Waugh and the 1945 General Election

Waugh returned to England via Italy from his assignment in Yugoslavia on 15 March 1945. He devoted the last few weeks in Italy to stirring up opposition to the new Communist regime of Marshall Tito. He spent most of the time in the Hyde Park Hotel with brief trips to Pixton Park where his family was located as well as to Oxford and Belton. During this period he also became acquainted with the American literary critic Edmund Wilson; he was not impressed. He spent some time trying to disengage himself from the Army, and Fitzroy Maclean gave him permission to present his position on the Tito regime to government officials, editors and others. In May, he retreated to Chagford to start work on Helena and avoid V-E Day. See previous post.

Looking back at the war, he wrote in his diary:

I regard the greatest danger I went through that of becoming one of Churchill’s young men, of getting a medal and standing for Parliament; if things had gone, as then seemed right, in the first two years, that is what I should be now. I thank God to find myself still a writer  and at work on something as “uncontemporary” as I am. [Diaries, 6 May 1945, p. 627]

He was also probably looking forward to the General Election that was inevitable after V-E Day and was, later in the month, called for 5 July 1945. Waugh had left Chagford, “deeply depressed”, and went to London via Pixton. On 28 May, he commented in his diary: “All my friends and enemies are standing for parliament. I do not envy them at all.” (Diaries, p. 627).  By 1 July, writing from Pixton, he declared: “The General Election is being a great bore.” (Diaries, p. 628) The day before the results were announced he wrote his wife from London: “Now that the election results are imminent, I have got quite excited about them.” (Letters, p. 209) The ballots were not counted until 25 July because of the need to collect votes from troops stationed overseas. After the results were announced, Waugh wrote on 28 July: “Election day, the day before yesterday, was a prodigious surprise. I went to White’s at about 11. Results were already coming in on the tape and, in an hour and a half it was plainly an overwhelming defeat.” (Diaries, p. 629)

Anthony Powell was later to comment in a review of the published Diaries that Waugh’s feigned relief at not having been standing with his friends for a seat was an example of his “complete lack of self-awareness regarding himself and his own behavior” despite the fact that in other respects Waugh’s diaries provided an “unvarnished picture of himself.” The Conservatives and most of “Churchill’s young men” (including his son Randolph) decisively lost the election, not that Waugh ever stood much of a chance of being selected as a candidate. It should perhaps be noted that Randolph had been “elected” to Parliament in 1940, standing as a Conservative in an uncontested wartime by-election. That was the seat he lost in 1945. A few days after the loss, according to Waugh, Randolph was again looking for a chance to regain his MP status in a safe district by-election.

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