February 5, 2015

The First Political Campaign

In late March, 1899, on his way home from Egypt, Churchill wrote to his grandmother explaining his decision to leave the Army for a writing career: “Had the army been a source of income to me instead of a channel of expenditure I might have felt compelled to stick to it. But I can live cheaper & earn more as a writer, special correspondent or journalist; and this work is moreover more congenial and more likely to assist me in pursing the larger ends of life.”

To Churchill, “the larger ends of life” meant a career in politics. His son Randolph reports in the official biography that Churchill even “consulted a fashionable palmist, Mrs. Robinson, who claimed to see favourable omens in his hand.” Churchill was courted by a number of Conservative constituencies who wanted him to stand as their candidate at the next general election.

One of them was Oldham, a working-class district where there were two members, one of whom, James Oswald, was in poor health. The other member, Robert Ascroft, asked Churchill to stand with him in Oswald’s place at the next election. In the event, it was Ascroft who unexpectedly died on 19 June 1899 and Oswald resigned in turn, setting up a double by election.

Churchill’s Conservative running mate was a trade union leader named James Mawdsley, the General Secretary of the Lancashire branch of the Amalgamated Association of Cotton Spinners, for which Ascroft had long served as its lawyer. Matching the young Churchill with a union leader‹ “The Scion and the Socialist”‹was thought to be a good way to appeal to the working class vote as their Liberal Party opponents were both wealthy men. It didn’t work. As Churchill later said:

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“My poor Trade Unionist friend and I would have had very great difficulty in finding £500 between us, yet we were accused of representing the vested interest of society, while our opponens, who were certainly good for a quarter of a million, claimed to champion in generous fashion the causes of the poor and needy.”

Prior to the campaign Churchill had written to his namesake, the popular American novelist Winston Churchill, proposing a solution to the possible confusion engendered by the American’s forthcoming publication of Richard Carvel and Churchill’s own Savrola, then being serialized in Macmillan’s Magazine, and his forthcoming The River War:

“Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both…Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other works, ‘Winston Spencer Churchill’ and not ‘Winston Churchill’ as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill…He takes this occasion of complimenting Mr. Winston Churchill upon the style and success of his works, which are always brought to his notice…”

The American responded in kind: “Mr. Winston Churchill is extremely grateful to Mr. Winston Churchill for bringing forward a subject which has given Mr. Winston Churchill much anxiety. Mr. Winston Churchill appreciates the courtesy of Mr. Winston Churchill in adopting the name of “Winston Spencer Churchill” in his books, articles, etc. Mr. Winston Churchill makes haste to add that, had he possessed any other names, he would certainly have adopted one of them…Mr. Winston Churchill will take the liberty of sending Mr. Winston Churchill copies of the two novels he has written. He has a high admiration for the works for of Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill and is looking forward with pleasure to reading Savrola.”

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