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« Block party | Main | Geoff Norcott – Taking Liberties »

Blocked by Churchill’s grandson

Much is being made of the fact that Winston Churchill’s grandson is one of 21 Tory ‘rebels’ who face losing the Tory whip after voting against the government last night.

As it happens I’ve just finished reading Andrew Roberts’ magnificent book, ‘Churchill: Walking With Destiny’, which I took on holiday with me, and while his grandfather was without doubt (and for all his faults) a great man, the same cannot be said of Sir Nicholas Soames, the MP for Mid Sussex.

It may make an interesting footnote, I suppose, if Soames is kicked out of the party but it’s hardly a seismic event.

Indeed, it’s entirely in keeping with Churchill’s own relationship with the Conservative party. Not only did he cross the floor twice - once to join the Liberals, then to rejoin the Tories - but Churchill’s relationship with the party, and many of his colleagues, was strained even during the war.

Funnily enough I was blocked by Soames on Twitter several years ago. I can’t remember why. I try not to post abusive comments on social media but the word ‘pompous’ may have slipped out.

Either way, I don’t think it justified being blocked but, then again, I’m not one of his constituents so he can do what he likes. It did however reveal a thin skin behind the bluster which surprised me.

Anyway, regarding Churchill and his attitude to the modern day European Union, the truth is we’ll never know.

According to historian Andrew Roberts, however, Churchill’s post war view of Britain’s future relationship with the continent was pretty clear:

On 19 September 1946, Churchill made another momentous speech, this time from the splendid purple marble podium in the Great Hall of Zurich University. It picked up on a phrase from a speech of April 1944 in which he had mentioned a future United States of Europe. Churchill recognized that the two greatest tragedies of his lifetime had both stemmed from Franco-German wars, and he pledged himself to building a new Franco-German amity that would be the essential first step along the road to European unity, and which he also hoped would be a counterpoise to Soviet Communism.

At Zurich he used the phrase ‘Let Europe arise!’ This was his Western European counterpart to the Fulton [Missouri] speech [when he had spoken for the first time of an ‘iron curtain’ descending on Europe], a passionate statement in support of European unity, which still reads very well today. In his peroration, he as usual made it perfectly clear - as he always did whenever he spoke in public or private on the subject - that he did not intend Britain to join the United Europe herself: ‘In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and I trust Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well, must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.’

At the Conservative Party Conference at Llandudno in Wales on 9 October 1948:

... Churchill unveiled his idea of Britain being the link between ‘the three great circles among the free nations and democracies’ - the British Empire and Commonwealth, the United States and a United Europe ...

Significantly, on 12 August 1948, Churchill had told Violet Bonham Carter that the ‘Federal solution’ could not work because ‘a Parliament of Europe [is] quite impracticable.’

The world has changed since then, obviously. The British Empire no longer exists and neither Britain nor the Commonwealth have the power or influence that the Empire once had.

Whether Churchill's position would have changed regarding our relationship with a 'United Europe' is something that can only be speculated upon.

More pertinent, perhaps, to the current post referendum obstructionism is what Churchill told the US Congress in December 1941:

‘I am a child of the House of Commons. I was brought up in my father’s house to believe in democracy. “Trust the people.” That was his message.’

What a pity that belief isn’t shared by more MPs today.

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