The Historical Journal

Research Article



a1 American University


This article argues for the central role of publicity and propaganda in the Labour party's 1945 landslide election victory. While the ‘swing to the left’ in the first years of the war provided an opportunity for Labour, popular radicalism did not automatically translate into support for the party. The following discussion shows how the national party leadership made use of the BBC, print media, and visual propaganda to associate itself in the popular mind with the successes of the coalition government and the promises of the Beveridge report. While the Conservatives' propaganda machinery fell into abeyance during the war, Labour deftly exploited new means of mass communication which had grown up during the interwar period to build a broad national constituency in favour of its return to power. In order properly to understand the link between ‘high politics’ and popular opinion, political historians need to consider not only the languages through which elite policies were translated and communicated to the public, but also the media of communication. This article argues that, contrary to common perceptions, Labour was successful in 1945 in part because of its ability to embrace and exploit the new mass media to its political advantage.


c1 American University, Department of History, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016


* Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Contemporary British History seminar at the IHR, the 2008 European Social Science History conference in Lisbon, and the 2008 Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies in Pasadena, and I thank those involved, and particularly Pat Thane and Andrew Thorpe, for their feedback. Special thanks are owed to Lawrence Black, Stephen Brooke, Clare Jackson, and the journal's referees for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this article. Research funding was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain (PTA-026-27-1586).