Sarah Churchill, the great Prime Minister’s daughter, had been asked by her father for her reflections on his election campaign speech.
Her father had given what may have been the most controversial speech of his career, a Jeremiah-like prophecy about the dystopia to which socialism leads. Like many prophecies, it seemed to have minimal effect at the time. It certainly did not rescue what turned out to be a doomed campaign — the peerless war leader went down to an astonishingly brutal election defeat, surprising almost everyone.
As sure as Churchill had been about the truths he expressed, he still wanted to hear the honest and intelligent reaction he knew Sarah would give him.
She did not disappoint. She began telling how much she enjoyed the speech, and cited several specific remarks that she felt were particularly good. But then she began to describe a kind of voter that she felt important to consider that her father may not have considered enough. Not a die-hard Conservative, nor a die-hard Labour partisan. Both would be beyond persuasion. She talked instead of people who vote Labour
because they believe that only by voting that way will inequalities of opportunity, the privilege of class and money be curbed. I doubt they think any deeper than that, nor do I believe they believe in the pipe dream of a completely equal world. But they do want more, a lot more of everything than they have hitherto had.
She was not speaking of the privileged rich using woke ideology as a cover for their own power-grab, the would-be nomenklatura who poison our national conversation, and think nothing of destroying the bonds of affection that hold citizens together if it increases their own power.
She held up for her father’s consideration rather the fellow countryman whose desires were understandable and to whom he needed to relate to better.
She knew well her father’s thought. The Prime Minister did not hesitate to acknowledge the necessity of what he called War Socialism. To face off Hitler’s threat, power had to be concentrated. The government seized property as it needed, strictly rationed all kinds of goods, closed off free movement, forced people into military service, instituted censorship, set aside elections, and suspended the most basic freedom of habeas corpus. The government set an absolute limit on wartime profits by corporations — beyond that limit, the profits taxed 100 percent. The nation as a whole served as insurer for those whose homes and businesses were destroyed by the Blitz.
In all this, the loyal British subject joined in, bore the burden, sacrificed, and saw things through to victory. In this struggle, the sharp divide in political ideology had been set aside in the face of something more important. She pushed her father towards better articulating that. He had led a national collation of all parties. He needed to show that he still trusted in that which had and still could unite them all.
She wrote to her father:
Socialism as practised in the war, did no one any harm, and quite a lot of people good. The children of this country have never been so well fed or healthy, what milk there was, was shared equally, the rich didn’t die because their meat ration was no larger than the poor; and there is no doubt that this common sharing and feeling of sacrifice was one of the strongest bonds that unified us. So why, they say, cannot this common feeling of sacrifice be made to work as effectively in peace?
She let him know she was not taking the other side. One can argue well and effectively against socialism. But it must not be conducted in a way that creates division and belies the true genius of a free people that had been in spectacular evidence in their unremitting fight against the monstrous, genocidal Nazi regime.
Churchill had grasped already where the answer to his daughter’s criticism lay. In a 1938 graduation speech at the University of Bristol, he had asked what “civilization” meant. And he answered: “It means a society based on the opinions of civilians.”
As the clouds of war gathered, something he appreciated better than most, he contrasted by implication the exaltation of force and might above all else that characterized Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese militarists alike. To them, force was the ultimate value; no other allegiance was allowed than to their manifest power. And they believed that civilization was sitting duck.
Churchill was the “old war horse,” as Stalin called him. His duty as leader was to protect civilization, and he grabbed hold of every power he could to effectively combat the deadly danger. Believing in civilization, he had to take up arms and beat the barbarians at ther own game. He realized, as Churchill scholar Larry Arnn put it:
“A society based on the opinion of civilians” is a society in which the strong, in their uniforms and bearing their weapons, obey and protect the weak, who practice the arts of peace. This is the heart of the rule of law, and from it grows, Churchill says, “freedom, comfort, and culture.”
The election speech that Churchill gave is an enduring masterpiece. His thesis is that centralization of all power leads to a police state, in which even one’s speech must be regulated and rationed.
The message endures. If one reads the speech today, you would think Churchill is talking exactly about the attempt to strangle political freedom that is being conducted by the self-styled elites who believe themselves rightfully our masters. I have written here previously about that speech and I intend to do so again.
But the point that his intelligent and courageous daughter raised with her father is one that she probably believed he would agree to.
Perhaps his sharp but true distinctions made at the expense of the socialists who had toiled together with him through the whole war contributed to his electoral defeat; perhaps not. One can only muse.
But what is clear is that in order to stand for freedom one must appeal first and foremost to that which binds us all together as one. The greatest of our leaders have done that. Only on that basis have they brought their country united with them to make their great moral stands.