Seventy years ago this month, on 26 October 1951, Winston Churchill was returned to Downing Street as Prime Minister, a bit more than six years after he had been voted out at the end of the Second World War. In the fourteenth general election of his fifty-year parliamentary career, Churchill, at the age of seventy-six, was re-elected.
King George VI asked Churchill to form a government. “It was great fun,” Harold Macmillan later recalled, “to join again in the old scenes which reminded me of the wartime Churchill….Children, friends, Ministers, private secretaries, typists, all in a great flurry but all thoroughly enjoying the return to the centre of the stage.”
Churchill’s second administration was not remotely so dramatic as his first, but it was, in a far more prosaic sense, heroic. Refusing to give in to his own frailty, Churchill persevered, often with vision, grace, and, on occasion, brilliance in navigating his diminished nation through the postwar minefields of economic devastation at home and the Communist threat abroad.
Churchill generated, with enormous effort, more than sporadic bursts of his old vigor and engagement, thought those closest to him, including Clementine, doubted his ability to survive, let alone achieve anything substantial as Prime Minister. “One can’t expect to live forever,” he remarked to Lord Moran in deflecting suggestions that he step down for his own survival. As for mistakes—“the man who makes no mistakes,” he insisted, “makes nothing.” “I am always ready to learn,” he explained in the House of Commons, ”although I do not always like being taught.”
Barry Singer is the author of Churchill Style (Abrams Image, 2012) and the proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City.
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