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Winston Churchill - The Wilderness Years After 1929

how accurate a descri ption is this of Winston Churchill`s political career at this time?

Date : 11/01/2016


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Uploaded by : Paul
Uploaded on : 11/01/2016
Subject : History

Churchill - The Wilderness Years 1929-1940

How accurate is this descri ption of Winston Churchill`s political career after 1929 and up to the end of the 1930`s?

Introduction. This period is often called the wilderness years because Churchill was out of office but he remained a prominent politician and he was rarely out of the limelight. The period started well enough Churchill went on a lecture tour of the USA and Canada and he was impressed enough with Canada that he wrote to his wife Clementine even considering moving there. Churchill had many friends and associates, when he travelled across Canada by train he did so in a private railway carriage lent by one of his many friends and supporters. His family at home was growing although he lost one child (Marigold) to illness, this would have been a blow but we forget how common this was in an age before antibiotics and the kinds of medical technology that we all take for granted today. Initially Churchill was extremely well off by the standards of the day, he writes to Clem (his wife) saying that they have around £21,000 but like so many Churchillís investments were badly hit by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and he lost around £10,000.This was a bad setback, Churchill had purchased Chartwell as a family home and he had to mothball it and move the family into a cottage on the grounds. For Churchill this was slumming it but compared with the desperate and grinding poverty caused by the great depression this was nothing to moan about. Churchill could always find a publisher for his writings, newspapers and magazines, he wrote about his experiences in Canada and the USA and devoted time to writing his biography of John Spencer Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough (his famous ancestor) and his victory at Blenheim.

In researching John Spencer Churchillís (Marlboroughís) biography Churchill travelled through Europe and especially Germany. Her he came across the emerging Nazi movement quite early on and was quick to see the perceived dangers on German National Socialism and the rise of Hitler. Churchillís open warnings about the rise and power of the Naziís are a constant theme in the 1930ís and this made him very unpopular at home at a time when the policy of appeasement meant trying to negotiate with Hitler and meet his demands. Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing and the legacy of the terrible carnage of the First World War remained a huge influence particularly on the older generation that was now running the country. Equally many young people were opposed to any future war and organisations like the Peace Pledge un ion where people took an oath not to fight in any future war were very popular. The Great Depression and mass unemployment meant that government spending on the military came under great pressure both morally and economically at a time when the government needed every penny to try and help people through the problems of unemployment and poor housing. It is understandable that money spent on slum clearance and building new council homes seemed make far more sense than strengthening the air force or the army. Military spending tended to prioritize the Royal Navy as protecting the routes to empire with the army reduced to a police role for the empire (particularly in India). In this context Churchillís repeated calls for rearmament seemed both unwise and nonsensical. To be fair to Churchill he also (like many) campaigned to see the powers of the League of Nations strengthen to oppose aggressors like Mussolini and Hitler (also Japan in the Far East) but none of this brought him any popularity even with those who privately might have considered that Churchill had a point.

The second issue that had a big influence was Churchillís stance on the British Empire. Always a supporter of British imperialism Churchill was greatly worried by what he called Ďimperial dissolutioní. The so-called White Dominions, Canada, Australia New Zealand and South Africa had been given self-governing status. While the remained closely tied to Britain (as WW2 would show) they elected their own government and had a large degree of self-rule. This period saw the rise of Indian Nationalism and a concerted and prolonged campaign for independence or at least self-rule for India similar to that offered to the White Dominions. Churchill was very much opposed to this and the INC (Indian National Congress) that supported it. Churchillís defence of British rule of India was based on his view that the INC were a bunch of self-seeking lawyers who had no real popular support. He also believed that British rule was fairer than that which India would produce. He would point out that India was a vast mixture of different ethnic groups and religions and that the caste system denied any chance in life to many groups, particularly the sixty million Ďuntouchablesí who were really seen that way by most Indians who would not even allow themselves to be near such people. Of course the arguments that Churchill presented were real but they did not justify British rule of an entire subcontinent. Again Churchillís outspoken nature made him deeply unpopular in powerful places. The British government had also given a degree of self-rule to Iraq and Egypt both measures of which Churchill heartily disapproved. Churchill became a member of the Indian Empire Society a group of people who were not close to Churchill in other ways and his active support for this further alienated him from his few supporters in Parliament such as Duff Cooper, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. As with Hitler and re-armament itís not just that Churchillís stance was out of step with current political views, itís the outspokenness of his stance that kept him out of office, to many he was a maverick, out of control and unreliable.

One small point (for high marks) is the status of Ireland. Ireland had finally broken free of British rule (first as the Irish Free State and later as the Republic of Ireland) but part of the settlement of this was that the British continued to maintain some important naval ports that protected the sea routes to Britain (called the Western Approaches). In 1938 Britain gave up theses naval bases, these would have been incredible valuable to the defence of Britain and the protection of convoys in WW2 had we kept them and Churchill rightly fumed at the British Governments decision to give them up.

The other issue of great importance was Edward VIII and the abdication crisis of 1938. Churchill was close to Edward Prince of Wales and indeed had stayed with the Prince at Blenheim Palace in the summer of 1935 along with Wallis Simpson and her then husband and Duff Cooper and his wife Diana. Churchill believed that Edward would get over Wallis Simpson not realising the strength, power and influence of their growing relationship. The political climate of the day could not accept the future King marrying a twice divorced American and Churchill pleaded with Edward to consider his duty to the nation. When Churchill heard the news that Edward intended to abdicate and give up the thrown to marry Wallis Simpson he openly wept. Once again Churchill was out of step with the mood of the time and his outspoken views damaged him greatly although he had provided some service as an influence of Edward in trying to change his decision this would not have been made public and his wife Clementine realised that this issue could finally finish him politically and warned Winston to this effect. Some of the damage done was rectified in Churchillís support for the new King George VI. George VI wanted to confer the status ĎHer Royal Highnessí on Wallis Simpson and of course Edward VIII now became the Duke of Windsor. Churchill was one of the few who supported George VI in this stance and the King wrote privately to Churchill in May 1937 to thank him for his public support.

Conclusion - So to call these years ĎThe Wilderness Yearsí is not really accurate, Churchill played no role in government (and for at least part of this period there was a National Government made up of more than one party. Churchill holding office would have been unacceptable to the labour Party). However he remained an important voice in British politics and while his views may have been unpopular with many even most his influence was always there. The fact that he had never associated himself with appeasement and attempts to pacify Hitler would play a part in him becoming Prime Minister in 1940 but even this momentous act was in no way seen as inevitable.

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