Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Churchill Series - Nov. 18, 2008

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

By the time of the 1906 General Election, Churchill had left his Commons seat on the Conservative side and crossed over to the Liberals. Mostly it had to do with free trade. He was a staunch free-trader.

In the election, the Liberals offered Churchill a chance to run for a seat in Manchester held by a Conservative.

The race was seen as a tough go for him. The Conservative and Labour candidates were strong opponents.

And than there was the matter of many people just not trusting a man who had crossed the aisle. Could you believe anything a turncoat said?

To take advantage of this distrust, the Conservatives decided to distribute 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.

They planned the first distribution for early on the night Churchill was to 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 then shout and hoot Churchill down with his own words.

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

Churchill started his formal remarks but the pamphlet waving and cries of "Do you deny this?" threatened to drown him out.

Churchill paused.

Then he drew from his pocket a copy of the pamphlet he's obtained a few hours earlier. "What page should I look on," he asked?

He read for a moment; looked up; and admitted he's said what was on the page. Hoots!

And the other page? He asked for a little quiet while he read.

It was true, too. In fact, as he glanced through the pamphlet, everything he read was something he had said.

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

He seemed to grow angry with himself and started tearing out pages, crumpling some and tossing others over his shoulder all the while repeating, "stupid," "stupid."

Finally, with no more pamphlet left, 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.

On election night Churchill, as the British would put it, "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)