October 20, 2017

1950. Election Campaigning in the United Kingdom Enters Final Days

Early Predictions Indicate Close Race as Election Day Nears
From left to right, analysts David Butler, R. B. McCallum, and Chester Wilmot are seated in a BBC studio at Alexandra Palace as they await the results of the UK general election, February 23, 1950  (source)
Bill Downs

CBS London

February 20, 1950 (Sevareid show)

The British people tonight are watching the winding-up of one of the most important election campaigns in their history with a great and enthusiastic display of unruffled calm.

Conservative Winston Churchill spoke in Manchester a couple of hours ago. He repeated his proposal for raising the question of the atomic bomb and relations with Russia, saying that his proposition "has rolled around the world and may have created a new situation." He charged that Labour politicians take a poor view of democracy in opposing international issues in the current campaign.

An hour ago I returned from a meeting in working class Battersea, where Sir Stafford Cripps spoke to two-thousand people.

The Labour finance minister discussed domestic issues, but the significant thing about the meeting was the obvious lack of interest of the people in Mr. Churchill's atomic conference proposal. They asked questions about housing, the cost of living, food supplies, and taxation—but not one mention of an international issue except how the Marshall Plan would affect their own lives.

It would appear that the Conservative attempt to make this a "war-or-peace crisis election" has not yet had much effect, at least not in London's Battersea.

The Conservative press today claims there has been a last-minute swing to the right away from socialism. Authorities of the Gallup poll say they have no such evidence, that Labour still maintains a slight lead in the public opinion poll.

The truth of the matter is that no one knows how the election will go on Thursday. CBS reporters and a swarm of other American correspondents have been going over this country with a comb trying to determine the answer.

An informal poll of my colleagues in radio news and representing the American press finds most of them convinced that Labour will win—it is personal observation, however, for few of them are writing it.

This is Bill Downs in London. Now back to Eric Sevareid in Washington.

Bill Downs

CBS London

February 21, 1950

The British elections are less than forty-eight hours away, and British politicians, like the American variety, are beginning to worry about the weather, about the vote, and about the possibility that when the polling ends on Thursday they might be out of jobs.

There are more than 30,000 polling places where the people will vote in England, Scotland, and Wales. The Conservatives are hoping that election day will be blessed with a North Atlantic gale, for the they feel that their Tory backers are angry enough to wade through fire to cast their votes—also they own more automobiles in which to travel to the polls.

In the Labour Party camp, there is fear that their socialist voters may get complacent—and if the weather is bad, that Labourites, particularly in the rural areas, will not bother to go to the polls.

All indications are that this election is so close than an unknown factor such as the weather could possibly swing the result one way or the other.

Labour's campaign manager, Herbert Morrison, said an hour ago that as far as the socialists are concerned the situation "looks good, feels good, and smells good."

Conservative leader Lord Woolton said yesterday that the Tories are leading an extremely close race and expressed confidence in a right-wing victory.

Last night, as you might have heard, Dr. Henry Durant told CBS that his Gallup poll computations slowed Labour slightly in the lead at this point.

Frankly, none of the CBS election reporters are willing to stick out their necks on a prediction. I made a poll of the army of American reporters who have been covering these campaigns the past two weeks.

All of us have been combing the country trying to find the answer to the big question.

The consensus among most Americans here is that Labour will remain in power, but few reporters are sure enough to put it into a story.

This is Bill Downs in London. Now back to Don Hollenbeck in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS London

February 22, 1950 (Hottelet show)

Conservative and Labour politicians are searching for last-minute campaign material in President Truman's speech tonight. But early reaction to the speech from London newspapers has not been decisive. As one Conservative editor said, "It was a speech that can be interpreted either way."

In other words, little likelihood of any charge of American intervention in the British election because of the Truman speech.

The Churchill Conservatives may make use of Mr. Truman's suggestion that the United States does not necessarily take unequivocal pride of authorship in the Baruch control plan. This could be interpreted as support of Churchill's proposal for a high-level conference on atomic control.

At the same time, the Labour socialists could see support for their program of dealing through the United Nations, not precluding top-level consultations, in Mr. Truman's statement that he is opposed to any "sham agreement;" that the only sound agreement will be on a full-scale international basis.

The British election has wound up tonight with an untoward incident—untoward because it is the only fistfight reported from a major political meeting in three weeks of campaigning among thirty-four and one-half million Britons.

One gentleman struck another gentleman tonight at a London political meeting held by Conservative Party leader Lord Woolton. The gentlemen were escorted outside to finish their debate.

Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee spent the day kissing babies and ringing doorbells for the press and radio in another London suburb. Winston Churchill stayed home while his Conservative colleagues continue to predict victory. The Labourites are doing the same.

This election is so close that any factor affecting the polling might contribute to victory or defeat. The Conservatives feel that bad weather would keep Labour voters away. The socialists feel that good weather would increase their vote.

The weather report for election day tomorrow is: "Mainly fair in the eastern districts...occasional slight rain in Southwest England, Wales, and West Scotland which will spread slowly eastward reaching the London area towards midnight..."

The weather report ends: "Polling stations open at 7 AM."

This is Bill Downs in London. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS London

February 23, 1950 (Thomas show)

The whole of the British Isles tonight is casualty to "election fatigue." And this afternoon, as Winston Churchill's Conservatives gradually closed in on the Labour Party lead, the very proper British began to forget their dignity. A hush settled over the land as the entire nation crowded around its radio sets to hear the dispassionate, inevitable voice of the BBC announcer say:

"Here's a result from Little Chickleworth on the Creeping. A Labour victory," he'd say. Or a Conservative victory. And occasionally a Liberal win.

For five hours this afternoon, the British election was the most exciting and fascinating sporting event this part of the world has witnessed for many years.

Labour started strong this morning sixty-two seats ahead, but about two o'clock the Tory votes began to pour in.

The Conservatives never passed the socialist lead, but for a while they were closing in like a political equipoise. Only when the Labour vote from Wales and Scotland began appearing tonight did Labour pull ahead to gain its present narrow majority.

Mr. Churchill seems to be taking this election with more aplomb and great, good humor than any other individual in the United Kingdom. He, more than any other person, headed the swing to the right that the results have so clearly shown.

He showed up at the Tory headquarters this evening, looking—at seventy-five—younger than most of his colleagues who had stayed up most of the night with him to follow the results.

A newsboy on Regent Street is a pretty good example of what happened. These elderly gentlemen chalk up their own headlines on sheets of paper to announce the news and sell their papers. I walked past one stand several times.

Once, the sheets said "Sensational Labor Gains." An hour or so later it was changed: "Sensational Tory Comeback." And this evening his sign simply said "Sensational." That's what it is.

This is Bill Downs in London. Now back to Lowell Thomas in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS London

February 23, 1950 (Murrow show)

The theme that almost became a monotony in the reports of today's election count were the dreary words: "And the Liberal candidate loses his deposit."

Britain's Liberal Party, which under men like William Gladstone once dominated this land, took the most humiliating beating probably ever administered in this democracy. They entered 475 candidates—and it cost $320 each to do it.

The Liberals elected only eight candidates so far. More than three hundred of them lost their election stake—a total of some $96,000. The money, incidentally, goes to the treasury.

Actually the Liberals polled more votes this year than they did in 1945—something like two million, six hundred thousand.

And to represent this hard core of Liberal opinion are only eight parliamentary members—a paradox of the British electoral system.

They have excellent leadership under Clement Davies and Lady Megan Lloyd George, daughter of the former prime minister.

And as one Liberal told me in discussing the close Labour-Tory division, "We Liberals now can certainly be a bloody nuisance."

The ghost of Gladstone may be greatly reduced in size, but it is no less vigorous. The Liberal Party is the only party to survive today's Labour-Tory steamroller. Except for them, Britain now has a two-party system.

The Liberals say that if there is to be another British election soon, "then chum, we are ready to have another go."