Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Another of my Hay purchases was a biography of Winston Churchill that I picked up for a couple of quid. It was written by the Labour MP Emrys Hughes in 1950, and is basically a long election pamphlet explaining why Churchill would be a disastrous choice in the 1950 or 1951 election.
It is a fascinating document and shows how the contents of campaigning has changed little in the intervening 60 years. Churchill is portrayed as a disastrous leader who is only ever right by luck and would lead Britain into war as soon as he could.
To be fair to Hughes he was consistent in his opposition to war: he notes he was one of the Labour delegates at the 1940 special conference to vote against endorsing the coalition and spoke out then ("The resolution says the new Prime Minister commands the confidence of the nation. Even in war time this is too much for me." p172).
However he plays every trick in the leaflet writers lexicon: quoting out of context, attacking a change in position over several years as a bad thing (is it perhaps possible that Hitler and Germany had become a bigger threat than the Soviet Union?), attacking Churchill for not prolonging the war to deal with Soviet abuses, and attacking Churchill for his attacks on the Soviet Union. Churchill's position on the abdication is attacked by Hughes, but it isn't clear whether Hughes agrees with Baldwin or with Churchill: this reservation of position is used in several places and is quite sneaky. The section on the start of the war is good too.
One favourite bit is on p174: Churchill's famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toils, tears and sweat" speach is observed to be, brace yourself, not wholly original but to have classical and later historical predecessors ("Livy, Cicero, Ennius, Pizarro and Garribaldi").
The shelving of the Beveridge report is mentioned, what isn't is that it was part of the Conservative 1945 manifesto as well as both the Liberal and Labour parties.
There is plenty og grounds to attack Churchill of course: his move from Conservative to Liberal and back; his excessive praise of Mussolini; the Dardanelles campaign and the British intervention in the Russian civil war to pick four.
However this is a terrific hatchet job: Churchill is not the Labour candidate so he must be shown to have no merit at all. Success is in spite of him, failure because of. This is still eveident in the election dialogue of all parties.
There is relevance today: this is the style of political campaigning that AV would limit. There is no positive reason to vote for Labour given, just a reason not to vote Conservative. When everyone does this why are we surprised that turn out falls? I might annoy people with a return to this theme later.