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Churchill

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FILE NAME: CHURCHILL: SOLDIER, POLITICIAN,STATESMAN JOHNSTONE ASSIGNMENT 2

THE ASSIGNMENT THAT FOLLOWS HAS BEEN WRITTEN BY, AND IS ENTIRELY THE WORK OF PETER JOHNSTONE

‘Churchill’s reputation was at its peak between 1940 and 1941.’ Do you agree?

Any ‘peak’ requires troughs and mini peaks to accentuate the highest point. Looking at Churchill’s career in total, 1899/1901 are good years for him as a writer, adventurer and establishing himself as an MP. In 1904, he takes a dip when he crosses the floor and upsets the Conservatives for many years hence. In government (1908/11) , he established a reputation as something of a social reformer (Labour exchanges, minimum wages, insurance act, Labour and shop acts). Also, he improved his reputation further by doing excellent work as First Lord of the Admiralty 1911/15, but then came crashing to earth after the Dardenelles debacle. It recovered somewhat in 1917/19 as Minister of Munitions and then had mixed success from 1919/22, but his Russian adventure destroyed any reputation he might have had with the left. As a Conservative from 1924/29 his reputation took a further battering when, as Chancellor, he restored the gold standard. From 1929/39 he was at a low point: out of parliament, opposed the India Bill, was a lone voice for rearmament, defender of Edward V111. 1939/40 was an improvement as First Lord of the Admiralty –‘Winston’s back’ said the Navy, pleased.

The next two years were made for Churchill. The ferocity of the German military machine which struck across Europe in 1939/40 was unlike anything that had been seen before or envisaged (except by Churchill). Nobody in power in Britain or France was remotely able to face this challenge. Reynaud, Petain, Weygand had no answers, nor did the peace loving Chamberlain and the Christian Halifax have the stomach for what might lie ahead. It was a truly frightening situation for ‘western civilisation’.

Into this void strode Churchill: piratical, adventurous, bloody minded, determined, energetic, and not afraid of Hitler. There was simply no one else. First, he ‘mobilised the English language and set it into Battle’ and his speeches were ‘so hypnotic.. he bound his spell upon them (the people) until it seemed.. he was speaking what was in their hearts and minds.’(Isaiah Berlin) But he gained public support not just by talking, but by travelling round the country and being visible at the worst of times. ‘Winston’s going to be on’ the wireless was, according to Best, ‘almost a religious occasion’. Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador, also reported ‘Churchill thus far commands the support of the working class.

In Parliament too his reputation was at its height. George Lambert, veteran MP said in July 1940,’You have today the complete confidence of Parliament and the nation’. Finally, Brooke, that most ascerbic of commentators and least impressed by politicians , spoke for the military when he said ‘ He is quite the most wonderful man I have ever met’. After the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and the Oran incident his reputation in America grew.

Following America and Russia’s entry into the war and the military setbacks in 1942, Churchill reputation declined somewhat in tandem with British influence during the war, and in 1945 the people voted to go in a different direction. There was a brief spike in 51/52 when he returns to power, and although he becomes the grand old warrior continues to paint, lecture, his reputation never again reaches the heights it did in 1940/41.

REFERENCES:

Churchill: A study in greatness (Best)
Churchill: Four Faces and the Man (Taylor, Rhodes James,Plumb, Liddell Hart, Storr)
Finest Years: Max Hastings
Churchill: Roy Jenkins

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