Writing to President Roosevelt in 1942, Beaverbrook commented that where the old Liberal Party had been the main casualty of the last war, this time it was the Conservatives who were the victims.1 At the same time, one of the leading Conservative backbenchers, Lord William Scott, was writing that the party had ‘ceased to exist’ as an ‘effective body either in the House or in the country’.2 Nor can such opinions be dismissed as unduly pessimistic. The Conservatives did consistently badly in contested by-elections from 1942 to 1945, and in the election they went down to a defeat which was more shattering than anything since 1905–6; and all of this despite being led by the man who had become the national hero — Winston Churchill. Unsurprisingly the event had a traumatic effect on those members of the party who experienced it, and it had an effect upon the direction in which they pushed it after the war. Two questions arise, one obvious, the other not so frequently asked: what had gone wrong?; and was the disaster quite as total as has been claimed?
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