Winston Churchill, France and Europe


Centre Director Richard Toye recently discussed how Churchill has been utilized within the Brexit debate, and Churchill’s relationship with Europe – you can listen through the links below.

Cross-posted from France in the UK

A special Franco-British conversation about leading figures of our shared history.

Historians Richard Toye and Christian Destremau examine Winston Churchill’s relationship to France and Europe, and the different narratives that have been built since.

As part of The Fabric of Citizenship seminar series.

Podcasts

You can now listen to this special evening thanks to Culturethèque.

Tristan Mendès France on his grandfather Pierre Mendès France

Richard Toye explores Winston Churchill’s relationship to France and Europe

Christian Destremau explores Winston Churchill’s relationship to France and Europe

Old Man in A Hurry

Richard Toye
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History

Felix Klos, Churchill’s Last Stand: The Struggle to Unite Europe (I.B.Tauris, 2017)

Marco Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention (Oxford University Press, 2017)

In the run-up to 2016 Brexit referendum, advocates of staying in the EU made significant efforts to invoke the memory of Winston Churchill. Remainers pointed to the fact that, in Zurich in 1946, he had urged the creation of ‘a kind of United States of Europe’. They seemed to regard him as something of a trump card – if Britain’s iconic wartime leader had been one of the fathers of the EU, who would dare to be against? However, as a persuasive tool, it never quite seemed to work. On the one hand, Leavers could legitimately point out that Churchill had said that Great Britain should be one of the ‘the friends and sponsors of the new Europe’, not one of its actual members. On the other hand, the message was just not quite simple enough; against the ingrained, popular bulldog image, it was tough to sell Churchill as a complex figure who was prepared to make concessions on British sovereignty in the interests of future peace.

It also didn’t help that Churchill’s pro-European campaign took place during a period of his life – the 1945-51 Opposition years – that few members of the public know much about. Popular memory of Churchill focuses to some extent on the 1930s but above all on the war years, and the summer of 1940 in particular. In fact, then, the referendum campaign’s most rhetorically effective invocation of Churchill was made by David Cameron during his appearance on Question Time. He did not attempt to argue that Churchill would have favoured membership of the EU as such, but rather – in response to an audience member who described him (Cameron) as a Twenty First Century Neville Chamberlain – he deployed a more emotionally powerful response:

At my office I sit two yards away from cabinet room where Winston Churchill decided in May to fight on against Hitler. The best and greatest decision perhaps anyone has made in our country. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be fighting with the French, the Poles and the others. But he didn’t quit. He didn’t quit on democracy, he didn’t quit on freedom.

We want to fight for those things today. You can’t win if you’re not in the room.

Moreover, when one actually looks at the details of Churchill’s position on Europe, it’s not clear that he fits neatly into either the Leave or the Remain narrative. The two books under review, both excellent in their different ways, illustrate the point. Continue reading “Old Man in A Hurry”

Some people got depressed by Churchill’s speeches

Churchill’s visiting Geneva, 1946. Foto: Photopress-Archiv (Keystone)

Richard Toye, the English historian and rhetoric expert, talks about the influence Winston Churchill’s speeches had at the time – and what kind of reaction they got.

Cross-posted from Tages-Anzeiger

How does the Brexit situation harp back to longings about the British Empire?
Certainly things seemed to have changed very abruptly, and I would put down a lot of what has happened to the pursuit of austerity policies since 2010, and the fact that people’s living standards have sort of frozen or gotten worse. That creates an opportunity for people to play out various sentiments. It’s probably worth saying that when people have these discourses about Britain becoming great again they may be talking in almost total ignorance of what happened at the time.

About the time during the war?
No, I’m trying to explain why opinion has changed in the last few years to become more sympathetic to Brexit and towards imperial nostalgia. It has to do with the policies of cutting public spending and public services that have taken place. Then the situation becomes ripe for people to exploit discontent by blaming immigrants. So you have the playing up of the glorious past. Continue reading “Some people got depressed by Churchill’s speeches”

Revisiting Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech 70 Years After

1946_Churchill's-'Iron-Curtain'-speech

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

The 5th of March marks the seventieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s speech in Fulton, Missouri, in which he declared that an ‘iron curtain’ had descended across Europe. Delivered in the presence of US President Harry Truman, who had been instrumental in securing the former Prime Minister his invitation to speak, the address is well known as a landmark in the onset of the Cold War. Yet it is rarely considered in its full historical context. For the speech – formally entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’ – was not merely a criticism of Russia. It was the means by which Churchill publicly enunciated his vision for a new world order. Continue reading “Revisiting Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech 70 Years After”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

UncleSamStepingStoneToChina_0

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From 21st-century US filibustering in Africa to how to make a country disappear, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

Churchill the Middlebrow

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

Cross-posted from Australian Book Review

Rose Literary ChurchillOn the rear jacket of this fascinating and important book is a picture of Winston Churchill at his desk at Chartwell, his house in Kent, just a few months before the outbreak of World War II. Apparently caught in the moment of literary creation, cigar in mouth and concentrating on his papers, the photo credit – to a Picture Post photographer – leads to the obvious suspicion that this was actually a staged shot. For Churchill, his country home was not merely a place of repose but a writing factory, the output of which would earn him the large sums of money necessary for its upkeep. At the same time, his image as a man of letters served to advertise the product as well as to suggest the existence of a non-political ‘hinterland’ of the kind appropriate to a statesman of fertile brain and broad views. Continue reading “Churchill the Middlebrow”

The Roar of the Lion: The Debate Goes On

Roar of the lionIn the latest Reviews in History, published online by the Institute of Historical Research, Professor Kevin Matthews of George Mason University looks at Professor Richard Toye’s recent book The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill’s World War II Speeches, which has already aroused considerable controversy. Matthews notes:

To produce this study, Toye deftly combines secondary source material with archival research, especially Churchill’s own, often overlooked speech-writing files. The result is a book that is by turns informative, engaging, and, all too often, frustrating.

Matthews agrees that ‘Toye is surely right that Churchill did not command unanimous support during the war, a fact he demonstrates by lacing his book with contemporary reactions to the wartime speeches.’ However, he is critical of the book’s use of Mass-Observation material and the reports of the Ministry of information’s Home intelligence Division:

More than once, while the Home Intelligence Division reported overall support for a Churchill address, Toye is quick to highlight negative comments about the same speech found in the MO files, even when those comments represented ‘minority feeling’ (p. 108). Moreover, these negative reactions often say less about Churchill’s oratory than they do about a war-weary, but also fickle public.

In his author’s response, Toye responds robustly, arguing that Matthews overlooked the ways in which the book addresses such methodological concerns. Toye also emphasizes that highlighting contemporary criticisms of Churchill’s speeches does not necessarily amount to an endorsement of the critics’ point of view. He argues: ‘Once it is grasped that I am neither criticising Churchill nor rubbishing his speeches, then Matthews’s critique of my work loses its force.’

Who do you think is right?

You can check out the full exchange here.