In memory of Churchill, who died 55 years ago on January 24th, we will discuss whether he deserves his name as “the Greatest Briton Ever” following a poll in 2002.  This article will discuss whether he was the greatest Briton ever -covering his beliefs towards the working class, the British Empire, and his leadership during the Second World War.

          Churchill was undoubtedly an excellent wartime minister - he knew how to rouse the British population through his speeches and did so at the most crucial of times. His first speech as Prime Minister regarding the Germans breaking a French defence line on the 19th of May was received spectacularly: Anthony Eden wrote him to tell him that he had “never done anything as good or as great.” This may have been because he was so distinctive; he had his dentures made to preserve his lisp, an undesirable trait, so that his words would feel more authentic and people would identify more with him. He also used rhetoric words, despite having a vocabulary twice as large as average because “audiences prefer short words of a common usage,” they appeal “with greater force” than words from Latin or Greek. In his “finest hour” speech manuscript, the word “liberated” is crossed out and replaced with “freed.” His attention to detail in his speeches, his personal authenticity, and his use of rhetorics helped rouse the British people to victory, making him a great Briton.

          Churchill was also a great wartime leader regarding his focus on the USA. America played a crucial part towards Allied victory, which was mainly due to Churchill’s efforts- during Roosevelt’s campaign, FDR told Americans that his actions must be guided by “one single hard-headed thought- keeping America out of war”. Before Churchill’s efforts, America was generally an isolationist country, having signed the Neutrality Act in 1937, which prevented America taking sides in a war.  Churchill sent a letter on December 7, 1940, arguing that if Hitler was not defeated, it would be just “a problem for America as it was for Europe,” which resulted in the Lend-lease act, allowing America to support Britain. 

   This was instrumental in the Allies winning the war as it provided a way for the British to receive $30 billion worth of American materials, and later paved the way for the Americans to join the Allies. The Americans initially supported the Allies in winning the war by keeping the Allies afloat. After the fall of France in 1940, Britain had little hope of defeating the Axis on the western front (at the time the only front) without support from America. It kept Britain in the race until Russia joined in 1941, meaning that the American resources and involvement was the most important reason why Britain could continue and achieve victory. Regarding being a wartime leader, Churchill is the greatest Briton ever, as he led the UK to victory.

Churchill was a part of both the Liberal Party and the Conservatives, so his actions towards the working class are more grey than black or white. It was his responsibility to deal with the 1911 Liverpool transport strike, where 250,000 attended for better pay and conditions. Churchill sent down 3500 troops and two gunboats, with the guns facing the city. This caused mass hysteria, five people were killed, 196 were hospitalised and that Sunday became known as bloody Sunday. This could be seen as a demonstration of Churchill’s harsh attitudes towards the working classes, but it could also be a reflection of his active leadership style suggesting he was more suited to wartime leadership where he could strike down an enemy rather than those on home territory.                             

However, he did treat the working class well when needed. When he was Minister for munitions in 1917, he solved a strike for arms workers by inviting them for tea and cake as well as raising their salary by 12%, stating that “no worker would be penalised by belonging to a trade union.” He also contributed to the 1900s welfare state by reducing the pension age from 70 to 65, introducing the worker’s tea break and setting up unemployment insurance- one would receive £20 a week in today’s money when unemployed. His violent approach to strikes was harsh, but effective, making him a suitable war leader but a worse leader during times of peace, reducing his potential for being the greatest Briton ever.

Churchill strongly believed in the British Empire. Whether that makes him a great Briton or not depends on one’s perspective on the Empire. The British reformed several parts of peoples' lives where they invaded - giving the countries the British legal system, and  better rights, as well as improving infrastructure e.g the railways in India. However, it is hard to argue that purpose of the British Empire was not to benefit the British as around 40% of India’s wealth was spent on the Army, and the benefits such as the railways favoured the British rather than the Indians. Every mile of  railway cost 9 times the railways built in the US, and they were paid for by Indian taxpayers. Furthermore, the Indians did not receive the Railway jobs, as all jobs including ticket officers, were given to the British.                    
      We must not forget the 1943 Bengal Famine, in which Churchill was at least partially responsible for 4 million deaths, when the UK had only suffered 450,000 military deaths throughout the war. India had exported 70,000 tonnes of rice in 1942 which would have kept 400,000 alive for a year when the famine was beginning. Furthermore in March 1942, the British government had a Denial Policy; surplus rice and grain was burnt, in case the Japanese invaded (they never did.) No grain was sent to India from Britain, even though the British had a stockpile of 18.5 million tonnes, and had 14 million fewer to feed. Churchill blamed this famine on the Indians, claiming they “bred like rabbits. " 

Ultimately, the British Empire proved to be destructive, and although it improved Britain's wealth and power, India and other colonies were left to fend for themselves, such as Hong Kong in 1997. Again, this proves Churchill’s dedication to his country, a desirable trait, but less so when it results in the decimation of others.

Sir Winston Churchill was undeniably a skilled wartime leader. His ability to inspire, as well as his recognition that Britain needed help from America played a large role in the Allies winning WW2, making him an honourable Briton. However his aggressive style of leadership did not translate so well into other situations- his actions in the 1911 strike and the 1943 Bengal Famine proved how he was willing to harm for the overall good of Britain.                                   
    With the power of hindsight behind us, we often judge historical figures harshly. When Churchill was making his decisions, he was doing it in the context of his time- in a similar way to how Britain’s leaders in the late 1930s believed that appeasement was the best way for Britain to avoid war. One cannot judge the past by the standards of the future. With that said, perhaps Churchill may be better defined as “great for Britain,”, rather than “a great Briton.”