daily Mirror focuses on the housing crisis facing millions ‘Family – No Home – Father – No Vote’

Churchill begins his election ‘homecoming tour’ of London with a five hour trip.

The press reports ‘the people could not hear him over the uncontrollable din but waited two hours in the rain to see him’

‘They held him up, mobbed him, slapped his back, tried to grip his hands and shouted ‘Good old Winnie’ and gave the V sign as if it were a victory celebration, not an electoral campaign’

He was also booed in Paddington, Marylebone and Walham Green.

The Manchester Guardian remarks that ‘it is an astonishing display of vitality, physical and mental, in a man of 70 – Tory gratitude to him ought to be unlimited and abiding whatever the result’.

Churchill continues his attack on Labour – that Harold Laski will be in charge of foreign policy and Ministers will not be able to withhold state secrets from the NEC.

The ‘Laski Bogy’ emerges as Churchill’s final warning against a Labour Government: ‘We have learned a great deal more than we knew before about the powers of the National Executive Committee’.

Attlee is judged to have ‘wisely lost no time in answering the Prime Minister and in demonstrating that the Parliamentary Labour Party is completely autonomous’

Even The Times admits that the Laski attacks have failed to connect with an electorate.

Attlee opts for a more muted affair by addressing a rally in his Limehouse constituency. He claims there is a simple choice:

‘The (Tories) mistake the intelligence of the electors. People know very well what they want. They want just the same things now as they wanted at the end of the last war’

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Attlee contrasted Churchill’s Presidential campaign to his strong team:

‘We have today a great team of men who have held high office, have taken responsibility and have shown they can govern. Give us the chance to govern. We have never had it yet’

Attlee compared Labour’s planning to the Normandy landings:

‘When we planned the great operation there were thousands of details. When the show came off it went according to plan. That is the lesson – if you want to get results you must work for it and leave nothing to chance’

‘We don’t believe that reorganization should be left to chance. It should be planned and we must have an object for which we are planning’.

In Watford, Herbert Morrison maintained that Labour can still win despite the newspapers calling it for Churchill:

‘I believe we of the Labour Party have got victory within our grasp provided we work for it with tenacity, calmness and supreme energy’

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It comes as many papers put the Tories on course for a 100 seat majority.

Morrison adds: ‘The real questions the electors must decide is how best to give the people a good and advancing living after the war and how best to help lead other nations from war to lasting prosperity’.

In contrast to the celebrations in London, the Daily Mirror reports on the children still sleeping in Anderson Shelters.

‘An ANDERSON where she, Billy and Frank, homeless through bombing, have lived since October last year…Her husband has no proxy or postal vote’

Mrs Orpin told the Mirror ‘I’m going to vote the way I know my husband would want me to vote – he wants somebody in power who can really give us homes’

In Wakefield, Anthony Greenwood accused Churchill of the ‘Fuhrer Principle’ ‘a principle foreign and abhorrent to the British people’. He accuses him of gate-crashing radio broadcasts, going over the allotted time, side-lining ministers and going over the allotted time.

‘He had endeavoured to make the election a personal matter, taking on his shoulders full individual responsibility for the fortunes of his party and rendering his followers ciphers with no contribution to make to the struggle’

In South Hetton, Manny Shinwell claims that Churchill is finished ‘It appears to me that Mr Churchill has lost his temper and his sense of proportion. He should be thoroughly ashamed’

In Earlsfield, south London, Ernie Bevin promises to repeal the Trade Disputes Act – against criticism that he didn’t do it during the War:

‘We would have broken the national unity if we had done it. The war was the urgent thing’

On the Conservative side, in Glasgow, Chancellor Sir John Anderson argues in favour the nationalisation of water:  ‘I would also support the nationalisation of the distribution of electricity if a good scheme could be produced’.

However he adds ‘ for our great competitive industries that will have to hold their own against competition abroad – not on your life. It is on them that we have to rely to build up our exports. It is little short of madness to even talk of nationalisation’.

Mrs Churchill issues a booklet which pays tribute to Russia. After returning from Russia on behalf of the Red Cross, she declares ‘that there is no happiness before us or the world unless the great Soviet Union and the English speaking world know each other and remain friends’.

One person who will not be able to vote is the Prime Minister himself. His name had been left off the electoral register by mistake. This came from 1943 when identity cards were changed and Churchill kept his old one as he was out of the country.

Tuesday July 3rd 1945

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Churchill is booed at Walthamstow Stadium over Britain’s housing crisis as sections of the crowd chant ‘We want Labour’

The Tory candidate responds: I am sure they are going to get a thrashing such as their party has never received since it was born’.

Churchill was booed from the start at Walthamstow. He tried to address the hostilities:

‘In a free country like ours, which has fought for freedom all over the world and gained it for many countries that never knew it – in a free country everyone has a perfect right to cheer or boo as much as he likes’

Taking on the protestors, Churchill asserted that ‘The winners cheer and the beaten boo’

‘But it is a serious question if interruptions are made with the opportunity and intention of stopping free speech.

‘Nothing is easier than to prevent free speech but the only result of doing that is to reduce ourselves to totalitarian states that were established by Hitler and Mussolini’

‘Anyone who interrupts in an organised manner a great public gathering is guilty of those very crimes which our soldiers have swept away across Europe with fire and sword’

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On the issue of housing, Churchill was cheered after he championed private enterprise:

‘Look out. Hold on to your chairs. This is one you will not like – two thirds of the houses built before the war were built by private enterprise.

He told the protestors to ‘have a good boo about that’.

But ‘pandemonium followed’ with the crowd turning on him after he argues that

Attlee, Bevin and Morrison should also be blamed for the housing shortages if he is.

He responds ‘another two minutes will be allowed for booing of you like’.

A large section from the left of the crowd began to chant ‘We want Labour’. Churchill responds ‘That is exactly the cause – we wanted Labour’.  The Manchester Guardian reported that this ‘brought down the house and ‘put everyone in good humour again’

But soon after the boos started again. Churchill decided to stop speaking and confront them:

‘Come on again. That’s right, come on again!’

Churchill then provoked further anger when he talked of Labour’s ‘foolish faction fights about idiotic ideologies and philosophical dreams of absurd Utopia’s’

Against more booing, he concluded: ‘They have no chance of carrying them out. They are going to be defeated at this election in the most decisive manner’.

As Churchill exited, the Conservative candidate in Walthamstow East declared ‘I give my entire forgiveness to the booers. I am sure they are going to get a thrashing such as their party has never received since it was born’.

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It comes as the Express warn against political apathy letting Labour in through the back door

In East Lewisham, Herbert Morrison accuses Churchill of making up scare stories to prevent the real issues from being debated:

‘They do not want the people to have a voice in shaping the policy of the next Government in industrial affairs’

Morrison warned that the Tories ‘are seeking a free hand to disregard the public interest in these matters and to get back to a lack of plan and system for our industrial and economic policy’

Morrison claimed that Churchill ‘has not made a singles serious contribution. On the contrary he has stooped with the rest of them in raking round the Tory garbage bin, distracting the public with inventions, scares and irrelevant matters’

Bevin accused Churchill of political stunts in Streatham:

‘The desire of the people is to decide the election on policy and not on political stunts. The way the campaign is proceeding is to try to turn Great Britain into a one man show.’

Bevin warned that Churchill’s one man show ‘would start you on the road to disaster. The Parliamentary institution, with Cabinet Government, is the right institution for this country and one which must be maintained at all costs’

In Bury St Edmonds, Margaret Bondfield argues that coal nationalisation ‘is going to decrease the cost of coal. Unless we get the coal situation cleared up and obtain cheaper and more coal you are going to hamstring other industries’.

Wednesday 4th July 1945

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As commentators predict a 100 seat Tory victory, Churchill is jeered and cheered by thousands. One boy throws a firecracker at him and he is forced to leave via police escort.

A thread on the final day of campaigning in the 1945 Election

The illegal betting markets remained confident too. Small secret trades continued to take place and in 1945, bookmakers offered 5/1 on a Labour victory. Few, it was claimed, were enticed into backing Labour.

The Manchester Guardian calls it for the Tories:

‘There is no reason to be other than frank about these matters. The chances of Labour sweeping the country and obtaining a clear majority over all other parties are pretty remote’

The Times also reports that ‘the least probable outcome of all on the evidence is a Labour landslide’.

The Daily Mirror urges its readers to ‘Vote For Him’

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The Conservative media talked of a historic landslide for Churchill. Lord Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard claimed ‘favourite figures range from 100 upwards’.

On his last day of campaigning, Churchill relied on his war energies to mobilise support: ‘We are going to win. I feel it in my bones’.

Churchill was clear about the threat. ‘If there should be a landslide to the left here, many countries on the Continent would slide, not in to decent socialism, but in to the violence of communism. If we go down, all the nine-pins of Europe will fall’.

Only the final day, 1500 public meetings were held. Churchill opted to make his final appeal in a tour of London.

At Camberwell Green, he was said to have been jeered by thousands. At Walworth Road, the crowd was so hostile that he had to be rescued by a police escort.

At Tooting Bec Common, a 17 year old is arrested after throwing a firecracker at Churchill. After the crowd tackle him, Churchill responds:

‘Leave him alone. Don’t hurt the little fool’.

Observing all this, the Washington Post’s Marquis Childs declared Attlee to have ‘politically speaking, all the appeal of a lonely clam’. Churchill, ‘the greatest living figure of our time, may occupy the driver’s seat in England for a long time to come’

For Attlee, speaking at Bethnal Green baths, this was now a time for change:

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‘We are asking that, for the first time in the history of Britain, the working class party should be given power to carry out a policy that puts the interests of the common man first’

Harold Laski spoke in Kensington. He claimed the election was not about:

‘whether Mr Churchill deserves a vote of gratitude’ but ‘the issue is the future of British civilisation in the context of the future of the free world’

In Wandsworth, Bevin claimed that Churchill’s comments about socialism in Europe had been unhelpful

‘You have got to meet round a table to make peace’

In Wakefield, Greenwood claimed Labour is heading for a historic victory

‘Churchill has finally been trounced by Attlee. The Tories have become more and more panic stricken as the days have gone by. Our strength in the country is far greater than ever it has been before. Toryism is played out’.

In Bishop Auckland, Hugh Dalton lamented Churchill’s tone in the campaign:

‘For those of us who served at his side through the darkest days of the war, we have watched with surprise and regret his pathetic decline during this campaign’

Dalton argued that ‘his recent performances has lost the respect and the good will of millions in the war years who would have followed him to the end’

He observed that ‘the electors will not be deceived by this prostitution of a great name’

In East Lewisham, Herbert Morrison read out a letter from a soldier serving in Germany that declared many of the troops had been deprived of the vote.

Quoting from the letter he said ‘we put our faith in the people at home to do the right thing by us and give us the people in power we want’

Morrison then returned to an attack on Churchill: ‘He gets more dictatorial as the days go past.’

Morrison warned him ‘you have not seen the last of Herbert Morrison. I will look out for him on the front Opposition bench’

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In Blackburn, Barbara Castle addressed an eve of poll meeting of 3000 people alongside Sir Hartley Shawcross, the MP for St Helens.

She did not expect to overturn a Tory majority of 3,500.

Thursday 5th July 1945 

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Britain heads to the polls for the first time in a decade.

It was calculated that there were ‘1,683 candidates fighting with 522 drawn from the services’

The day began quietly with ‘brilliant sunshine but with a threat of rain’.

The Manchester Guardian observed that ‘women directly affected by domestic issues provided a substantial part of the total poll’.

The Daily Mail reported that 5/1 was still being offered on the stock exchange on a Labour victory ‘but there were very few takers’. A trader admitted that ‘there has been less betting on this election than any other’.

One person who would not be able to vote was the Prime Minister as Churchill’s name was left off the electoral register by mistake.

Churchill toured his Woodford constituency to shore up his vote:

‘People like to see the bloke’ he told supporters, ‘they don’t like to think there is some fellow in the background pulling wires and giving orders and never putting himself before the people’

On polling day, Churchill again asserted his confidence in the people

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‘It is going to be a great day for England. I want you to give me a great majority’

This came from 1943 when identity cards were changed and Churchill kept his old one as he was out of the country.

The Express reported that Churchill’s Government is ‘almost certainly in’ with Labour and Liberal strategists declaring ‘off the record’ defeats. The most cautious Tory estimate was said to be a victory between 60 and 90 seats.

On polling day it was announced that Churchill would be taking a break and going on holiday. During his absence, Anthony Eden is to take charge of Cabinet meetings.

Attlee spent the day knocking up the vote in Limehouse, starting his rounds at 10am.

In Central Wandsworth, Bevin is reported to be in danger of losing his seat to the a Conservative General who held the Victoria Cross. A straw poll done on the day showed Bevin winning with a slender 6 out of 10 votes.

After voting in Lewisham, Herbert Morrison told reporters ‘the polling is going very well indeed’.

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In Durham, Hugh Dalton claims that early signs are good and that Labour may well win all eighteen seats in the County.

In Tottenham, Labour raise concern that 200 of their supporters have not been included on the register.

Labour HQ were optimistic about their prospects:

‘If I am to believe the reports reaching us from our agents up and down the country we gather that the people have voted heavily. We are very optimistic about the chances of our candidates’

The Manchester Guardian reported that some voters had been mystified by the voting process with many coming out for the first time. Some voters were said to be under the impression that Churchill was standing in every constituency.

In Hammersmith, it was reported that a voter had been mystified by Churchill’s name not appearing on her ballot that she wrote it in herself and put a cross beside it.

The New York Times reported a sense of anti-climax:

‘Having got this off their chests, the British seem to be willing to go back to their homes and jobs as if nothing has happened’.

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There was to be a three week delay between the vote and the result to allow time for the service vote to be counted. There were also 24 seats in the north and in Scotland that did not hold a vote due to the beginning of the holiday season.

When the polls closed at 9pm, the ballots were then put in the basements of town halls, where they were to be kept for the next three weeks.

In Manchester a special watchman was employed to keep a check on them night and day.

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