Friday, April 21, 2017

ON CHURCHILL

WSC was, by any measure, a great and controversial politician.   He was certainly a 'hands on' politician who must have driven his staff crazy.   He has his detractors and that is inevitable because his style of doing business led to some disastrous decisions.

He was a complex character born into the High Tory tradition who can nevertheless count among his achievements the establishment of Labour Exchanges (idea imported from the Kaiser's Germany); the institution of 'tea breaks' for workers and the creation of unemployment insurance.  

While he is perhaps best remembered for the leadership he provided during WW2 to my mind his finest hour was on 29 May 1940 when he faced down the War Cabinet (Churchill, Chamberlain and Halifax representing the Conservatives; Attlee and Greenwood, Labour, and Sinclair, Liberal) and the faction led by Lord Halifax (Holy Fox ... Anglican High Church with a love of fox hunting) who were arguing for a negotiated peace with Germany.    Holland had already surrendered; the Belgians had capitulated 14 hours earlier; the French were is disarray and the BEF had been cut off and concentrated around Dunkirk.    The Italian Embassy had sent a message to Halifax offering to mediate peace between Britain and Germany ... Halifax was strongly supportive of entering into 'negotiations'.   In his view the war was lost.   He proposed that Britain's opening gambit should be the surrender of various  assets ... not spelt out at the meeting but thought to have been Malta, Gibraltar and a share of the running of the Suez Canal.   He argued that they would get better terms before France surrendered  and before 'the Luftwaffe came over and destroyed 'our' aircraft factories'.  

The meeting was in stalemate (tending towards negotiations) when Churchill played his masterstroke and adjourned the meeting to reconvene at 7,00 pm.     He then convened a meeting of the full cabinet (including junior ministers) to argue against surrender.   He ended his speech with this almost Shakespearean climax "And I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender.  If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground".    They cheered and shouted and cheered him again to an echo.   Churchill had won.  By the time the War Cabinet resumed their meeting the debate was over.  Halifax abandoned his cause (to be exiled to Washington as Ambassador).

The stories about WSC are apocryphal.   Most of you will have heard the one where Bessie Braddock (Labour MP and formidable person by any standard) accosted him and accused him of being disgustingly drunk, and his reply was 'Madam, and you are ugly and the difference between you and me is that in the morning I'll be sober'.

I particularly like the one about one of his Ministers who was a 'bugger'.   He was always being caught but back then the Press weren't everywhere and nobody said anything.   One day he pushed his luck too far and was caught 'rogering' a Guardsman on a bech in Hyde Park at 3.00 am on a very cold February morning.   This was reported to the Chief Whip who rang Jock Colville, Churchill's Principal Private Secretary. "Jock" said the Chief Whip "I'm afraid I have some very bad news about ******.   It's the usual thing but the Press have got hold of it and it's bound to come out.   "Oh dear" said Colville.   "I really think I should come down and tell the Prime Minister".   "Yes, I suppose you should".

So the Chief Whip came down to Churchill's home at Chartwell and was ushered into the great man's study.   "Yes Chief Whip ... how can I help you".   The Chief Whip explained the unhappy situation "He'll have to go" he concluded.   There was a long pause while Churchill puffed his cigar.   Then he said "Did I hear your correctly in saying that ***** has been caught with a Guardsman?"   "Yes Prime Minister."    "In Hyde Park?"   "Yes Prime Minister."  "On a park bench?"   "That's right Prime Minister."  "At three o'clock in the morning?"   "That's correct Prime Minister."    "In this weather!  Good god man, it makes you proud to be British".      Priceless.,


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Cometh the hour, cometh the Man" Churchill's contribution to the winning of WW2 is well documented and the world owes a huge debt to the memory of this man. However we cannot brush his shortcomings under the table....he was anti democracy, an out and out racist and a terrible snob as was any British public schoolboy pre WW1.

An undoubted alcoholic and like Hitler a meddler in military matters his less brilliant decisions include Gallipoli As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland's Catholic civilians, and when the Kurds rebelled against British rule, he said: "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes...It would spread a lively terror."

When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he "ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back." As the resistance swelled, he announced: "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused – as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved – by the imperial policies of the British. Up to 3 million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits". At other times, he said the plague was "merrily" culling the population.

We cannot criticise because you cannot transfer the mindset of one generation to another in the distant future. New Zealanders of the early 20th century were exactly the same.

Lord Egbut

The Veteran said...

Egbut ... fair comment. But reflect on would might have happened if Halifax had won the argument. Britain would have become a vassal state of Germany. Churchill would have ended up in Mosley's cell and the King would have been forced to abdicate with David, his dilettante brother, installed on the throne complete with Queen Wallace. Certainly The Japanese would have become further emboldened and one could see Aust and NZL isolated and forced to concede Japanese hegemony over the Asia-Western Pacific region. Japanese would be a compulsory subject in the school curriculum ... and as for the whales???????

Paranormal said...

Bores Johnson does a good job of portraying the whole good and bad.