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Old 12-14-2021, 02:20 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Before that though, there was another challenge he would prove unequal to, and that was of his heart. In 1904 he had briefly met the daughter of Lady Blanche Hozier, then nineteen, and when he again ran into her four years later at a party given by one of her aunts, he was stricken with her to the extent that they were married six months later and the new Lady Clementine bore him his first child ten months later, a girl. They would have five in all, three more girls and one boy, whom they would name after Winston's father, Randolph. In the same year as he married Churchill was also elected as President of the Board of Trade, one of the youngest ever to hold that position. This year was not however without setbacks, including losing his seat in the Manchester constituency and having to opt for a “safe seat” across the border in Scotland, where he was successfully elected as representative for Dundee. Whether he knew or cared anything about Scotland is probably irrelevant; the seat merely provided safety for him to continue in the Commons, and it's possibly likely that if that could have been attained by sitting as member for Dublin, he would have hopped on the boat over to Ireland. Maybe. Anyway he did not have to go so far, but his seat was now well away from where he lived, though of course then as now MPs are not necessarily expected or required to live in their constituency, as long as they keep “visible” and drop in from time to time, so Churchill was able to leave the bleak Scottish town behind by May and return south, only venturing across the border a few times in the next three years.

Further tribulations came when he retired to the house of a friend in Rutland at the break-up of parliament for the summer, and which subsequently burned down (no account advises how this happened, but the house was gutted). Winston was relatively unharmed, but all his important papers were lost in the fire. Soon after this he proposed to Clementine, in August. Engagements were then not the long events they can be these days, when a woman could be proposed to and not married until years later. There was to be no hanging around (whether this was for the sake of propriety, for fear one or the other would change their mind, or whether Churchill was eager to begin, ahem, close relations with his new wife and feared the birth of an illegitimate child if he could not restrain his ardour I don't know; maybe it was just seen as the polite thing not to make the lady wait) and they were united in holy wedlock the next month.

Easily returned in the election of 1910, Churchill nevertheless hated Dundee, and spent as little time as politely possible there. When you read his account of his experiences in the notorious Queen's Head hotel, it's not too surprising that he would want to get away from the place at the earliest opportunity: “This hotel is a great trial to me. Yesterday morning I had half-eaten a kipper when a huge maggot crept out & flashed his teeth at me! Today I could find nothing nourishing for lunch but pancakes. Such are the trials which great & good men endure in the service of their country!'” Ugh! Turn you right off your haggis, that would! He proved himself no friend to the aristocracy when he made a speech calling for the total abolition of the House of Lords, but it was impossible to deny that he was a rising star, climbing into the firmament and exploding all over the place. When the Prime Minister offered him the Irish Office, he politely declined and instead suggested he should be given the Home Office or the Admiralty. He would hold the latter position soon enough, in political time, but for now Asquith agreed and he became the Home Secretary.

During this time he repaired his somewhat frosty relationship with the King, and more importantly projected himself as a man of the people when he authored two important bills, the Mines Bill of 1911 which sought to both raise the minimum age for mining from thirteen to fourteen (I know!) and to standardise safety rules to protect this most precarious and dangerous, but vital of professions. The other bill was the Shops Bill, which sought to protect the rights and working wage of those involved in the retail industry. Though this was taken apart and never passed in its fullest form – losing the right to overtime restrictions and Sunday openings, for example – it still showed the public at large that he cared about them, or seemed to, and was trying to help them. Napoleon had once described Britain – disparagingly but in fact accurately – as “a nation of shopkeepers”, and being an island, Churchill of course knew how important this industry was to his country, and felt it unfair that its workers should be so shabbily treated.

He was also involved heavily in the National Insurance Act, which provided in part for unemployment insurance, a thing very much needed in a country where people were so frequently out of work. He told the House on May 15 : “There is no proposal in the field of politics that I care about more than this great insurance scheme.” There was, though, and he applied what remained of his boundless energy to it as he feared the government was soon to fall. Though he had been returned without difficulty in Dundee, his party had lost its majority in 1910 and Churchill knew the writing was being chalked on the wall. Before it was complete and spelled out electoral defeat, he wished to organise the reform of the prisons system. Though most ministers, and most Home Secretaries before him, preferred to ignore the problem (and it was a big one) Churchill remembered his time spent in the school house in Africa during the Boer War, and so he was more sympathetic towards the conditions prisoners endured, if not prisoners of war. He had been a prisoner, and so had a perhaps unique view of how that felt.

Apart from ensuring that from then on, those termed “political prisoners” (which included many suffragettes, who had been imprisoned for protest actions but otherwise had no criminal record) would be treated differently and more leniently than the run-of-the-mill thief, murderer or rapist, he obtained better conditions for all prisoners, and as a man who was very sceptical of the power of prison to reform and rehabilitate, directed his own efforts towards ensuring the prisons were less full than they usually were. As a result of his recategorising certain less serious crimes – drunknness, debt, public disorder etc – as non-custodial ones, the population of British prisons fell by a staggering ninety-eight percent over ten years. One aspect of criminal law he could not – and probably did not want to, on balance – interfere with or try to change was the death penalty, which held sway in Britain up until the mid-1960s, though by then used very sparingly and only in the very worst or most notorious cases. As Home Secretary, it was Churchill's unenviable duty to decide which cases presented to him should be afforded mercy, and commuted, and which should proceed with the man (or, very occasionally, woman) being hanged.

This power of life and death, which might have bolstered the feeling of superiority in some other men, weighed Churchill down with its responsibility, and of the forty-three cases presented to him during his tenure he recommended mercy in twenty-three, but that still meant he signed off on the deaths of nearly half of the cases. Of course, in due course he would be responsible for making the decisions to send thousands, even millions of young men to their deaths, and of taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians as he ordered German cities to be bombed, but that would be in a state of war, and while I'm sure they bothered him, as they would any rational human being, those actions would not have oppressed him as much as did sending convicted men to meet their maker. Despite this, I find it strange to read that he was not an abolitionist, and when the vote was to come up he would support the retention of the death penalty.

Never much of a lady's man – he had had a few affairs before his marriage, but little meaningful, and he was hardly what could be called handsome – he danced desperately on the head of a pin as he tried to both support and block women's suffrage, the former on the basis that women voting meant, of course, more votes in the populace, likely to favour the party who eventually enfranchised them, the latter in fear that supporting such a mostly unpopular position would weaken the party and lead to its downfall. But in suffrage, you were either with the girls or against them – there was no room for middle ground, and the pin he had been dancing on was dashed to the ground and stepped on as suffragettes attacked him, dogged his speeches and eventually came face-to-face with his authority in a major demonstration in which there were over two hundred arrests, though most of them were released without charge (mostly because he didn't want the idea of 200 women going to prison, and the bad publicity that would create, both for the government and for his own prison reforms).

You would have to characterise Churchill's time as Home Secretary as one of ups and downs; with several high-profile strikes, including a rail and a dockers' one, handled by him with varying degrees of success, an incident in which violent criminals who had killed police officers were allowed to burn in their hideout, Churchill ordering the fire brigade to stand down; his opposition to the Peers and his disdain for the House of Lords, and his fractious relationship with the police, it was decided by 1911 that the post really didn't suit him, and he was of the same mind, wishing to move closer to his old military ways, and angling again for the Admiralty. Fortuitously for him, an incident in the Moroccan port of Agadoo, sorry Agadir provided the kind of climate that would smooth his transition in that direction. Utilising a version of the English tactic of “gunboat diplomacy”, a German frigate sailed into the port. It didn't do anything, just sat there in I guess what could be taken as a menacing or at the very least provocative manner, but it shook up the French, and indeed the British, and well it should have done, as we all know what happened a few years later.

Although the incident was nothing about nothing, a storm in a Moroccan teacup, it still provoked Churchill into prevailing upon Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, soon to be Prime Minister) to issue this stark if slightly ambiguous warning to the Germans, if not actually mentioning them: “But if a situation were to be forced upon us in which peace could only be preserved by the surrender of the great and beneficent position Britain has won by centuries of heroism and achievement, by allowing Britain to be treated where her interests were vitally affected as if she were of no account in the Cabinet of nations, then I say emphatically that peace at that price would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure.”

When the reply came back from the Germans, it was stiff enough that Churchill was told the fleet could be attacked at any moment. He began making what preparations he could, and with remarkable foresight laid out the entire coming conflict in a memorandum, and while he could of course not predict the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the spark that lit the powder-keg to kick off World War I, he got most of it right. England would side with France and Russia, while Austro-Hungry would ally itself with Germany, the Germans would attack through Belgium, push the French back to Paris. At any rate, he pushed for the Admiralty, as he had the previous year, and this time he got it.
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