Friday, March 13, 2009

The Churchill Series - Mar. 13, 2009

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

The Conservatives swept the 1924 General Election. Shortly thereafter Churchill was invited to meet with Stanley Baldwin, who would serve as Prime Minister in the new government.

The invitation surprised Churchill who knew it could only mean Baldwin was planning to offer him a post in the new government. Since he had only recently been a member of the Liberal Party, had run in the election as an independent candidate (although with tacit Conservative support), and had not even yet rejoined the Conservative Party, Churchill thought whatever post he’d be offered would be a minor one.

Many of Churchill’s friends urged him to accept whatever post he was offered, however minor it might be. They reasoned it could only help revive his political career, then at a low point.

When they met, Baldwin asked Churchill if he’d be willing to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer, then as now the second most important Cabinet post.

Churchill later recorded he told Baldwin:

This fulfills my ambition. I still have my father’s robe as Chancellor. I shall be proud to serve you in this splendid Office.
But Churchill added that he only spoke that way because it was “a formal and important conversation.” What he'd really wanted to say was:
Will a bloody duck swim?
Among the many congratulatory letters Churchill received was one from George Lambert, a former Liberal Party chairman who'd served with Churchill in the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915:
Winston dear boy, I have got a fair instinct for politics. I think I shall live to see you as Prime Minister.
Lambert, who entered Parliament in 1891, lived to see his prediction fulfilled.

In July 1940, two months after Churchill assumed the premiership, Lambert called his leadership “incomparably the most brilliant that I can remember, save perhaps that of Mr. Gladstone."
All material for this post can be found on pages 464-65 in Martin Gilbert’s
Churchill: A Life, except Lambert’s July, 1940 assessment which can be found on page 696 in Gilbert’s Finest Hour: 1939-1941.