John McDonell, shadow chancellor in the House of Commons and one of those likely to shape the future of the country, if the Labour Party were to be elected, has been reported as having said that Winston Churchill was a villain. In a public poll in 2002, Churchill was chosen as the greatest Briton of all time, so McDonnell’s comments will have grated with those who heard the reports.
Of course, Winston Churchill was a villain. He was also a renegade, a drunk, and, at the end of his ministry, a pathetic figure. Read about his exploits as a British army officer in the Boer War and he is a buccaneering, wilful figure who did not take orders easily.
In 1910, when he ordered soldiers to be used against striking miners in Tonypandy, he was the member of a Liberal government that achieved more in terms of social reforms than John McDonnell’s party leader has done in more than thirty-five years in Parliament.
Churchill was responsible for the disastrous Dardanelles campaign that led to the tragedy of the beaches at Gallipoli. He resigned from the government and went back to the Western Front where he was treated with such suspicion that he was not posted back to his old regiment. His recklessness continued uncurtailed, he took part in thirty-six night raids into No Man’s Land. No-one could have doubted his bravery, it was his judgment that was questionable.
In the 1930s, he became a fierce critic of the government of Neville Chamberlain, he opposed appeasement. Yet if Britain had gone to war in 1938, it would have lost the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain. It was 16th October 1939 before the Spitfire came into service -appeasement unwittingly bought Britain precious time for rearmament.
Even as Prime Minister, Churchill was no model of correctness. He drank heavily and would sleep late into the day. He was fortunate in being surrounded by people who restrained him in his less wise inclinations.
By the 1950s, his powers were failing and he was no longer able to cope with the office of prime minister. He was gently encouraged to go by his own party.
Churchill was a deeply flawed man. John McDonell was right in suggesting he was a villain, he could have accused him of worse. Yet none of his flaws detract from him as the person much loved by those who voted for him in that poll.
It was George Bernard Shaw who wrote in 1903, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Churchill was a very unreasonable man, which was why he achieved so much.