Friday, 30 January 2015

The other Winston Churchill

The orator, writer and inspirational war leader will be remembered predominantly as London celebrates the 50th anniversary of the progress of his cort├Ęge through her streets.

We will also hear the counter-message that Churchill was an imperialist, a warmonger and a xenophobe - Boyd Tonkin laid out most of the case for the prosecution in last Saturday's Independent. I would only add his fascination with biological and chemical weapons.

Churchill certainly enjoyed military action. Indeed, his reputation as a military officer who was no armchair warrior may have told against him when he was in the political wilderness and trying to reverse successive 1930s governments' refusal to rearm in the face of rising fascism on the continent. We should all be thankful that he finally succeeded in deposing the appeasing Conservative leadership, or we might now be living in poverty in a client state of a European Nazi empire, to which we would have had to yield most of our then empire. Without cross-party support from the two Clements, Labour's Attlee and the Liberal Davies, he might not have succeeded.

But there was another side to Churchill. He may have despised "lesser breeds without the law", but he had a feeling for the ordinary Briton which was rare in his class*. He formed a remarkable bond with David Lloyd George, the aristocrat and the scion of impoverished farming stock together seeing through some remarkable social improvements. Indeed, Nicholas Timmins in "the five giants" quotes Churchill as declaring that Liberalism was "the cause of the left-out millions". Backed by an indefatigable researcher and civil servant, the young William Beveridge, Churchill was responsible in whole or in part for the creation of a nationwide network of labour exchanges, the first UK unemployment insurance scheme and the first minimum wage legislation in the UK. Towards the end of the war, and long after he re-ratted to the Conservatives, he gave RA Butler his head in producing the 1944 Education Act.


* One example is his resistance to deploying the military against striking miners in Tonypandy in the face of overwhelming demands from the local civil authority, as this memo makes clear. It is depressing that senior Labour figures continue to retail the myth that Churchill fired on the miners.

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