Saturday, 31 January 2015

The darker side of a hero

Yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the burial of Winston Churchill, a man who really needs no introduction. The media unsurprisingly devoted a great deal of time to this momentous occasion, much of it hagiographic in the extreme, including a repeat on the BBC of the network's 1965 coverage of his funeral.

There can be little doubt that Churchill is a hugely important figure in the history of both the UK and the world at large, and no-one should forget his vital role in both the safeguarding of these islands during the Second World War and the defeat of Nazism. There aren't many Conservative politicians, past or present, that I hold in high regard, but he would certainly be one exception.

However, I think it's also important that we remember that, like most people, Churchill was a man riven by contradictions, and there remain aspects of both his personality and his conduct in office that are rather less rosy than "official" accounts, and sufficient ink has been spilled documenting his more laudable achievements that I'm sure his memory will survive paying heed to the darker side of this war hero. Among other less favourable qualities, he was also an imperialist, a virulent racist and a supporter of eugenics, and strongly opposed votes for women.

In addition, today is the anniversary of another event closely connected to Churchill: the so-called "Battle of George Square". On 31 January 1919, workers in Glasgow occupied George Square to campaign for more favourable working conditions. When the police failed to disperse the protesters, the UK government sent in the army. Tanks and soldiers armed with machine guns invaded and occupied Glasgow, effectively imposing martial law until the threat of "revolution" had been contained and the leaders of the protest jailed. Local regiments were confined to their barracks in Maryhill out of fears that they would side with the protesters, with the soldiers instead being bussed in from further afield.

Who gave the order to send in the troops? One Winston Churchill, then the Home Secretary.


  1. Oh yes indeed, lets not forget he also sent the army in to break up the Tonypandy riots/dispute between workers and mine owners as well as field artillery at the siege of Sidney Street too.

    1. Fair points as well.

      Mind you, I doubt there's a single major political figure who would come out of a completely objective appraisal unscathed. Even Attlee (who as you know I hold in extremely high regard) wasn't a saint -- we have his government to thank for the nuclear deterrent (albeit I can appreciate that it was perceived as rather more necessary then), and he point blank ignored the 2-million strong "Scottish Covenant" petition asking for home rule. And of course he also sent in the troops to suppress the London dock strike of 1949.