What led to Winston Churchill being removed from office in the fabled ‘11th hour’ of World War II? In 1945, his Conservative Party lost the general election and Churchill resigned as Prime Minister of the UK. Instead, Clement Attlee’s Labour Party emerged victorious.
Winston Churchill’s rise to power
Churchill’s illustrious military career saw him serve in India, the Sudan and South Africa. He distinguished himself several times in battle, but resigned from the service in 1899 to focus on his literary and political career. After just a year, Churchill became Conservative MP for Oldham.
After the outbreak of World War II, Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister of a new coalition government. Soon after this, he made his famous speech, promising the world that the British people would “never surrender”.
Despite enjoying what many perceived to be great political security, Churchill lost emphatically to Attlee. Many still call his defeat ‘one of the most astonishing political events in British history’. His approval rating was 83% just months before the election. But the results were emphatic: Attlee gained a majority of 145 seats.
Why was Winston Churchill removed from office in 1945?
On the one hand, the Conservative Party relied heavily on Churchill as a war hero. In the aftermath of the war, Britain needed a multi-dimensional leader. While Churchill earned praise for his foreign policy, he was weak on other accounts – such as rebuilding Britain.
The Conservative Party’s pre-war policy of ‘appeasement’ towards Hitler and his Nazi Party also came under fresh scrutiny. After the war, public attention returned to the bonelessness of Conservative pre-war policy, and held the party to account.
Churchill’s campaign rhetoric was also severely problematic, even by contemporary standards. Criticising Attlee’s socialist policies, Churchill claimed that their implementation would require “some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance”.
That’s a pretty weird thing to say right after World War II, Churchill. Pretty tactless, to say the least.
Was Winston Churchill a racist, as some claim today?
It may come as a surprise, given the Brits’ penchant for deifying war heroes. Throughout Churchill’s career as a politician and orator, he said some quite ruthlessly – and, by modern standards, nauseatingly – racist things.
He famously detested the prospect of Indian independence, saying: “I hate Indians…they are beastly people with a beastly religion.” On the subject of the Palestinians, he asserted that they were “barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung”. The Prussians, too, were “barbarous”.
For an enemy of the Nazis, he came surprisingly close to agreeing with them. A vocal eugenicist, Churchill approved of the separation of the “feeble-minded”, and sought to prevent “unfit” individuals from reproducing. This was eerily similar Adolf Hitler’s mission: Churchill, too, had faith in “Aryan stock”.
No, surely not our Churchill
In 1937 Churchill offered that the “black people of Australia” and “Red Indians of America” were not in fact wronged by the British imperialists. In his view, because of the Brits’ racial superiority – they were a “stronger race, a higher-grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly wise race” – they were justified in their actions.
Churchill called the Sudanese “savages” and boasted of killing them. He lamented the “squeamishness” of his colleagues in Northwest Asia, who unfortunately were not in favour of “using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.”
There is a consensus that Churchill contributed to the Bengal famine of 1943, which claimed 3 million lives. He blamed the famine on the Indians, for “breeding like rabbits”.
Extinction Rebellion vandalise Churchill’s statue – again
For the second time, Extinction Rebellion protestors have marked a statue of Winston Churchill with the words “is a racist”. Many have deemed the act “completely unacceptable” – including Priti Patel, Sadiq Khan, and one of Churchill’s proudest political descendants, Boris Johnson.