Monday, December 08, 2008

The Churchill Series - Dec. 8, 2008

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

Before the General Election of 1906, Churchill 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.

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 considered strong opponents.

And than there was the matter of many people not trusting a man who'd crossed the aisle. Can you believe anything a turncoat says?

To exploit this distrust, the Conservatives planned to distribute a pamphlet filled with statements Churchill made while in their ranks.

Let the public challenge him on what he'd once said; that would do him in the Conservatives reasoned.

They planned the first distribution for early on the night Churchill was to address a large crowd in a theater he'd rented. They'd give the pamphlet to people entering the theater, 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.

He paused.

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

A page number was called out and Churchill said he'd turn to it.

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

What else did people want him to read? He asked for a little quiet while he read.

After a few minutes he admitted everything he'd read was something he'd said.

He had no quarrel with the people who'd put the pamphlet together. They'd 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, as the British would put it, "Churchill came first."
Many Churchill biographers have recorded the pamphlet episode. See, for example, Violet Bonham Carter,
Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965. (pgs. 100 - 103)