In 1951, Churchill finally avenged that devastating defeat of 1945 and was back in Downing Street. He was nearly seventy-seven. During this second period as Prime Minister, what he later referred to as ‘several years of quiet steady administration’, Churchill devoted much of his energy to foreign affairs; to Cold War issues, strengthening Anglo-American relations (that ‘special relationship’) and to retaining Britain’s position as a global power.
I want so much to lead the Conservatives back to victory. I know I am worth a million votes to them.
Quoted in Churchill, Michael Wardell, ‘Churchill’s Dagger: A Memoir of La Capponcina’, Finest Hour 87, Summer 1995
He didn’t do much in the way of domestic policy-making – stating once that the government’s priorities were ‘houses and meat and not being scuppered’ (John Colville, 22–23 March 1952).
Churchill didn’t enjoy being in opposition after 1945 and he didn’t attend the House of Commons very often, leaving the day-to-day party management to others. He didn’t seem particularly interested in economic issues, and the Conservatives came to seem increasingly out of step with the drive towards welfare and reconstruction.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, then, he ‘looked like a dinosaur at a light engineering exhibition’ (Aneurin Bevan, ‘History’s Impresario’). Vulnerable at home, unable to influence policy (and generally unwilling to), Churchill played to his strengths. He knew that he had the most to offer in his role as the great elder statesman who had ‘won the War’, and for the second time in his career, he turned his attentions abroad – and to the US.
The best that can be said for Churchill as leader of the Conservative Party is that he exercised a vague but olympian authority and kept the show on the road.
Paul Addison, review of Gilbert, Never Despair
In the general election of May 1929, the Conservatives under Baldwin lost their majority and went into opposition against a Labour government. Although Churchill was keen to develop an alliance between Liberals and Conservatives, his proposal was vetoed by some in the Shadow Cabinet.
Finding himself out on a limb politically and increasingly frustrated by developments in Westminster, in August 1929 Churchill left Britain for a three-month tour of Canada and the United States, his first visit to the continent since 1901. He was to remain without a ministerial position for the next ten years.
Those who had felt Churchill’s career had reached its limit when the Conservatives were defeated in 1929 now felt vindicated. Even some of his own party thought Churchill was out of date and out of touch. Rather than weakening Baldwin’s position (as leader), as some thought he’d intended, Churchill – by endeavouring to ‘marshal British opinion’ for a lost cause – in fact, weakened his own position.
When Baldwin and MacDonald joined forces to form a National Government in 1931, bringing together leading figures from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties, Churchill’s views on India meant he was excluded from office. With his standing and credibility seriously damaged, this ‘personal crusade without restraint or care for the consequences’ (Ball, Churchill) meant his later warnings about the dangers of Nazism went largely unheeded.
After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Churchill wanted his wartime coalition government to continue until the defeat of Japan which wasn’t anticipated for another year at least. But Labour and the majority of the Liberals refused and pulled out of the coalition. Churchill headed a Conservative ‘caretaker’ government for a brief period until Parliament was dissolved and the first general election for ten years was held.
I must tell you that in spite of all our victories a rough road lies ahead. What a shame it would be, and what a folly, to add to our load the bitter quarrels with which the extreme socialists are eager to convulse and exploit these critical years. For the sake of the country and of your own happiness I call upon you to march with me under the banner of freedom towards the beacon lights of national prosperity and honour which must ever be our guide.
Churchill, 21 June 1945
Michael Jago, Rab Butler: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had?London: Biteback, 2015, £25, 464 pages.
In his memoirs The Art of the Possible Rab Butler describes one of his predecessors as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, as “the Uncrowned Prime Minister.” In time, the sobriquet has become one ever attached to Butler himself, three times a possible prime minister, and one reflected in the subtitle of this carefully researched and authoritative new biography.
However, Butler’s supporters, and they were manifold, should not grieve, but, in Wordsworth’s words, “rather find strength in what remains behind.” For Butler, like two other “nearly men,” Joseph Chamberlain (Austen’s father) and Roy Jenkins, left more of an imprint on his times than many who did make it to 10 Downing Street. Butler’s great monument is the 1944 Education Act, the foremost piece of domestic legislation enacted by Churchill’s war-time government, which transformed the possibilities for generations of young people after the Second World War. Read More >
Michael Jago, Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister, Biteback, 2014, 400 pages, £25.
Much like Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee is a prime minister about whom many biographies are written. This output attests to his importance in British history for several reasons: as the longest-serving leader of the Labour Party; as the person whose refusal to serve in a coalition government with Neville Chamberlain helped bring Churchill to power; as the Deputy Prime Minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition; and as the head of the postwar Labour government that created a welfare state and nationalized several industries.
The life Michael Jago outlines differs little from previous biographies. He skims through Attlee’s upper-middle-class childhood in the London suburb of Putney, his education at Haileybury and Oxford, and his turn from a legal career to social work in the East End. Jago’s narrative then slows with Attlee’s entry into politics and focuses closely on his ascent to the leadership of the Labour Party in 1935. Jago argues that Attlee’s rise was far from the product of accidental circumstances, as has so often been claimed. Yet while the description of Attlee’s undoubted skills is convincing, it is hard to deny that the decimation of Labour’s parliamentary leadership in the 1931 general election helped clear the way for Attlee’s subsequent selection as party leader four years later. Read More >
Humorous behind the scenes footage of Churchill in January 1950 preparing a newsreel for the upcoming British General Election
In this election Churchill’s efforts came to naught as the Labour Party returned with a narrow majority of only six seats. But Labour had lost 78 seats while the Conservatives had gained 85 seats, thereby laying a foundation for another election in the near future, one Churchill privately predicted would come within the year. “One more heave before the year is out,” he wrote to a friend. But the heave was not to come until October, 1951.
A statue of Churchill was unveiled on 27 June 1955
In 1955 the Lord Mayor of London unveiled a status of Sir Winston Churchill in the Guildhall in London. Rarely is a statue dedicated during the lifetime of a person being honoured. Some of the most iconic statues and busts of Churchill, including this one, were created by the prolific artist Oscar Nemon.
Winston Churchill became Prime Minster for the first time during the Second World War and in 1950 he was asked by the King to form a government for the second time. In April in 1955 he resigned for the final time as Prime Minister.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
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