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The art of the possiblePolitics and governance in modern British history, 18851997: Essays in memory of Duncan Tanner$
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Chris Williams and Andrew Edwards

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719090714

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719090714.001.0001

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Myth and counter-myth in Second World War British politics

Myth and counter-myth in Second World War British politics

(p.121) 6 Myth and counter-myth in Second World War British politics
The art of the possible

Andrew Thorpe

Manchester University Press

Conventional wisdoms, narratives, stories and political myths are central to the history of political parties. In inter-war Britain, Labour tended to suffer at the hands of conventional wisdom. But war, and the dramatic reversal of Britain’s fortunes in 1939-40, led to an outpouring of vitriol against the record of the country’s inter-war Conservative party. The attack helped to overturn conceptions of Conservative competence, and – for Conservatives – symbolised the unfair attacks to which they believed they were being subjected. But Conservatives could not agree how to respond; and efforts to do so were hampered by Churchill’s desire to avoid undermining the unity of his Coalition government. It was only in early 1945 that Conservatives began to respond -- too late for their response to influence public opinion, but enabling the party’s activists to reunite in time for the 1945 election. In explaining the electoral reverse that followed, Conservatives coalesced around a view that the party had sacrificed its own organisation and broader welfare in wartime in the interests of the war effort, and while this was at best a very partial view, it took hold to a significant extent. This essay instead seeks to demonstrate the potential of political myths and the ways in which they can interact with each other.

Keywords:   Myths, Labour Party, Conservative Party, Second World War, Winston Churchill

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