Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jan. 29, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Before the 1906 General Election, Churchill left the Conservative party and joined the Liberals. Mostly it had to do with free trade. He was a staunch free-trader.

The Liberals offered Churchill a chance to run for a Commons seat in Manchester held by a Conservative.

The race was seen as a tough go for him. His Conservative and Labour candidates were strong. And many people did not trust Churchill because of his party switch. Could you believe anything a turncoat said?

The Conservatives sought to take advantage of this distrust. They hit upon the idea of printing a pamphlet filled with quotes Churchill had made while in their ranks.

Let the public challenge him on what he'd once said. That would do him in.

The plan called for a first distribution early on the night Churchill would address a large crowd in a theater he had rented. Put the pamphlet in the hands of the people going in, run a few paid hecklers and some good party men in amongst the crowd, and we'll soon shout and hoot Mr. Churchill off on his own false words.

It was a good plan with everything in place as Churchill walked on stage to a mix of cheers, boos, and a lot of pamphlet waving and cries of "Do you deny this?"

He started his formal remarks but the pamphlet waving and cries of "Did you say it?" threatened to drown him out.

Churchill paused.

Then he drew a copy of the pamphlet from his pocket. “This pamphlet?” he asked.

He’d gotten a copy a few hours ago. He wanted someone to tell him what page he should look at.

Someone shouted out a page number.

Churchill read for a few moments; looked up; and admitted he's said what was on the page.


And what about other pages? He asked for a little quiet while he read them.

It was all true, he admitted. Everything he read was something he had said.

Churchill said he had no quarrel with the people who'd put the pamphlet together. They’d told the truth. He'd said "all those stupid things."

Before a now quiet audience, Churchill appeared to grow angry and started tearing out pages, crumpling some and tossing others over his shoulder all the while repeating, "stupid," "stupid."

Finally, with the pamphlet in shreds, Churchill thundered to the crowd, "Yes, I said all those stupid things because I was then a member of a stupid party but I left that party and joined one that...."

Much cheering, and the night was his.

When the votes were counted, Churchill, as the Brits say, "came first past the post."
Many biographers have recorded the pamphlet episode. See, for example, Violet Bonham Carter, Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait. (pgs. 100 - 103)