Why are modern politicians still in thrall to Churchill—and what can they learn?

et consider what Churchill had to endure before he was allowed to take the premiership and save Britain from disaster in 1940-41, and then push on to victory in 1942 to 1945. He was socially cut by friends and blackballed from a sporting club after he left the Conservatives in 1904, when the entire Government bench got up and left the Chamber sooner than hear him speak. Lies were told about his physically assaulting his beloved wife Clementine. He received endless hate-mail depicting him as a rat. He had a book thrown at his head in the Commons chamber, drawing blood. He and Clementine were assaulted by suffragettes at the theatre, and he was placed on an IRA death-list.

He was heckled at public meetings about the Dardanelles disaster for over 20 years. His six-year-old son Randolph was told at school that his father was a murderer. He was accused of profiting financially from manipulating the news of the battle of Jutland. A Communist meeting at the Albert Hall called for him to be hanged from a lamp-post, and he was smeared by any number of libels, some of which he was forced to sue over. He was shouted down by the House of Commons during the Abdication Crisis and not allowed a hearing. He was almost deselected from his Epping constituency for his opposition to Appeasement. At the time of the Munich debate, a member of the House of Lords proposed in a debate that he be interned.

None of this had the slightest effect on the man who was to write in one of his essays, “Courage is rightly considered the foremost of the virtues, for upon it all others depend.” The sheer moral and physical courage shown by Winston Churchill throughout his career was phenomenal, and had Twitter existed in 1904 it is certain that he would have given as good as he got, as the master of the epigram. When a heckler shouted “Rot!” at him during a public meeting, for example, Churchill retorted, “When my friend in the gallery says ‘Rot’ he is no doubt expressing very fully what he has in his mind.”

Despite all the personal abuse and viciousness he had to endure – one man tried to horsewhip him in a railway carriage in 1912 – Churchill believed politics to be an honourable profession

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