When England Betrayed Churchill

Why Theresa May’s story isn’t all that surprising…

Image courtesy of The Independent

Theresa May, the embattled Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced her resignation on May 24, 2019. The announcement, which May presented outside 10 Downing Street in London, came after a three year struggle to push a Brexit deal through Parliament.

In all fairness to May, the fight to exit the European Union was a losing battle even before she took the helm of the British government. Public pressure had mounted on the Conservative Party leader from the very beginning, with May’s own political miscues adding fuel to the fire of criticism directed by the media. As a recent article states:

May’s legacy will be defined by failures, public humiliations and catastrophic political miscalculations. Some of these were out of her hands. Some were the result of poor advice from those she chose to surround herself with. Some were because of the unprecedented political crisis that would come to dominate her time in Downing Street.

But much of it was her own fault. Many of her decisions had a directly negative impact on her ability to lead. The problem for May wasn’t just that British politics has been deadlocked for the best part of three years, but that she repeatedly engineered ways to erode her own authority.

Yes, much of the Prime Minister’s failures can be directly attributed to May’s actions. But, at the same time, the public didn’t show the patience — or a willingness to compromise — that was necessary to allow for any success.

This might be surprising, given the stereotypical attitude of patience associated with the British. But a small glimpse into the past shows anything but patience, at least when it comes to political matters.

The year is 1945. England has emerged victorious in World War II, bloodied and scarred but still unconquered. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, has become one of the greatest heroes of the modern age. With his show of courage and stiff-necked stubbornness, he is the man of the hour. There is no doubt that Churchill is beloved by all of England, and it is known that he will run in the next election as Prime Minister. And so, naturally, Churchill loses in the 1945 election.

Let me repeat that — Churchill loses in the 1945 election.

Churchill lost to Clement Atlee in what would result as a landslide victory for the Labour Party. Churchill, the Roaring Lion of England, the leader who reminded his countrymen that they “shall never surrender” — had lost his power. Only two months after the war ended in Europe (and before the surrender of Japan), it appeared that the England was ready to forget Churchill.

How could the British turn their back on their leader so quickly? According to , Churchill’s approval rating soared at 83% in May of 1945. But by June, those numbers had dropped. A month later, the Labour Party’s popularity overshadowed that of the Conservatives.

There are a number of reasons for this — Churchill didn’t campaign effectively, he focused more on the war than on reelection, he antagonized his peers in government with his loud, brash style, and so on. But the main reason is much simpler. At the core of the issue, England was tired of war. The public wanted a fresh start, a new beginning for the country. And Churchill, who represented the remnants of a vicious and brutal war, was an unpleasant reminder a horrific time in British history.

In the end, Churchill’s election defeat had less to do with the Prime Minister than it did with a changing British culture. England was swiftly moving away from war and seeking peace, and Churchill had led in a time that was far from peaceful.

And now, back to Theresa May and 2019. Like Churchill, May’s vision for England didn’t align with the views of the public. She was in an unfortunate spot at an unfortunate time, and her legacy will bear that ill-fated cost. But there is solace, even for Theresa May — Winston Churchill returned as Prime Minister is 1951, defeating Clement Atlee for the coveted seat in Parliament. Theresa May will likely never be Prime Minister again, but the road is far from over. And if she can shift her policies and bring the British parties together, history may treat her with some favor in the end.

Occasional Writer, Full-Time Student at Campbell University, and Editor of Exploring Economics

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