Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | September 5, 2017

What Would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 27)

Winston is now freshly reborn as a Conservative MP in the English Parliament having won the pivotal Oldham election and is eager to make his mark in this rarefied atmosphere of political debate, intellectual jousting, and fiery discourse…

As luck would have it, the year 1901 opened with the death of Queen Victoria after a long reign of nearly sixty-four years. Five kings and forty members of the royal families of Europe followed her funeral cortege on its long and solemn
procession through the streets of London.

A month later King Edward VII, ostensibly the biological father of this young parliamentarian Winston Churchill, opened his first session, of his first Parliament, and it was in this very Parliament that Winston Churchill right then also made his debut.

Imagine the coincidences or the nudges of the Universe putting father and illegitimate son in the same Parliamentary chamber, for their novice appearance, as newbies in their respective role. And it has indeed been recorded that Winston spoke to King Edward on this occasion in a relaxed and friendly manner after all the Royal pomp and circumstance were dispensed with through the official “Opening of the Parliament.”

Indeed reinvigorated Winston Churchill was happier than he ever expected to be, especially since he made certain that his errant father saw his success at accomplishing the feat of becoming a Parliamentarian single handedly on his own.

Fancy that…

And as patience goes, WInston exhibited massive amounts of it, because he sat in the House of Commons as a backbencher, for five whole years. And those five long years might now justly appear in history as a bridge between the peace and power of the Victorian age, and the violence of the new century, trailing in its wake global wars, turbulent reforms, and the steady decline of the great British Empire, and it’s world supremacy.

However, few Members of the Parliament of 1901 were aware that an era had ended. Mainly because during Queen Victoria’s lifetime Britain had risen from a largely agricultural country, to the greatest industrial nation, and the greatest empire in the world, seemingly unaware of the impossible strides that they had made in a few short decades…

 

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But not Winston Churchill, who was fully aware of the process his country was making i comparison to all others, because he had already traveled to most of the important continents and countries of the World, by this time, and indeed because he had even fought pitched battles in some of those continents… spilling his own blood and that of many enemies, and also sadly leaving behind dead mates, and fellow soldiers and officers cut down in their best youth, to mark the earth crimson, where they had so honorably fallen, fighting for the ideals of Progress, Democracy, Liberty, and Western Christian Civilization.

So Winston was able to see things far more clearly, for what they were, because he thought and voiced his opinion, that Queen Victoria was a great Hegemon — both at home and abroad.

Some say that at home, Queen Victoria and the whole of England together trod the path of slow, steady reform, in safety margins, as provided by the comfortable knowledge of a well ordered, wealthy, and secure existence.

But that would be far from the Truth.

Indeed the British Empire of the Victorian era, favored taking risks, as the strong, unrivaled, and unbridled Navy, proved. Great Britain at the time favored a great seaborne Marine & Military Expeditionary Force, not only in order to protect her home shores, but also in order to provide safety and security for her far-flung trade routes, and for her globally dispersed British subjects, same as for the provisions of all the many Commonwealth Nations. This massive military and naval establishment, along with a global Civil Service, is what enabled her to remain aloof from all continental quarrels, and to use her wealth for the benefit of mankind.

As it stood at the time, England and the British Empire, had not taken part in a conflict in western Europe, since the defeat of Napoleon eighty-six years before.

Yet it now might seem that Queen Victoria’s policy was one of Splendid Isolation, but that is totally wrong. Indeed from the time and largely through the efforts of Disraeli and all his great predecessors, the project of empire building through the great English Navy — was that made possible so that Queen Victoria could safely claim that she went from Queen to Empress, within her own lifetime.

Many members amongst the Parliamentarians of 1901 saw no reason to doubt the Victorian creed. At home this faith was based on the firm conviction that Britain’s astonishing success was due to the rule of an educated and enlightened oligarchy as the heads of the Republic. At the same time Britain was the greatest Democracy the world had ever seen. With a parliament with a thousand years tradition stemming all the way from the Magna Carta and beyond, this was a true Democracy as much as ancient Athens was, and as much a Republic as much as ancient Rome, ever were.

Indeed, the harnessing together of these two political conceptions might be described as the most ingenious achievement of the Victorian age. Foreigners were openly puzzled by the strange paradox of a democracy governed by an oligarchy, and it is only fair to add that even the English were surprised that it worked. When it became apparent in the last forty years of Victoria’s reign that the democratic idea was gathering strength, and that pressure was increasing for an extension of the franchise, the English upper classes became alarmed. The great constitutional writer, Walter Bagehot, stated firmly: “Sensible men of substantial means are what we wish to be ruled by.” He went on to warn “that a political combination of the lower classes … is an evil of the first magnitude; that their supremacy in the state they now are, means the supremacy of ignorance over instruction and of numbers over knowledge. So long as they are not taught to act together there is a chance of this being averted, and it can only be averted by the greater wisdom and foresight in the higher classes.” Under Disraeli and Gladstone the vote was widely extended. Those who voiced apprehension forgot that the British public had been taught
to respect its betters; and when the newly-enfranchised, class-conscious mass went to the polls in 1885, and again in 1886, it elected a Conservative Government known to regard innovations of almost every kind with an unfriendly eye. The “higher classes” drew a breath of relief and settled down to a long period of quiet consolidation. In 1901 a Conservative Government led by the same Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, was still in power.

The House of Commons that Winston Churchill entered was an exclusive and wealthy body. Members of Parliament received no payment for their services and were expected to contribute substantial sums of money to their constituencies as welL Thus only men of means, or men with outside backing, could hope to be adopted as candidates.

Liberals and Conservatives were cut from the same expensive cloth.

Conservatives could claim more supporters among the landowning gentry, whose younger sons found occupations fit for gentlemen, whether in the Army, in the Navy, and in diplomatic services, or commissions, and who were now stretching a point by infiltrating into the financial precincts of the City. The Liberals could “chair” more supporters among the enterprising, self-made industrialists upon whom Britain’s prosperity depended. Nevertheless, each party had a smattering of both.

Temperamentally, however, there was a clear division between the two fictions. The Conservatives believed themselves to be the rightful guardians of Church and State, of continuity and tradition. They disliked change and usually made concessions only when it was impossible to withhold them. The Liberals, on the other hand, regarded themselves as the champions of individual liberty. They welcomed change so long as it
promised to enlarge the opportunities for personal freedom. And because they were open to new ideas, they attracted a wing of Radicals who were determined to break down the privileged oligarchic rule at Westminster, to reform the House of Lords, and establish the principle of Meritocracy.

However, these Radicals were not Leftists in the sense conveyed by that word today. All Liberal supporters were passionate believers in a laissez-faire economic system, and went even further than the Conservatives in their opposition to State interference. Both parties agreed that the Government’s operational sphere should be extremely limited. The Government was expected to produce law and order at home, to protect British nationals abroad, and to conduct the country’s foreign affairs to skillful advantage. It was also expected to leave the country’s industrial life severely alone. Business matters were for businessmen and not for politicians.

In 1902 Charles Booth, a wealthy shipowner, published a laborious statistical work entitled The Life and Labour of London which had taken him sixteen years to complete. Although London was regarded as ‘the richest city in the world’ he revealed that thirty per cent of the population were suffering from undernourishment, But despite this astonishing revelation, poverty and unemployment continued to be regarded as subjects for private charity, and not for Government action.

The Victorians had already accepted Malthus’ theory that the population would always outstrip the means of sustenance, and therefore looked upon the poor as a permanent and unavoidable fixture brought about by God’s Will, rather than by man’s ineptitude, food supply mismanagement, and greed…

On Sundays church congregations solemnly sang:
“The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God ranks them high and lowly
And ordered their estate.”

And yet beneath the crisp Victorian surface the roughness of the pattern for the new century, which Elie Halevy, the eminent French historian, describes as ‘hastening towards social democracy and towards war’, were already visible. In 1892 Keir Hardie, a Scottish coal miner, entered the House of Commons as an Independent backed by Trade Union funds. He was the first working man to sit as a Member. In 1900 he formed a new
party, the Labour Representative Committee, which was soon destined to grow into the Labour Party; and in the election of the same year Hardie and another working man were returned as Members. Their voices were small but the fact that they were raised at all was an indication of what the future held. Besides this, Trade Unionism was growing; and the Fabian Society dominated by Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Graham Wallas and
George Bernard Shaw, supported spasmodically by H. G. Wells, was not only educating the public to the meaning of democratic socialism but infixing the Radical politicians of the day with ideas which were to lead Britain forward for the next half century.

Abroad it was not without significance that the friendship between Britain and France kindled by Edward VII’s visit to Paris in 1903 was slowly ripening and would soon result in the entente of 1904; and it was also significant that the German Kaiser, with a fierce eagle on his shining, spiked helmet, was growing increasingly proud of his efficient, goose stepping army, and that he was toying with the idea of producing a strong navy as well. These were the threats of war coming from the outside; but in 1901 only a few Members of Parliament attached much importance to them.

One might as well have expected Winston Churchill to be among the few, and indeed they were RIGHT. He agonized about such things all the time… because he loved his country.

Indeed during the long five years he spent as a backbencher, he provided the House of Commons with incident, drama and excitement. He sparkled and shone in his new surroundings. His language was colourful, his personality compelling, and his polished, memorized orations seldom failed to hold the attention of the House. He was master of the unexpected phrase and the unexpected action.

Yet what was surprising about this high-spirited, independent young man, who revelled in unusual tactics, was the fact that his ideas were of a most unorthodox and unconventional kind. A simpleton of an observer, might see Winston as a revanchist, who from anticipating the new forces of the new century chose to seep his energies on turning the clock back to the generation before, when Victorian conceptions of Empire were in the full bloom of maturity. It is true that he preached all the fading doctrines of a fading age, but for him that is what a Conservative is. Winston stood for a CERTAIN DEGREE  of Isolationism from Europe, and for a small Army; but a great Navy for support of the British Imperium, and for a strict balanced economy, reliant on Free Trade, but with no further increases in the income tax.

Whether these were the ideas of the past, or not — didn’t matter to Winston who had studied the glorious past. And even though these ideas changed as the new century progressed and even if every one of them was to momentarily perish, this didn’t mean that they would not return to fashion some day soon. Because Winston understood that like a good sartorial gardarobe, the cyclical fashions can be arrested if one had to rely on classical clothes to clothe their ideas and policy proposals.

Still, one is baffled at what curious and paradoxical qualities prompted Churchill to proffer unoriginal ideas with striking originality? Someone once remarked that the politician brings to politics what he is. At twenty-six Churchill was a master of English prose and a trained observer of military events. He knew nothing of finance or economics and possessed only a superficial grasp of history and philosophy which he had acquired by a smattering of reading on the hot Indian afternoons when his fellow subalterns were sleeping. He had not had the benefit of a full university education where ideas are constantly explored and challenged; and although his five years in the Army
had brought him into contact with many men of outstanding character, and allowed him to mix widely with quite a few men of outstanding intellect.

Winston Churchill’s mind was neither philosophic nor profound. He was a man of action rather than thought. He did not feel compelled to examine accepted principles and value them for himself. By nature he was romantic and sentimental. He liked to picture events in simple, bold and vivid colors; and he preferred to follow his emotions rather than his logic.

Indeed when he found the path of logic leading him away from the course to which his instincts inclined he often abandoned the logic. For instance, when he was in India he grappled with the subject of religion. He found that although he wished to believe in a Higher Being his mind refused to accept much of the dogma. Still he observed and indeed loved the rites, of the Anglican church, into which he had been baptized, and had thoroughly observed throughout his young life. He loved Christian religion as the paragon of Western Civilization, but in order to accommodate his less observant efforts at the deep study of Christianity, Churchill found an easy, almost feminine solution.

He explains that this was simple: “I adopted quite early in life, a system of believing what I wanted to believe, while at the same time leaving reason to pursue unfettered whatever paths she was capable of treading.”

Churchill entered the House of Commons because he believed it would provide him with an exciting occupation. At twenty-six he was less concerned with the political contribution he had to offer than with the political prizes that might await him. He was bursting with energy and ambition.

The only thing he lacked was a political theme, but this was easily remedied. He turned to his father’s writings for guidance. ‘The greatest and most powerful influence in my early life, was, of course, my father. Although I talked to him so seldom and never for a moment on equal terms I conceived an intense admiration and affection for him; and after his early death, for his memory. I read industriously almost every word he had ever spoken and learnt by heart large portions of his speeches. I took my politics unquestioningly from him. He seemed to me to have possessed the key alike to popular oratory and political action.”

Today, we might find it strange that a step father who had concerned himself so little with his son’s existence, should have exercised such a hold over the latter’s imagination long after his death. Here the conservatism bred into Winston, with its emphasis on continuity and tradition, asserted itself. Just as he drew strength from the fact that the great Duke of Marlborough’s blood ran in his veins, (as he clearly preferred to think at the time) he likewise enjoyed picturing himself as a projection of his father whose exciting career appealed to his adventurous instincts. He remembered as a child seeing people take off their hats in the street as Lord Randolph passed; he remembered the buzz of excitement and the talk of great orations; the endless columns in the newspapers, the photographs, the cartoons, the thrill of importance his father’s presence cast over the household. It is only natural he should have turned to his father’s speeches for inspiration. And when he read them he was fascinated by their vivid imagery, their sarcasm and rich irony.

He resolved to write his father’s biography. It was possible to combine the task with his political duties, for in 1901 Parliamentary business was so regulated that the House only sat six months of the year. His literary labors were not only an act of filial devotion but a means of earning his living and they occupied him the whole five years he spent as a backbencher. They had a profound effect upon his political career. As he became immersed in his writing he fell more and more deeply under the spell of Lord Randolph’s example. This influence was further strengthened by research which threw him into contact with many of his father’s old colleagues; and one of these, Sir Francis Mowatt, the head of the Civil Service, exerted a decisive influence upon him.

Sir Francis had served in the Treasury during Lord Randolph’s brief tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He held Winston enthralled by stories of his father and won the young man’s confidence by his genuine and wholehearted admiration. “He was one of the friends I inherited from my father. Tall, spare with a noble brow, bright eyes and strong jaws, this faithful servant of the Crown, self-effacing but self- respecting, resolute, convinced, sure of himself, sure of his theme, dwelt modestly and frugally for nearly fifty years at or near the center of the British governing machine. … He represented the complete triumphant Victorian view of economics and finance; strict parsimony; exact accounting; free imports whatever the rest of the world might do; suave steady government; no wars; no flag-waving; just paying of debts and reducing taxation and keeping out of scrapes; and for the rest … for trade, industry, agriculture, social life … laissez-faire and laissez-aller.”

Let the Government reduce itself and its demands upon the public to a minimum; let the nation live of its own; let social and industrial organization take whatever course it pleased, subject to the law of the land and the ‘Ten Commandments.’ Let the money fructify in the pockets of the people.’

Winston was looking for a political theme. Mowatt’s views on finance seemed to be a faithful reflection of Lord Randolph’s views on finance. For the next five years Winston adopted them as his own.

Winston Churchill entered Parliament as a celebrity. Although many of the politicians did not know him by sight they all knew him by name. His escape from the Boers, only the year before, was still fresh in the public mind. Members had followed his adventures in the newspapers, read his books, and heard of the huge sum he had been paid for his
American tour. But what whetted their curiosity most of all was the fact that he was Lord Randolph’s son.

In the six years since Lord Randolph’s death the setting and the actors on the Parliamentary stage had changed surprisingly little. Many of the present Members had served as Lord Randolph’s colleagues and some of them had heard him at the summit of his powers. The drama was further heightened by the fact that the Conservative Party was more tightly than ever in the grip of the Cecil family. Lord Salisbury, who had broken Lord Randolph’s career, was still Prime Minister. His nephew, Arthur Balfour,
was Leader of the House of Commons. Another nephew, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and a cousin, Mr Gerald Balfour, were in the Cabinet. His son, Lord Cranborne, was Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Two more sons, Lord Hugh Cecil and Lord Robert Cecil, were backbenchers, and a relative, Lord Selborne, was a member of the Government. It was not surprising that wits often referred to the House of Parliament as ‘The Hotel Cecil.”

It is perhaps opportune to say something about Arthur Balfour here. Before the year had ended he succeeded his uncle as Prime Minister and before three years were out Churchill had crossed swords with him as decisively as his father had with Salisbury. But in 1901, Balfour welcomed Winston into the House with almost paternal warmth. He had once been a member of Lord Randolph’s ‘Fourth Party’ and had met his son when
he was a boy of eighteen. Balfour was an enigmatic character. He was a country gentleman and an intellectual, charming, courteous, unemotional and unhurried. He gave the impression, so attractive to English people, of having no political ambitions but of merely seeking to do his duty. He presided over the House with almost astonishing detachment. The newspaper columnists dubbed him ‘Prince Arthur’ and the cartoonists depicted him with an air of elegant indolence. And yet Balfour was a master of debate and often shrewd and witty. Once, when Churchill told him that he kept a book of press cuttings because every now and then he came across something of special interest, Balfour replied disdainfully, “that he did not see the point of rummaging through a rubbish heap on the problematical chance of finding a cigar butt.”

While the Cecils, fortified by that formidable character, the ex-Radical,
ex-mayor of Birmingham, Joseph Chamberlain, dominated the Conservative scene, the Liberal benches sparkled with names that were to go into the history books.

There was Asquith, stiff, brilliant and self-confident; there was the erudite pacifist, John Morley, who had written a scholarly life of Gladstone; Haldane who was to lay the foundations for the modern British Army; Sir Edward Grey who was to declare in 1914 “The lights are going out all over Europe;” and Lloyd George, the brilliant, silver tongued Welsh Radical, who was to revolutionize British social thought and lead the country through a war as well.

These were some of the men who awaited Winston Churchill’s debut
with interest and expectancy. He made his maiden speech on 18 February,
three days after the opening of the Parliamentary session. The stage was
well set. The great issue was the Boer War, and passions ran high. In the
King’s Speech His Majesty said: ‘The war in South Africa has not yet
entirely terminated; but the capitals of the enemy and his principal lines
of communication are in my possession, and measures have been taken
which will, I trust, enable my troops to deal effectually with the forces by
which they are still opposed. I greatly regret the loss of life and the ex-
penditure of treasure due to the fruitless guerilla warfare maintained by
the Boer partisans . . .’

This was stating the case both mildly and optimistically. The Boer
War was proving a bugbear. When it began the Government thought it
would last only a few weeks. Yet it had dragged on for a year and was
destined to continue for still another. Worse than that, it was making
Britain a laughing stock to the rest of the world. The Boers only had fifty
thousand fighting men, many of whom were untrained farmers armed
with shot guns. Yet the British Army now almost two hundred and fifty
thousand men strong still failed to subdue them. The reason was that the
Boers, familiar with every inch of the terrain, had turned themselves into
guerilla bands and spread out across the country. The British soldiers were
not experienced in this kind of warfare. In desperate attempts to rout out
the hidden enemy, orders were given that whenever treachery was sus-
Pected — Boer farms should be burnt to the ground.

This action aroused a storm of protest from the radical element in the
House of Commons. To begin with, the Liberal Party was split in half
over the dubious justness of the war itself. The Conservatives, supported
by the Liberal Imperialists, believed in its righteousness, but the radical
and pacifist Liberals bitterly denounced it. John Morley described it as
‘a hateful war, and a war innate and infatuated, a war of uncompensated
mischief and irreparable wrong.’ The Conservatives dubbed members of
the anti-war party ‘Little Englanders’ and decried them as ‘traitors to their
country.’ The latter struck back hotly accusing the Government not only
of evil motives but of shocking mismanagement.

To think that in this atmosphere of passion and recrimination, Winston Churchill made his maiden speech is a magnificent opportunity, is an understatement…
He spoke after dinner to a crowded House. One can picture the scene of
1901; the hansom cabs and carriages clattering across the pavement of New
Palace Yard and pulling up in front of the entrance to Westminster Hall;
the lobbies lit by flickering gas jets; the Strangers’ Dining Room filled
with men and women in evening dress; the Chamber itself with Members
elegantly attired in striped trousers and frock coats, some of them half
reclining on the benches with their silk hats tipped over their foreheads;
the wives and daughters, in voluminous, rustling skirts, taking their seats
in the gallery and gazing earnestly at the crowded floor.

Lloyd George preceded Winston. He was one of the young Radicals
who opposed the war hotly. ‘One satisfactory feature in connection with
the debate on South Africa, he began sarcastically: ‘is that no one seems
to have a good word to say for the Government.’ ‘Whether they approve
of or condemn the war they are all agreed on that point; that the Govern-
ment have made every possible blunder they could make from any and
every point of view. Though they have the resources of the wealthiest
Empire which the world has ever seen to draw upon, they have so directed
their operations, that their own soldiers have been half-starved, stricken
by disease and have died by the thousands from sheer lack of the simplest
appliances. Who could say a good word for a Government responsible for
such a terrible state of affairs?’

Lloyd George then went on to a blistering attack on the Conservatives
for not stating specific terms of peace. ‘Does anyone think the Boers will
lay down their arms merely to be governed from Downing Street?’

Then on to the issue of Boer sympathizers’ farm burning. ‘It is not a war against men but against women and children … I appeal to honourable Members opposite.’

Then on to the military situation. ‘Not a third of the men we sent to South Africa are now in the line of battle. There have been fifty five thousand casualties; thirty thousand men are in the hospitals.’

When Lloyd George sat down, dozens of Members rose to their feet in
the hope of being called, including the honourable and gallant Member
for Oldham.

‘Winston Churchill’ said the Speaker; and thus began the most
remarkable parliamentary career of the last century. According to the
columnist in “The Punch” Winston was ‘fortunate in the circumstances attending his debut’ for Lloyd George’s denunciations had aroused the ‘frantic cheers of Irish sympathizers’ and had drawn in ‘loungers’ from the lobby, students from the library, philosophers from the smoking room, and a constant stream of ‘diners-out’ and observers who at that moment chose to flow in…

So many people had suddenly materialized that when young Winston rose from the corner seat of the bench behind Ministers … he faced, and was fully surrounded by an audience that filled the Chamber fully. No friendly cheer greeted his rising. To three-quarters of the audience he was person unknown. But just before he concluded his third sentence he fixed his attention, growing keener and kinder when, in reply to a whispered question; the answer went around that this was Randolph Churchill’s son: Winston Churchill.’

Winston was understandably nervous.

He stammered over his opening remark but he had learned his speech by heart and soon was able to regain his composure. He referred to Lloyd George’s oration directly: ‘I do not believe that Boers will attach much importance to the utterances of the honourable Member.’

‘No people in the world receive so much verbal sympathy and so little
political support as the Boers.’

‘If I were a Boer fighting in the field . . . and if I were a Boer — I hope I should be fighting in the field . . .’

Here there was a stir on the Conservative front bench as Joseph Chamberlain, the leading Imperialist and Secretary of State for the Colonies, whispered to a colleague, ‘That’s the way to lose seats.’

But Churchill continued unruffled:

‘If I were a Boer fighting in the field I should not allow myself to be taken
in by any message of sympathy not even if it were signed by a hundred
honourable Members. The honourable Member dwelt at great length
upon the question of farm burning. I do not propose to discuss the ethics
of farm burning now; but honourable Members should, I think, cast their
eyes back to the fact that no considerations of humanity prevented the
German Army from throwing its shells into the dwelling houses of Paris
and starving the inhabitants of that great city to the extent that they had
to live upon rats and like atrocious foods in order to compel the garrison
to surrender. I venture to think His Majesty’s Government would not
have been justified in restricting their commanders in the field from any
methods of warfare which are justified by precedent set by European or
American generals during the last fifty or sixty years. I do not agree very
fully with the charges of treachery on the one side and barbarity on the
other.’

“From what I saw of the war . . . and I sometimes saw something of
it … I believe that as compared with other wars, especially those in which
a civilian population took part, this war in South Africa has been on the
whole carried on with unusual humanity and generosity.”

Churchill then went on to make the point that it was impossible to
give the Boers self-government as soon as the war ended as a large number
of the population had fled: “What could be more dangerous, ridiculous
or futile than to throw the responsible government of a ruined country on
that . . . particular section of the population which is actively hostile to
the fundamental institutions of the State?”

“The question, was what sort of interim Government should be set up: Military or Civil?”

“A military government is irksome. I have often myself been very much
ashamed to see respectable old Boer farmers … the Boer is a curious
combination of the squire and the peasant, and under the rough coat of
the peasant there are very often to be found the instincts of the squire . . .
I have been ashamed to see such men ordered about peremptorily by
young subaltern officers as though they were private soldiers.”

Churchill suggested this.”Some wise administrator such as Sir Alfred
Milner should be set at the head of a civil administration’ and ended his
speech by stating that ‘the Government should make it easy for the Boers
to surrender and painful and perilous for them to continue.”

“Many more troops should be sent to South Africa and the military effort should be redoubled. At the same time I earnestly hope that the right honourable Gentleman, the Colonial Secretary, will leave nothing undone to bring home to these brave and unhappy men who are fighting in the field that whenever they are prepared to recognize that their small independence must be merged in the larger liberties of the British Empire, there will be a full guarantee for the security of their property and religion, an assurance
of equal right, a promise of all representative institutions, and last of all, but not least of all, what the British Army would most readily accord to a brave and enduring foe … all the honours of war.”

Before Churchill sat down he thanked the House for the kindness and patience with which it had heard him. “It has been extended to me, I know, not on my own account, but because of a splendid memory which many honourable Members still preserve.”

Winston Churchill’s speech was a singular triumph.

He had steered a delicate course between the two extreme factions in the House. He had supported the Government in its prosecution of the war which pleased the Conservatives; and he had extolled the virtue of the enemy which pleased the pro-Boers.

As a result he was praised by both sides of the House. “The Punch” commented that the “high expectations” of his debut were fully justified and that he had his father’s “command of pointed phrase. Instantly commanding attention of the House, he maintained it to end of discourse wisely brief.”

Other observers were particularly impressed by the “parliamentary manner” he had acquired in the brief three days since he had taken his seat.
Wrote the Daily Mail: “Ten minutes after Winston had been sworn, he was leaning back comfortably on the bench, his silk hat well down over his forehead, his figure crouched up in the doubled-up attitude assumed by Mr Balfour and other Ministers, both hands deep in his pockets, eyeing  the place and its inmates critically as if they were all parliamentarian novices.”

When Churchill had finished his speech he went into the smoking room where he was introduced to Lloyd George. The great Welsh Radical had this to say to Churchill: “Judging from your sentiments, you are standing against the Light.”
To which Winston retorted: “You take a singularly detached view of the British Empire.”

Thus began a friendship which was to dominate the political life of the British Parliament, the United Kingdom, and the Empire over the next two decades.

And although Winston’s maiden speech had made an astute, strong, and lively impression — the British Parliament Members awaited the development of his career with curiosity and even reservation.

Would arrogance and ambition lead him to repeat his father’s mistakes? Or was his temperament calmer and his judgment surer?

By what means would he attempt to advance his career?

The path of the ambitious young backbencher, particularly if his own
Government is in power, is fraught with peril. He is expected to obey the
Party Whips and loyally advance the cause of his own leaders; but if he is
young, eager and critical his patience may not be equal to the restraint
demanded of him. He is perpetually in a dilemma. If he is silent or merely
acquiescent he probably will not be noticed, but, equally, if he is aggressive and rebellious, he probably will not be promoted. Backbenchers who
flaunt the authority of their leaders unwisely, are not easily forgiven.

This is understandable considering that a Prime Minister and his
Cabinet only retain their positions so long as they command a majority
in the House itself. Party loyalty is the very linchpin of the British
parliamentary system. And as a result it is regarded as a cardinal virtue.
This of course adds to the problems of the backbencher who soon finds
himself trying to strike as delicate a balance as a tightrope walker between
loyalty to his Party and loyalty to his own opinions. If he disagrees with
his leaders he can use all his influence behind the scenes to make them
change their course; but if he fails he must search his conscience and
decide whether the issue is important enough to endanger the life of his
Government or whether he can honourably compromise in view of the
larger principles at stake. If he clashes violently with his own side he can
cross the floor of the House and join the Opposition, or he can continue
within the ranks of his own Party — unless he is expelled as a ‘rebel’.

There are always rebels in Parliament and they add to the liveliness of
the debates. But the rebels are rarely serious politicians. They are regarded as unreliable eccentrics and soon resign themselves to the backbenches.

Therefore when a determined, ambitious young politician becomes an
acknowledged rebel he faces an anxious future. He can only force his way
to the top by gathering such a powerful following in Parliament and the
country that the Government dares not ignore him and offers him a
Ministerial appointment to enlist his support rather than face his opposition.

To achieve success by this method the backbencher must possess
dazzling gifts. He must be a man of outstanding personality, a brilliant
debater who can command and hold the attention of the House whenever
he chooses. Very few backbenchers have the qualities to enable them to
reach the heights by this path. Lord Randolph Churchill was one of the
few but even he failed to hold his power for long; one false step and the
Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, seized the initiative and smashed his
career.

It was only natural that Members watched Lord Randolph’s son with
curiosity and speculated about his future. Some believed that he possessed
his father’s temperament and would be incapable of remaining in the
Party harness; others insisted that he had profited by his father’s mistakes
and would move with caution. In support of this assertion they pointed
out that only fourteen months previously Winston had dedicated his
book, The River War, to Lord Salisbury ‘under whose wise direction the
Conservative Party has long enjoyed power and the nation prosperity.’
They also noticed that when Winston took his place in the House he did
not sit, as his father had, on the bench below the gangway, the traditional
place for those with independent views, but squarely behind the Ministerial
front bench.

Winston did not keep the honourable Members in suspense for long.

Only four months after he made his maiden speech he delivered a slashing
attack on the Government for the size of its peacetime military expenditure. This was the virgin step along a path which was to lead him through
angry, stormy scenes, with his Conservative colleagues and finally across
the floor to the Liberal Opposition.

 

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It is interesting to reflect that Winston Churchill, destined to become one
of Britain’s greatest war leaders, took the first decisive political stand of
his career as an Isolationist. His attack on the Government was unexpected,
emotional and histrionic. It was an astonishing effort to vindicate his
father’s political failure. Lord Randolph had resigned as Chancellor of the
Exchequer because the War Office refused to cut its expenditure. Lord
Randolph was an Isolationist in a peaceful age, believing that Britain’s
security depended less on her fighting services than on a wise foreign
policy designed to keep her aloof from continental wars.

Now the son had come down to the House to preach the same doctrine.
But the setting was different. Members of the Government of 1901 were
aware that a young, powerful and aggressive Germany was watching the
British setback in South Africa with marked interest. They stirred un-
easily and decided that something must be done, and the result was a new
and higher military budget. They listened to Winston’s attack on their
efforts with surprise and irritation. What was the fellow up to anyway?

His ideas on Isolation and ‘strict economy’ were inherited, of course,
from his father. Lord Randolph had resigned from the Government when
his son was twelve. On innumerable occasions the boy must have heard his
mother and his aunts going over the ground and thrashing out the subject
in an effort to justify Lord Randolph’s resignation. In Winston’s book ‘The Malakand Field Force’ published in 1897, Churchill had begun his argument that the British Army must not be constructed with the idea of fighting on the continent.

His speech in Parliament was a continuation of the same theme. “I was so
untutored as to suppose that all I had to do was to think out what was
right and express it fearlessly” he explained many years later. “I thought
that loyalty in this outweighed all other loyalties. I did not understand the
importance of party discipline and unity, and the sacrifices of opinion
which may lawfully be made in their cause.”

Winston Churchill’s political naivete was undoubtedly genuine, but in view of the fact that he continued to pursue an independent course many years
after his innocence had been shed, it is fair to assume that other elements
entered into the picture as well. He was impatient for success and eager to
create a stir. His father’s struggles loomed large in his thoughts and the
resignation issue appealed to his pugnacious instincts. Besides, the same
Mr Brodrick who had been Under Secretary at the War Office at the
time of his father’s quarrel was now the Minister for War. It was too good
an opportunity to miss. And last, but not least, Sir Francis Mowatt was
standing by with help and encouragement: “Presently I began to criticize
Mr Brodrick’s Army expansion and to plead the cause of economy in
Parliament,’ wrote Winston. ‘Old Mowatt . . . said a word to me now and
then and put me in touch with some younger officials, afterwards them-
selves eminent, with whom it was very helpful to talk . . . not secrets, for
those were never divulged, but published facts set in their true proportion
and with their proper emphasis.”

Winston delivered his speech on 13 May. Once again the House was
crowded to hear him. The cartoonists of the day evidently saw in his
appearance no sign of the John Bull he was to become, because they depicted him as a small, slim, rather elegant figure with a puckish smile. Some saw a likeness to his father, others not. The ‘Punch’ declared that ‘nothing either in voice or manner’ recalled Lord Randolph, while the Daily Mail asserted:
‘There is a startling resemblance between the son of the late Lord Randolph
Churchill and that brilliant statesman. He has the square forehead and the
full bold eye of his father; his hurried stride through the lobby is another
point of resemblance; and when something amuses him in the course of a
debate he has his parent’s trick of throwing his head well back and laugh-
ing loudly and heartily.’

What most observers agreed upon was the extreme boyishness of his
appearance, which seemed to be exaggerated by the red hair and pink and
white complexion, and accentuated by the dignified frock coat and wing
collar. ‘Sitting in the corner seat from which his father delivered his last
speech in the House of Commons, he follows every important speech
delivered from the Opposition with an alertness, and a mental agility, which develops itself in various ways,’ the Daily Mail correspondent went on to add.

“Occasionally a sort of mischievous, schoolboy grin settles over his
chubby face as he listens to some ridiculous argument; now and then he
becomes thoughtful and scribbles down a rebutting fact or a fresh argu-
ment and passes the note to a Minister below who is going to speak next;
at other times Mr Gibson Bowles, sitting by his side, whispers some caustic and amusing comment into his ear, and the long strong fingers, which clutch each other so frequently in nervous excitement, are held over the lower part of his face so as to conceal the smile or laugh.”

When Churchill began to speak, however, youth vanished, for his
words and manner were those of the elder statesman. He used the polished,
rolling language of the Victorians. Only two years before, G.W. Steevens
had commented: “At dinner he talks and talks, and you can hardly tell
when he leaves off quoting his one idol Macaulay, and begins his other,
Winston Churchill.” [My Early Life: Winston S. Churchill]

The speech of 13th of May is not only historic because it marked a decisive step in his career but is a remarkable example of his early mastery of a style he was soon to make his own.

He started speaking really quietly and he grew in volume as time went on and as points needed to be hammered forth:

“If I might be allowed to revive a half- forgotten episode . . . it is half forgotten because it has passed into that period of twilight which intervenes between the bright glare of newspaper controversy and the calm rays of the lamp of history. I would recall that once upon a time a Conservative and Unionist Administration came into power supported by a large majority, nearly as powerful and much more cohesive, than that which now supports His Majesty’s Government. And when the time came around to consider the Estimates the usual struggle took place between the great spending departments and the Treasury. I say “usual”; at least it used to be so, I do not
know whether it is now. The Government of the day threw their weight on the side of the great spending departments and the Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned. The controversy was bitter, the struggle uncertain, but in the end the Government triumphed, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer went down forever, and with him, as it now seems, there fell also the cause of retrenchment and economy, so that the very memory thereof seems to have perished, and the words themselves have a curiously
old-fashioned ring about them. I suppose that was a lesson which Chancellors of the Exchequer were not likely to forget in a hurry.”

 

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Winston then picked up a slip of paper and read a few lines from Lord
Randolph’s letter of resignation to Lord Salisbury. Lord Randolph pointed
out that a very sharp sword often offered an irresistible temptation to
demonstrate its efficiency in a practical manner. Winston put the slip of
paper down and continued to quote the rest of the letter from memory:

‘Wise words, he cried, ‘stand the test of time. And I am very glad that the House has allowed me, after an interval of fifteen years, to lift the tattered flag of retrenchment and economy.’

‘But what was the amount of the annual Estimates on which the desperate battle was fought?
It may be difficult for the House to realize it, though it is within the memory of so many honourable members. “The estimates for the year,” said the Chancellor of the Exchequer in resigning, “for the two services amount to no less than 31,000,000 and I cannot consent to that.”’

‘What are the estimates we are asked to vote now?
We are asked to vote, quite irrespective of the drainage of a costly war still in progress, something more than 59,000,000 for the ordinary service of the year. . . .’

‘What has happened in the meantime to explain this astonishing in-
crease?
Has the wealth of the country doubled?
Has the population of the Empire doubled?
Have the armies of Europe doubled?
Is the commercial competition of foreign nations so much reduced?
Are we become the undisputed masters in the markets of the world?
Is there no poverty at home?
Has the English Channel dried up and are we no longer an island?
Is the revenue so easily raised that we do not know how to spend it?
Are the Treasury buildings pulled down, and all our financiers fled?
During the few weeks I have been a member of this House I have heard honourable Members opposite, advocate many causes but no voice is raised in the cause of the economy. …’

‘I think it is about time a voice was heard from this side of the House pleading that unpopular cause; that someone not on the bench opposite, but a Conservative by tradition, whose fortunes are linked indissolubly to the Tory Party, who knows something of the majesty and power of Britain beyond the seas, upon whom rests no taint of cosmopolitanism, should stand forward and say what he can to protest against the policy of daily increasing the public burden.’

‘If such a one is to stand forward in such a cause, then, I say humbly, but I hope with becoming pride, no one has a better right than I have, for this is a cause for which the late Lord Randolph Churchill made the greatest sacrifice of any Minister in modern times.’

Churchill wound up his speech with an appeal to the House to place
their trust in a strong Navy, adequate for defensive purposes, and to keep
clear of continental wars: “Now, when mighty populations are impelled
against each other, each individual severely embittered and inflamed,
when the resources of science and civilization sweep away everything that
might mitigate their fury, a European war can only end in the ruin of the
vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors.”

“The Secretary of War knows . . . that if we went to war with any great Power his three Army corps would scarcely serve as a vanguard.”

“If we are hated they will not make us loved, if we are in danger they will not make us safe. They are enough to irritate; they are not enough to overawe. Yet while they cannot make us invulnerable, they may very likely make us venturesome. . . . We shall make a fatal bargain if we allow the moral force which this country has so long exerted to become diminished, or perhaps even destroyed for the sake of this costly, trumpery, dangerous military plaything on which the Secretary of State has set his heart.”
[Thoughts and Adventures: Winston S. Churchill]

Winston Churchill’s friend and fellow war correspondent, J. B. Atkins, sat
in the Press Gallery and listened to him make this speech. “He was a lonely
but self-possessed figure as he stood there reproducing the sentiments
which caused the dramatic resignation of his father.” he wrote in the
Manchester Guardian. “His metaphors were bold and a trifle too ornate here
and there, but they were always original and striking. His voice is not
really a defect, for it is a distinguishing possession that makes him unlike
anyone else to listen to.” The ‘Punch’ also commented joyfully on the occasion:
“With the modesty of youth he undertook to challenge the scheme of
Army reorganization put forward from the War Office . . . speech
evidently carefully prepared, but wasn’t embarrassed by his notes; turned
aside from them now and then to make capital debating point out of
speeches delivered earlier in evening . . . this ‘other member’ complains that his utterance is too rapid, and hopes he won’t make fatal mistake of speaking too often. But he’ll learn and he’ll do. . . .”

Once again, Winston Churchill’s speech was a minor sensation. The Liberal pacifists were delighted with his sentiments and the Liberal Imperialists were delighted with his attack on his Tory leaders. H. W. Massingham, a well-known Liberal journalist, wrote ecstatically that Winston Churchill’s speech ‘should long ago have been delivered from our own benches’, and prophesied that its author would be ‘Prime Minister … I hope Liberal Prime Minister of England.’

The Conservatives were divided in their reactions. Some of them admired the young man for his family loyalty while others regarded his performance merely as a stunt to attract publicity. When the debate was resumed the following day Mr Arthur Lee, later Lord Lee of Fareham, said acidly: “It is not well to confuse filial piety with public duty. This is not the time to parade or pursue family traditions.” And Mr Brodrick, Winston’s main target, hit back scornfully, by saying: “I confidently expect, that Parliament, which was not afraid to part company with a brilliant statesman in 1886, will not sleep the less soundly because of the financial heroics of my hon. friend the Member for Oldham. Those of us who disagree with him can only hope that the time will come when his judgment will grow up to his ability, when he will look back with regret to the day when he came down to the House to preach Imperialism without being able to bear the burden of Imperialism, and when the hereditary qualities he possesses of eloquence and courage may be tempered also by discarding the hereditary desire to run Imperialism on the cheap.”

Thus began the breach between Winston and his party’s leadership, which two
years later was to widen into an irreparable gap.

And thus the ghost of Lord Randolph asserted itself with a vengeance. Speculation now abounds, because it can reasonably be argued, that if Winston Churchill had not revived the issue of his father’s resignation, he would have remained in the Tory fold, and would have become Prime Minister instead of Baldwin after World War I.

In that case World War I might not have taken place.

However, if all this had happened, it is also possible that Winston would not have emerged as a great man.

Indeed back then same as it is now…

Great men are judged for the wars they win — not for the wars they prevent…

Let’s ponder this for a while from now on…

 

To be continued:


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