May 3, 2014

Scholars Discuss Churchill’s Leadership and its Influence

LSEOn 29 April, the London School of Economics and Political Science in conjunction with The Churchill Centre, hosted a Churchill Debate. The major theme of the event was Winston Churchill’s leadership and how his approach to leadership has created a legacy of Churchill as a political icon. The event was chaired by Dr. Anthony Best, who introduced the themes and speakers in the crowded Hong Kong Theatre. Dr. A Warren Dockter provided the following report:

Lord Alan Watson began by noting the importance of words chosen in Churchill’s speeches and examined Churchill’s roles in the Battle of Britain and after the Second World War. He concluded that Churchill’s strength of leadership lay within his language, courage and resilience.

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Dr. Lucy Noakes addressed Churchill’s legacy as a political icon and how his perceived style of pugnacious and stubborn leadership has been utilized by both sides of the political spectrum since Churchill’s death through to the invasion of Iraq and even today, locating Churchill’s anti-appeasement stance in the current situation with Russia and Ukraine.  While she acknowledged that at times Churchill’s legacy had been misrepresented, she argued that ultimately the Churchillian myth was inexorably linked to British national identity and that this was no bad thing.

Professor Richard Toye, author of The Roar of the Lion (reviewed in Finest Hour 161), took a different approach, speaking on Churchill’s speeches and how they were received by the British public. He underlined the importance of their oratorical power but was careful to note that not everyone loved Churchill’s speeches, and that in fact, they may have been less popular than traditionally observed.  Toye argued that power in Churchill’s speeches lay in their truthfulness (which some members of the British public found depressing) and this established Churchill up as a steadfast and trustworthy leader.

Moreover, Toye argued, this allowed Churchill to construct his image as a confrontational leader while remaining rather pragmatic in his approach to leadership. Toye concluded by recalling Churchill’s famous quote to the students of Harrow in 1941; ‘Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in,’ but was quick to add the next line of the speech which is often forgotten, ‘never give in… except to convictions of honour and good sense.’

Several questions from the audience further illuminated Churchill’s leadership and legacy taking into account class divisions, party politics, and war tactics. Ultimately, the event was a success and the Churchill Centre looks forward to next year’s Churchill Debate.panelL-R: Richard Toye, Lucy Noakes, Anthony Best, Lord Watson 

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