Posted by: Dr Churchill | September 7, 2017

What Would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 28)

Winston is reborn as a Liberal, because change is good and when it is also frequent, it is far better too…

Indeed the influence that Lord Randolph Churchill exerted from the grave over a son, in whom he had never confided, stands out as the most fascinating and remarkable aspect of Winston’s career as a backbencher. Yet as the months passed this strange spell increased rather than diminished.

It is not unusual for a son to revere his father’s memory, but Winston carried his devotion to such exaggerated lengths that his early Parliamentary life was based on an almost slavish imitation. He not only borrowed his father’s views and clung to them no matter what spent forces they had become, but he copied his manner and gestures, sought out his friends and marked down his opponents, memorized his speeches in an effort to catch their flavour, adopted his tactics and finally followed his strategy.

In view of Winston’s originality and audaciousness this seems astonishing, but the explanation partly lies in his work on his father’s biography.

His romantic and forceful mind dramatized whatever subject it centered upon, a quality which had already made him a highly successful journalist. And the fact that his emotions were now keenly involved, only served to heighten his powerful sense of theatre.

He became increasingly enthralled by the scene he was reconstructing and began to live in it with himself as the chief actor. He identified himself so completely with his father that he told all his friends he was certain he would die at the same early age as Lord Randolph.

He was determined to repeat his father’s triumphs and since time was short he must repeat them in the same meteoric fashion.

From the very first day Winston entered the House he was openly and unashamedly ambitious, and he made it plain to all who would listen that he regarded the rapid fulfilment of his aims as a matter of the gravest urgency.

He decided that only one of two courses was open to him: A) Either to win the leadership of the Tory Party, or B) to abandon the Tories and make his way with the Liberals. He toyed with the second option, as early as 1901, when he had only been in Parliament less than a year. Lady Warwick tells of a conversation she had with him at this time at Cecil Rhodes’ house in Scotland: “On the visit to Loch Rannoch of which I write, Winston Churchill discussed quite openly his political position. He had just been on a visit to Lord Rosebery, and he said he was inclined to leave the leadership to Mr Balfour and proclaim himself a Liberal. He wanted power and the Tory road to power was blocked by the Cecils and other brilliant young Conservatives, whereas the Liberal path was open. Cecil Rhodes was all in favour of his turning Liberal.”

Winston evidently decided against this course and began to plan the
day when he would head the Conservatives. According to Mr J. L.
Wanklyn, a Tory M.P., Winston Churchill played with the notion of wresting the leadership from Arthur Balfour in 1902, when he had been a backbencher for only eighteen months. Winston denied this charge, and the controversy which took place in the columns of The Times makes highly amusing reading…

The Times of the 6th of March, 1905 wrote thus: ‘On Saturday night Mr J. L. Wanklyn, M.P. for Central Bradford, addressed a meeting in that city. Mr Wanklyn said that … at an interview with Winston Churchill sought with him in that month (November 1902) he was invited to assist Winston Churchill and others in overthrowing the Conservative Unionist Ministry in order to let in a weak Radical Ministry, which in its turn was to be overthrown, and then Winston Churchill and others were to lead back to place and power a rejuvenated Conservative Unionist Party. The main argument was that the Duke of Devonshire, Lord George Hamilton, Mr Ritchie and Mr Chamberlain were all too old at sixty, while Mr Balfour and Mr Brodrick could easily be overthrown upon the public inquiry after the war. Lord Hugh Cecil and Mr Ernest Beckett were mentioned as prospective Ministers in the Cabinet to be formed by Winston Churchill . . .

The Times on 7th March: ‘Winston Churchill last night issued the following disclaimer. “Mr Wanklyn’s statement is devoid of the slightest foundation. I have never sought an interview with him on any subject. I have never had any conversation with him, on such a subject. The whole story from beginning to end is a pure invention of his own, and, if not a hallucination, can only be described as a wilful and malicious falsehood.”

The Times of 8th March: ‘The editor of a Bradford evening paper yesterday
telegraphed to Lord Hugh Cecil, M.P., asking whether he had seen the
charges made by Mr Wanklyn, M.P. and whether they were true. The
reply received was: “Statement untrue. Hugh Cecil”. After Lord Hugh
Cecil’s disclaimer was received a telegram was sent to Mr Wanklyn, M.P.,
who replied as follows: “I did not say that Hugh Cecil knew of conspiracy, but Winston Churchill used his name to me as probable Education
Minister with or without his approval and also Lord Kitchener and Ernest
Beckett for War Office. Wanklyn”

The Times, on March had this: “Mr J. L. Wanklyn, M.P., attended last night the annual general meeting of the Leeds Licensed Victuallers. Referring to his controversy with Winston Churchill he said the latter had been driven into a corner. He denied point blank his Mr Wanklyn’s statements but let him refresh his memory for he kept a diary and a day book. … He had tried vague and curt denial but let him come out into the open. Let him issue a writ and let him know that his (Mr Wanklyn’s) solicitor was Mr Soames. He (Mr Wanklyn) should like to be at the elbow of the counsel who cross-examined him. Let him refer the matter to the arbitration of Mr Balfour, or Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, or three members of the House of Commons. He made the offer and if Winston Churchill refused it, they could draw their own conclusions. Here’s where the correspondence ended; and what probably was a drama in 1905 seems a comic episode in retrospect today…

As a backbencher Winston was one of the most hard working young
men in England. He had an astonishing capacity for sustained concentration. Although he shared a flat in Mayfair with his brother Jack, he had
no time for frivolity and rarely made a social engagement. Sometimes
friends persuaded him to visit them for a week-end, but even on these
occasions they seldom derived companionship from his presence. He
merely brought his work with him and organized his time as he would
at home. The American writer, George Smalley, was once a co-visitor
with Winston at Dunrobin, the vast mansion of the Duke and Duchess of
Suderland. Winston invited the journalist into his room and the latter
was astonished at the sight that greeted him. “His bedroom had been
turned into a literary workshop, strewn with books and papers and all the
apparatus of the writer. He had brought with him a tin box, some three
feet square, divided into closed compartments. This was his travelling
companion on journeys of pleasure. Like his father he wanted ample room
for his materials, and his hostess had provided him with a large writing-
table. This was covered with papers, loose and in docketed bundles, but all
in exact order for ready reference. When we left Dunrobin we found
that Winston had reserved a compartment in the railway train for himself
and for his big tin case of papers. He shut himself up there, and during
that long long journey read and wrote and worked as if a Highland rail-
way train were the natural and convenient laboratory in which literature
of a high order was to be distilled.”

Despite Winston’s flexibility he preferred to work at home. His study
contained his father’s huge writing-desk, his large brass inkwell and his
carved oak chair. He hung the walls with pictures of Lord Randolph and
even a picture of Lord Randolph’s prize-winning horse Abbesse de jouarre,
which the jockeys used to call “Abscess of the Jaw” and he decorated the
entrance hall with cartoons of Lord Randolph from “Punch” and “Vanity

He spoke in the House of Commons at least once and frequently twice
a month. He took infinite pains with his speeches, sometimes working on
them for as long as six weeks. He always wrote them out and learnt them
by heart. ‘In those days, and indeed for many years,’ he wrote, ‘I was
unable to say anything (except a sentence in rejoinder) that I had not
written out and committed to memory beforehand.’ Besides this, he often
practised his speeches by reciting them aloud, a habit which he evidently
followed for many years, for in 1908 a well-known newspaper editor wrote:
‘I have been told by one who was in Scotland with him when he was
campaigning that he never appears at his hostess’s table until tea-time.
All day he might be heard booming away in his bedroom, rehearsing
his facts and his flourishes to the accompaniment of resounding knocks
on the furniture.’ Once a speech was ready to be delivered he took care
that the newspapers received a copy in advance, and editors often were
surprised to see that the author had confidently punctuated his script with

During the first three years of his Parliamentary life he spoke almost
exclusively on two themes: military matters, of which he had a wide
knowledge, and financial affairs, in which he was guided by his father’s
ideas, interpreted by Sir Francis Mowatt. It was in the military field that
he made his most constructive contribution. Mr Brodrick’s scheme for the
reorganization of the Army was technically unsound and unworkable.
Winston seized every opportunity and attacked him, with tireless repeti-
tion, branding the scheme as the months passed with increasing vehemence
as “The Great English Fraud’, a ‘total, costly, ghastly failure’, as a ‘humbug
and a sham’. Finally the plan was abandoned, Mr Brodrick was moved to
the India Office, and a new Minister was appointed to produce a more
sensible proposal. This was a great triumph for the young backbencher.

His crusade for ‘economy’, however, was not so successful. The British
Army slowly expanded and the Army Estimates slowly rose. On 18
March, 1903, a Conservative M.P., Mr Elliott, said in the House: ‘Does
anyone really suppose that the circumstances of the old days are abso-
lutely past, and that in future all that would happen in the case of war
with a Continental Power would be our magnificent fleet pursuing an
inferior fleet? Such a state of things is unthinkable and I cannot imagine a
war between Britain and a Continental Power in which the British Army
would not be required.’ ‘Not in Europe,’ interrupted Churchill.

Needless to say Winston Churchill’s isolationism was not so much intellectual conviction as an inevitable outcome of championing his father’s unborn budget. No matter into what strange waters his cause led him, he clung to it stubbornly, and as a result one finds him attacking the Admiralty’s proposals to lay down eight new dreadnoughts, ships which proved indispensable to Britain right up until 1912.

During his first four years as a backbencher Winston took almost no interest in purely domestic matters. He spoke once in favour of the Conservative Education Bill and once in opposition to a Bill to allow a man to marry his dead wife’s sister. He was led into this last, he declares, against his better judgment, by the persuasion of his friend, Lord Hugh Cecil, who felt strongly that the sanctity of the home was somehow involved.
Although Churchill often raised his father’s old cry of ‘Tory Democracy
on the public platforms, the words had an empty ring. He offered no
proposals with which to bring them to life and once defined the slogan
vaguely as “the association of us all through the leadership of the past.”

It is not surprising that Winston at the age of twenty-six lacked his
father’s insight and interest in the social problems of the day. But it is an
interesting comparison that whereas Lord Randolph predicted the rise of
the Labour Party eight years before the Labour Party was even formed,
Winston appears to have been completely unaware of the social changes
towards which Britain was rapidly moving. “I like the British working
man,” he declared to an interviewer in 1900, “and so did my father before
me.” He had a deep faith in the sterling qualities of the working class,
unaccompanied by any knowledge of the conditions in which they lived.

The truth was that he was absorbed by ideas, and knew very little about
people; and his ideas as a backbencher, mainly financial, were simple and
old-fashioned. All the great reforms that were to engulf the nation during the next fifty years meant an entirely new approach to the nation’s fiscal policy; even if Winston had wished to introduce new reforms it would have been impossible for him to do so without completely altering his Victorian approach to Government expenditure. As it was he believed that an income tax of 1s. sd. in the pound, was the limit which could be imposed. He put his faith in a laissez-faire economy which produced the rich at one end who, as good Christians, were expected to help the poor at the other.
In 1902 the question of a subsidy for the West Indian sugar trade was discussed in the House of Commons. It was argued that when the world price fell too low thousands of native workers found themselves in desperate conditions. Churchill opposed the subsidy: “I object on principle, to doing by legislation what properly belongs to charity.”
In 1901 and 1902 income tax was raised from one shilling to one shilling and twopence, and one shilling and threepence, to pay the debts of the Boer War. In 1903 it dropped to eleven pence.

As the months passed Winston became increasingly rebellious. Early in 1903 he organized a group of backbenchers known as “The Hughlighans” in imitation of Lord Randolph’s famous Fourth Party. Among the members were Lord Hugh Cecil, Major Jack Seely, Mr Gibson Bowles, and also there, were two of Winston’s cousins, Ivor and Freddy Guest. All were high-spirited young politicians who agreed with Winston that good food and good brandy were essential to good talk. They discussed their burning questions over the best dinner that could be procured. Winston laid down the policy: “We shall dine first and consider our position afterwards. It shall be High Imperialism nourished by a devilled sardine.”

Winston led His small group into spirited attacks against the Government’s Army scheme. Sir James Fergusson, a loyal Tory, wrote indignantly to the Daily Telegraph that he had never known ‘an attack upon a Government so organized, and pressed with so much bitterness and apparent determination by members elected to support it.’

The Government, however, apparently remained unruffled. Arthur
Balfour continued to smile upon Winston in a paternal fashion, and Cham-
berlain evidently took the line that ‘boys will be boys’. The reason the
breach did not become serious was dear. Whereas Lord Randolph’s
leadership of the Fourth Party had made him such a power in the land that
the Prime Minister had been forced to give him office, Winston’s leadership
of the Hughlighans merely made him a diversion. The difference was that
Lord Randolph’s attack on the Opposition aroused popular interest and
finally led his party to victory, while Winston’s criticisms almost passed
unnoticed with the general public.

Suddenly Joseph Chamberlain raised a matter which started a national
controversy. This was the chance for which Churchill was waiting. He
plunged into the fray and overnight became the storm center of the House
of Commons. The twelve months from May 1903 to May 1904 stand out
even today as the most turbulent and tempestuous year of his political
At the end of it he crossed the floor and joined the Liberal Opposition.
The issue that generated all the heat was Protection versus Free Trade.
It arose because Joseph Chamberlain, the Conservative Colonial Secretary, wished to establish a system of Imperial Preferences which would allow imports from the Colonies and Dominions to receive special financial concessions.
[Hansard: 31 July 1904]

In order to do this, however, it was necessary first to establish
tariffs on goods from foreign countries. Today when the policy of
Imperial Preference has been in operation for twenty years it is difficult to
recapture the feeling it aroused at the beginning of the century; a large
section of the public regarded it as straight heresy.

Free Trade had been the corner-stone of British policy for fifty pros-
perous trading years. To the majority of British people it was not only
sound economics but almost a religion. Free Trade, they said, meant freedom and peaceful relations with the rest of the world while tariffs led
to wars. The Liberal Party was astonished that anyone should dare to
challenge a faith so well established and entered into the fight with pas-
sionate conviction. Even the Conservative Party was split in half. Three
members of Balfour’s Cabinet resigned and Sir Henry Campbell-
Bannerman, the Opposition Leader, wrote to a friend: ‘This reckless
criminal escapade of Joe’s is the great event of our time. It is playing Old
Harry with all Party relations.’

Gradually Balfour pulled the Conservative Parliamentary Party to-
gether again until ninety-five per cent were once more following their
leaders through the lobby. But Winston was not among them. This was
an issue after his own heart. First of all he was sure that his father would
have been with him in fighting Protection. ‘Everything I know suggests
to me that he would . . . have been one of its chief opponents.’ Second,
Sir Francis Mowatt was standing by with his customary advice. ‘Mowatt,
going far beyond the ordinary limits of a Civil Servant, making no secret
of his views, courting dismissal, challenging the administration in admir-
able State papers, carried on the struggle himself He armed me with
facts and arguments of a general character and equipped me with a know-
ledge of economics, very necessary to a young man who, at twenty-eight,
is called upon to take a prominent part in the controversy.’

A few days after Chamberlain outlined his tariff policy to his Birming-
ham constituents Churchill made a fighting speech in the House of Commons. “The new fiscal policy, means a change, not only in the historic English Parties but in the conditions of our public life. The old Conservative Party with its religious convictions and constitutional principles will disappear and a new party will arise . . . like perhaps the Republican Party in the United States of America . . . rigid, materialist and secular, whose opinions will turn on tariffs and who will cause the lobbies to be crowded with the touts of protected industries Not for the last hundred years has a more surprising departure been suggested.”

It was obvious that Churchill was prepared to be a formidable adversary. This was the psychological moment for Arthur Balfour, in the traditional manner of Prime Ministers with powerful rebels, to silence him by inviting him to join the Government. Winston had carefully smoothed the way by announcing that although he was an opponent of Tariff Reform he was not an opponent of his Party. But Balfour remained adamant. He reshuffled his Cabinet, he invited new Ministers to take the place of old Ministers, but Churchill was not one of them. Arthur Balfour had strict ideas on Parliamentary behaviour. He refused to promote rebels over the heads of loyal party supporters. And perhaps, too, he remembered what his uncle, Lord Salisbury, had replied when someone asked him if he would not like to have Lord Randolph Churchill in his Government again. “When you have got rid of a boil on your neck, you don’t want it back.” Many years later Lord Birkenhead, one of Winston’s closest friends, wrote: “‘He can wait’ has always been the Tory formula which has chilled the hopes of young and able men . . . And so chance after chance of modest promotion went by … Winston characteristically jumped the whole fence.”

There is no doubt that although Churchill was genuinely opposed to
Protection, he was not slow to see the political possibilities that the issue
raised. He had sat on the back benches for two years now, and he felt
it was far too long. After all, the Boer War had lifted him to prominence
and in the election of 1900 both Balfour and Chamberlain had asked him
to address audiences of five thousand people. They knew he had the
ability. Why were they holding him back? Because of his youth? He
would show them that he was not prepared to spend the best, and perhaps
the only, years of his life in parliamentary obscurity. If he could rally
enough public and parliamentary support against Chamberlain’s Protec-
tion scheme he might be able to force the Prime Minister to dissociate
himself from it, in which case Winston almost certainly would be invited
to step into the Cabinet. This was the way his father had attained office
and he would play the same game for the same stakes.

A journalist asked Winston, as his new and dangerous course became dear: “Are Politics everything to you?”

He answered: “Politics are almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous.”

“Even with the new rifle?” his questioner continued.

“Well, in war, you can only be killed once, but in politics
many times.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 5.45.07 PM

So Churchill buoyantly travelled further along the path of opposition.
Joseph Chamberlain spent the summer campaigning throughout the country for his plan, and Winston spent the summer campaigning against it. The battle lifted him to the forefront of political life and he was now regarded as one of the most controversial figures in the House of Commons. And like all controversial figures he aroused intense emotion.

The personal impression he made on those who met him varies so greatly that the only common denominator appears to be the fact that no one could overlook him. Some idea of the range of opinions may be seen from the following extracts from contemporary diaries. Mrs Beatrice Webb, the straitlaced, serious-minded Socialist, wrote on 8 July, 1903:

‘Went into dinner with Winston Churchill. First impressions: restless almost intolerably so, without capacity for sustained and unexciting or boring
labour . . . egotistical, bumptious, shallow-minded and reactionary, but
with a certain personal magnetism, great pluck and some originality . . .
not of intellect but of character. More of the American speculator than
the English aristocrat. Talked exclusively about himself and his electioneering plans . . . wanted me to tell him of someone who would get up statistics for him. “I never do any brain work that anyone else can do for me” … an axiom which shows organizing but not thinking capacity.
Replete with dodges for winning Oldham against the Labour and Liberal
candidates. But I daresay he has a better side . . . which the ordinary cheap
cynicism of his position and career covers up to a casual dinner acquaintance.

Three months later, on 31 October, Wilfrid Blunt, poet, traveller and humanitarian, wrote in his diary: “I stopped to luncheon with Victor and Pamela and met for the first time young Winston Churchill. He is a little square-headed fellow of no very striking appearance, but of wit, intelligence and originality. In mind and manner he is a strange replica of his father, with all his father’s suddenness and assurance, and I should say more than his father’s ability. There is just the same ‘gaminerie,’ and contempt of the conventional, and the same engaging plainspokeness, and readiness to understand. … He has a power of writing, Randolph never had, he was a schoolboy with his pen, and he has education and a political tradition. He interested me immensely.”

In the autumn Churchill recklessly began to burn his boats. In December he wrote the Liberal candidate at the Ludlow by-election and wished him success against his Conservative opponent, declaring that “the time has now come when Free Traders of all parties should form one line of battle against a common foe” and at a Free Trade Meeting at Halifax two days later he ended his speech with the cry: “Thank God we have a Liberal Party.”

His local constituency party called him to account, informing him coldly that he could no longer depend on their support. Churchill defended himself by saying that “it was the Government, not he, who was betraying the people who voted for him. When Mr Balfour succeeded Lord Salisbury, he solemnly pledged himself at the Carlton Club that the policy of the Party should be unchanged. And yet at Sheffield, only a year afterwards, he declared for a “fundamental reversal of
the policy of the last fifty years.” Therefore it is not against me that any
charge of breaking pledges can be preferred.”

In the House of Commons Churchill moved to an independent seat below the gangway. He continued to call himself a supporter of the Conservative Party, but redoubled his attacks on Chamberlain’s tariff policy.

There was no doubt that the idea of tariffs was unpopular in the country, and Churchill still felt he might be able to force Balfour to reject it. However, he was aware that anger and dislike were mounting against him in his own Party, and he accepted the fact that if things were pushed too far — he must be prepared to cross the floor of the House.

There already were persistent rumours that this was what he intended to do, but he remained silent on the subject.

The Pall Mall Gazette came out with an article emphatically denying that any such idea had crossed his mind.
“Few people realize the intensity of his devotion to Toryism . . . and yet this is one of the most striking characteristics of the member for Oldham. He is a Tory by birth and inheritance. Toryism possesses him. . . . It is with him something of a religion. He once talked to me concerning Toryism of “our spiritual ideals” . . . “Some of us,” he once said, “were born in the Tory Party and we are not going to let any aliens turn us out.” “I referred to the Radical journalist and the gorgeous future he had mapped out for Winston Churchill. Oh, absurd. I am a Tory and must always remain a Tory.”

Meanwhile the lobby correspondents watched Winston’s tactics with amused interest They could not help referring repeatedly to the resemblance between father and son: “Less in face than in figure, in gesture and manner of speech. When the young Member for Oldham addresses the House, with hands on hips, head bent forward, right foot stretched forth, memories of days that are no more flood the brain. Like father is son, in his habit of independent view of current topics, the unexpectedness of his conclusions, his disregard for authority, his contempt of the conventions, his perfect phrasing of disagreeable remarks.”

“His special enmity to Chamberlain and all his works is hereditary. He does not forget and can never forgive the rebuff that seared his father’s proud heart when Birmingham clamoured for him to represent them in the House of Commons and Chamberlain peremptorily said “no” . . . Winston is a convinced Free Trader. But he enters with lighter, more fully gladdened heart into the conflict, since Protection is championed by his father’s ancient adversary.”

At the Sheffield Party Conference to which Churchill referred, it became plain that a large majority favoured Protection with an almost idealistic fervour as a means of binding the Empire closer together.

It was becoming apparent that the Conservative Party was steadily losing its popularity in the country. The Opposition was able to whip up criticism of the Government on several grounds; first its inept handling of the Boer War; second its employment of indentured Chinese labour in the African gold mines which the Liberals branded as ‘slave labour’ and were turning into an important moral issue; third its interest in Protective Tariffs which the public suspected would mean dearer food. It was obvious that Conservative election prospects were declining. The historian D. C. Somervell, wrote this: “From 1903 onwards, it seemed certain, and not only to those who wished it, that Balfour’s Government would be defeated at the next election.”

Winston’s repeated attacks in the face of this decline infuriated his colleagues. Instead of trying to retrieve the position he was contributing to
the rot, and, incidentally, dashing the political hopes of his associates as
well. Although many of them had reservations about the tariff policy
they were willing to bury their differences at critical moments and were
incensed that Churchill refused to play the game in what they called a
‘gentlemanly’ fashion. They might have forgiven him had they believed
in bis sincerity but they thought he was influenced mainly by ambition,
and began to denounce him as ‘wickedly hypocritical’. One of his contemporaries, Mr MacCallum Scott, wrote that ‘the followers of Mr Chamberlain repaid his hostility with a passionate personal hatred over which they vainly endeavoured to throw a mask of contempt There was no better hated man in the House of Commons.’

Some idea of the fury he aroused was demonstrated in March 1904 when an unprecedented scene took place in the House. A week before the incident, Major Jack Seely, a close friend of Churchill, announced his resignation from the Conservative Party on the question of “Chinese slavery in South Africa.” Emotions ran so high and there was such an uproar in the House Major Seely scarcely could make himself heard.
Churchill shouted above the din: “Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
I am quite unable to hear what my honourable Friend is saying owing to
the vulgar clamour maintained by the Conservative Party.” With this a
Conservative M.P. jumped up pointing to Winston and screaming angrily that “the vulgarest expression came from this honourable Gentleman.” Amid the hubbub the Speaker tried to explain that he was not so much concerned with the vulgarity of the expressions as the loudness with which they were delivered.

This was the prelude. A week later the English public picked up the
morning edition of the Daily Mail to read the following headlines:
The reporter then gave the following account: “The rank and file of
the Unionist Party who are still loyal to their leaders took a singular and
striking step in the House of Commons yesterday to mark their disapproval of Mr Winston Churchill’s attitude.”
“For a considerable time his speeches have been almost without excep-
tion directed against the policy of the Government. They have been
clever, severe, biting in their sarcasm, full of sneers and scorn for Mr
Balfour and his Ministers. Last week in the incident over Major Seely ‘s
resignation Winston Churchill came into sharp collision with his former party friends, when he characterized their interjections as “vulgar clamor.”

The insult was resented at the moment and it rankled. The Unionists apparently resolved that he would not have cause to complain again of “vulgar clamor.” Yesterday when he rose to follow Mr Lloyd George in the debate on the adjournment at five o’clock, there was a general movement to the tea rooms.

“Mr Balfour at this juncture had risen and met Mr Austen Chamberlain beyond the glass door behind the Speaker’s chair. Winston Churchill objected to the departure of the Prime Minister when he was about to speak. He was astonished at such a lack of deference and respect. The Unionists who remained then got up and also left the House. Some turned back at the doors and looked in to see how many were left. Less than a dozen members, mostly Free Traders, sat on the Government side.”

“The merry jest, the sparkling epigram and the ironical sally, departed
likewise from Winston Churchill’s oration. He never speaks unless there is a full House. The full House had melted away under his spell. It was a chilling rebuke, crushing, unanswerable. He complained bitterly at the slight, and murmured some phrases about a shifty policy of shifty evasion. There were only the crowded benches of the Liberals to cheer. Behind him was silence and desolation.”

This episode was the breaking point. Churchill at once began making arrangements to stand as a Liberal candidate at the next election. Until his plans were completed he continued to sit, belligerently, on the Conservative benches; but three weeks later, on 22 April, he delivered a speech on the Trade Disputes Bill which left the action he was contemplating in no further doubt. It was the first left-wing speech of his career and was described by the Daily Mail as Radicalism of the reddest type. But the speech was not only sensational for its content; it was sensational because its author lost the thread of his argument three quarters of the way through, and was unable to finish it.

The headlines of the Daily Mail shouted:”Winston Churchill BREAKS DOWN.” “DRAMATIC SCENE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.”

Churchill began his oration by calling “the Conservative Party is a “sham” and afraid to deal with the problems of the working classes. I do not think it can be said, that Labour bulks too largely in English politics at the present time. When one considers the gigantic powers which by the consent of both Parties have been given to the working classes; when on the other hand, one considers the influence in this House of company directors, the learned professions, the service members, the railway, the landed and liquor interests; it will surely be
admitted that the influence of Labour on the course of legislation is even
ludicrously small.”

“It lies with the Government, to satisfy the working classes that there is no justification . . .” He paused, hesitated, then began the sentence again. But the words would not come. According to the Daily Mail reporter: “A few Members murmured a cheer. Winston Churchill looked confused in his boyish way, and smiled at the awkwardness, the absurdity of the position.”

“It lies with them . . .”

“What?” he ejaculated, as someone suggested a word which was not the right word.

“He lifted a slip of paper from the bench but the cue was not there. He searched the deep pockets of his frock-coat but found no help. Major Sedy picked torn scraps from the floor, and the words were not there … It was all over. He sat down murmuring “thanks to the House for its kindness.”
The Conservative Party looked silently on, wondering and asking, what might have overtaken him so suddenly, so swiftly, and so dramatically?”

Many of these Members of Parliament remembered how Lord Randolph had broken down in the House a few months before his death. And now they were thinking: Was Winston ill? Would he, too, go the way of his father? Has Wilson succumbed to the dark fate that surrounds all those bearing the name Churchill? Rumours swept the lobbies and gossip reached a crescendo of excitement. But Winston was far from physical collapse. He had merely begun trying to change his methods of speaking. Instead of learning his orations by heart he was attempting to deliver them from paragraph headings. This was an effort to limber up so that Arthur Balfour could not jeer at him for having “powerful artillery that was not very mobile.”

Indeed, he never broke down again, and continued to arrange his speeches in headings; but he also reverted to memorizing them.

Controversy continued to rage about Churchill and it seems to have extended to conflicting views even about his appearance. This was due to his quick, changing moods which sometimes turned from loquaciousness to a silence that was almost sulky. When he was animated he reminded his audience of a young fighting cock, but when his face was in repose he struck them as old and tired. For this reason one finds completely contradictory descriptions of him in the contemporary journals.

While the Daily Mail correspondent describes the “unmistakably schoolboy grin that suddenly lights up Winston Churchill’s face in the middle of a stormy
scene, not the assumed smile so often seen in Parliament, but the real grin
of one who is alive to all the fun of things. I saw it in Winston Churchill’s face when Sir Trout Bardey was rebuking him for vulgarity…”

The Pall Mall Gazette is assuring its readers: “In appearance there is nothing of “the Boy’ left in the white, nervous, washed-out face of the Member for Oldham. He walks with a stoop, his head thrust forward. His mouth expresses bitterness, the light eyes strained watchfulness. It is a tired face, white, worn, harassed . . . There is, indeed, little of youth left to the Member for Oldham.”

However, despite these claims there was plenty of energy left. At Easter
time Churchill was adopted as liberal candidate for Northeast Man-
chester. On 16 May he made what proved to be his farewell speech from
the Conservative benches, declaring: “Extravagant finance would drag
the Government to the ground and be written on the head of its tombstone.”

To be continued:

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: