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Churchill Revisionism

Andrew Roberts’ biography of Sir Winston Churchill became a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller and won the ICS Churchill Award for Literacy and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Arthur Ross Prize. ‘In a single volume,’ Henry Kissinger wrote of it, ‘Roberts has captured the essence of one of the world’s most impactful, most memorable statesmen. ‘It is the crowning achievement of his career – and it will become the definitive biography of his subject.’ Here, he speaks to History Reclaimed on the subject of ‘Churchill Revisionism”.

 

Lawrence Goldman:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Lawrence Goldman, and on behalf of History Reclaimed I welcome you to another of our webinars. We’re delighted this afternoon to have with us Andrew Roberts, Lord Roberts of Belgravia, who has come to talk about a subject on which he is an expert: Churchill revisionism.

Andrew was educated at Cranley School and then at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. His first book, more than 30 years ago now, was a biography of Lord Halifax, entitled ‘Holy Fox’. And since then, there have been streams of work from Andrew that have made such an impression in both military history and also in modern biography. He’s the author of major military studies of Waterloo, of the Second World War, ‘The Storm of War’ as it’s entitled, and more recently a book on the first day of the Somme offensive in the First World War.

But he’s known very much for his biographies. His biography of Lord Salisbury won the Wolfson History Prize in 2000. He’s written on Napoleon, on Wellington, on Hitler, on George III more recently, and I think the latest biography that Andrew has published is on Lord Northcliffe. In 2018 he published Churchill: Walking with Destiny, which many considered to be the best study of Churchill that we have so far. So it’s with very great pleasure that I introduce Andrew on the subject of Churchill revisionism.

Andrew Roberts

Thank you very much indeed, Lawrence. It’s a great honour to be able to address you. Thanks for those kind words. I’d like to take you back to the moment in November 1940, when Winston Churchill was about to address the memorial service for Neville Chamberlain in Westminster Abbey. It was a freezing cold day. Because of the blitz, the stained-glass windows had all been taken out and it was all boarded up. It was very cold and there he was in his greatcoat addressing the people who essentially had tried to keep him out of office for the previous decade but had been forced in the end, owing to the fact that he’d been proved right about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and they had all been proved wrong, were forced to accept him as prime minister. By November 1940 of course, he had become tremendously popular and so the tables had turned. But he used the speech on that occasion, that important occasion, to give one of the most poetic of all his great speeches. I really do recommend it if you have a chance to read it. There’s a sentence from it which, I think is particularly Churchillian, almost Shakespearean in fact, when he said “history with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trails of the past. Trying to reconstruct its themes, to revive its echoes and kindle with pale gleams, the passion of former days”.

I think that really does catch up that he of course was a great historian himself and I think he does explain, really, what the historian is trying to do. There’s a moral element to it. You have to tell the truth, you have to be objective, you have to explain to the reader as well as you possibly can what you think genuinely happened. And if you allow other agendas to get in there, particularly of course one’s own political opinions, what you do is essentially cheating the reader, you’re double-crossing the reader, you are cheapening what you yourself are trying to do as an historian. And it seems to me that in the past 10 years or so, there have been a slew of writers and biographers of Churchill who have essentially put their own political opinions before their duty to the reader to try to tell the truth. Some of it has been so egregious that it amounts to a movement which Lawrence mentioned: Churchill revisionism. It’s got a name. And it has real life consequences, interestingly, because it isn’t just an intellectual parlour game that can be sort of played in in Oxbridge High Tables and so on. It actually works out itself out into the streets. One saw it of course in the in the vandalising of Churchill’s statue during the Black Lives Matter demo in May 2020 and in many other areas and places too.

And so it strikes me that it’s worthwhile having a look at this movement, this revisionist movement. I’m not actually going to name names today because there’s no point in giving these people the oxygen of publicity. They simply don’t deserve it for the scholarship that they come up with. So much of it is so badly researched and almost sort of deliberately un-researched and instead it’s just a series of libels against somebody who would have taken tremendous pleasure were he still alive in batting them back. Winston Churchill never minded having a jolly good go at his opponents. The key thing that all of them had in common is that they try to pretend that the present serious scholarship on Churchill is somehow uncritical of him. That the people who write big books of about Winston Churchill, such as myself but lots of other people too, are adopting a deliberately pro-Churchill line. And that is simply not the case. Pretty much all of the books that I’ve read, all of the serious and substantial works of history that I’ve read, do point out that again and again in Winston Churchill’s life he made mistakes. In fact, he said to his wife, he wrote to his wife, Clementine, with regards specifically to his worst mistake of all, the Dardanelles campaign, that “I should have made nothing if I had not made mistakes”.

And so, let’s go through them. There’s a new book that’s just been published about the Russian Civil War in which Churchill is held up to obloquy, frankly, for the mistake of having been involved in getting the leader of the movement to try to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle, as he put it. In the Russian intervention, which was a failure, 938 British soldiers died, and it ended ignominiously. But I don’t know any sensible historian who has tried to present that as a as a great victory for Winston Churchill. Similarly, the general strike, you know he was extremely tough, he misunderstood the strike, it was not a communist uprising. There are lots of questions one can ask about his stance on Yalta when he believed essentially the lies that Joseph Stalin told him about the integration and the independence of Poland. One can criticise his stance on unconditional surrender. Did it make the Germans fight harder, knowing that the surrender that they were eventually going to be forced to make had to be unconditional?

Big questions over his stance on Ireland, especially the Irish partition. The abdication crisis. He supported Edward VIII during the abdication crisis. The more we learn about Edward VIII and more we realised we were jolly lucky. I mean the whole nation basically missed the bullet there when we instead had King George VI on the throne. His gold standard timing was very bad. He came into the gold standard at the wrong time and the wrong level. His Norway campaign was not a success. You know, I’m going on here.

Lots of them are very arguable, you know, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that he was right not to blame the Russians for the Katin massacre even though he knew perfectly well that it had been the Russians who’d done it when they were our allies.

The 10-year rule in the interwar period was obviously a ridiculous, a ludicrous thing to have followed. Then you get onto the really big issues where I think overall he was right, like the bomber offensive, combined bomber offensive, but nonetheless, you know, they’re highly controversial.

But what he called in that speech, the Neville Chamberlain’s speech, “the grievous inquest of history” is not by any means one-sided those people who can admire Winston Churchill, yet can appreciate that things like his stance on women’s suffrage were clearly wrong. It doesn’t mean that one puts all these things together and thinks of him as a monster and a disaster. Because on the other side of the scale needless to say there is the truth that he was one of the early people to warn against German ambitions in the First World War and one of the only prominent people to warn against Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Nazis in the interwar period. And then afterwards with tremendous bravery, the moral courage should I say, he denounced Soviet imperialism and was the first person to do that in the Iron Curtain speech in Fulton Missouri in March 1946. So what you have is a number of things on the negative side, the biggest of which as I mentioned was undoubtedly the Dardanelles campaign in which 147,000 allied troops were killed and wounded. Although again one can argue that if that campaign had come off it would have been one of the great strategic coups of the twentieth century, indeed of the history of warfare frankly. But all of these I think are areas that it’s fair to make criticisms of, that the grievous inquest of history should be able to sit. But instead of debating these areas and many more, we instead have a torrent of abuse from a series of different areas, certainly from the extreme right and the extreme left, who accuse Churchill of really completely ridiculous stuff.

David Irving, the former historian has accused him of being a flasher, essentially of being – and this is well known of course lots of people have accused him of being an alcoholic – he was not one in fact happy to discuss that later but it’s an old trope that Goebbels used to come up with, and indeed Adolf Hitler in his speeches. He’s been accused of being unfaithful to his wife. Absolutely ridiculous and wrong there but nonetheless people will try to present it. He was accused in a book recently of helping Martin Bormann escape the ashes of Berlin and come to live in a house in the home counties here in England. He’s been accused of wanting to sink the Lusitania, and there was a Don in America who said that he was a drug addict. A guardian headline entitled, “Was Churchill a non-Smoker?” Well, the answer is no. He smoked 160,000 cigars. There’s another don in America called Ralph Raico who – damn I’ve just mentioned a name, I was trying my hardest not to dignify these people with identifying them – called him a war criminal, Stalin’s stooge, a crypto socialist, and various things that if Churchill were alive today, the law of libel make it quite clear that no editor would tiptoe towards these completely ridiculous things.

The biggest one, of course, in most recent years has been his stance on race. This is the latest of the parts of identity politics that we have in this country. Where Churchill has come under sustained attack and that was why his statue was attacked the other day. And I would say, it’s difficult to tell these kind of things, about 70% now of the critique of Churchill was for the fact that he believed in a hierarchy of the races in which Europeans came higher than non-white people and Britons came at the top of the European sort of league table. Winston Churchill was born in 1874. He was 10 years old when Charles Darwin died. It was a given, at that stage and in the early to middle parts of his life, that this was not just some kind of a lunatic racial theory such as we know it to be today, obscene and ludicrous, but was actual science. It was what was taught as scientific fact. And it’s very difficult, it strikes me, to expect people in the past to have the kind of scientific knowledge that people in the present do. I think that it’s quite dangerous quite apart from anything else because in the future we will be accused of things that we consider to be completely normal and unobjectionable but which in the future will be considered to be outrageous and disgraceful, and our statues are going to be attacked and pulled down in the same way as people in the past are. It’s ahistorical essentially. And it makes no logical sense either, you can’t really attack people in the past for this kind of thing. You might as well say that Oliver Cromwell is to be criticised because he didn’t believe in socialised medicine. How could he not have believed in socialised medicine? And so what you have to do, I think, with a lot of these attacks such as that Churchill used gas on Iraqi tribesmen and things like that is to go back to the original sources, almost always they are held at Churchill College, Cambridge and to and to look at the context and to see whether or not it actually happened in the case of the tribesmen it didn’t. And so you have to try to get yourself into the mind of somebody who’s long dead. It’s the most difficult thing for a historian to do, but at the same time it’s one of the most liberating things as well to bury yourself in the past and to try to get into the mind of someone.

I’m just reading the letters of Oliver Cromwell at the moment, actually, which is why I thought of him first. A good majority of them are essentially about religion rather than politics because in the mid seventeenth century, people thought a great deal about religion there was certainly no split between religion and politics in those days and so in order to try and get yourself into the mind of Oliver Cromwell, Anne Boleyn or somebody of that period, you absolutely have to delve into the incredibly complex arguments and debates surrounding Protestantism and various sects and so on. And it’s a bit like that wherever you go in the past. People were not thinking in the same way that we’re thinking any more than people in the future will be thinking in the way that we think today. And when you do that, again and again, Churchill comes out pretty well.

He is a figure who thinks deeply about politics, and of course he does because he’s a historian and he’s therefore written 37 books in his life, this is not just some, fly by night politician, this is somebody who is a bit of an amateur philosopher, certainly a moralist, although he didn’t believe in the god of Christianity and his view of the Almighty was that its primary purpose was to look after Winston Churchill, essentially. But you also have somebody who is a profound moral figure. He understands right from wrong and he’s able to do that without a Christian code. Instead, he does that really from what he calls “the religion of healthy mindedness”, which was based a bit on Noblesse Oblige, the duty that privileged people have to take care of people less privileged than themselves.

And you see that all the way through in his imperialist thinking and his and his social thinking in domestic British politics. But also there is a kind of natural assumption, natural knowledge of right and wrong and he sticks to it. Yes, there are some moments when he had to be absolutely ruthless. The classic example, as I said earlier, being the combined bomber offensive where he did not stick to any sense of proportionality, which is what the United Nations seemed believe in today. But nonetheless at the time, despite the fact that we lost 50,000 killed in the Blitz, he was willing to unleash this totally disproportionate attack on the Germans which killed 500,000. But that’s how you win wars and how you deter wars, by the concept of disproportionality. And so, for all that you can criticise him for that and for his remarks, very often jokes, they were intended to be jokes, a lot of the racist remarks come from one source, Leo Amy’s diaries, he was a political opponent of Churchill’s, a bitter one, earlier in his career.The fact that they were jokes is not acceptable nowadays, but it is I think worthwhile pointing out.

And also when you actually look at his actions what he really did they belie this assumption that he essentially hated back people. In fact, what he did again and again throughout his life when he was fighting in the Northwest Frontier protecting the Punjabi tribesmen from incursions from the north from the Talib and the Afridi and so on when he was trying to, and succeeded in, abolishing slavery in the Sudan in the River War.

His attitude towards the Boers and the way they treated the local black population in South Africa, his decisions as undersecretary at the colonial office, his pleas during the Second World War to the prime ministers of Australia and Canada and the President of America to send foodstuffs to Bengal during the Bengal famine. All of these actions that he takes and there are lots more are intended to be for the benefit of the non-white native population of the Empire. And so I think that that we ought to really look at what he did as opposed to these very awful, in modern day parlance, flippant racist remarks that he made.

Yes, he certainly did oppose Gandhi. He was an imperialist. He believed in the British Empire and Gandhi was trying to force the British to quit India. So of course he unleashed his special capacity for ire and criticism in these speeches. But the thing about Churchill is that he didn’t mind when people attacked him back and as I said earlier, he enjoyed the fight. He enjoyed the struggle over his reputation. But I think that even he would be shocked at the level, the incredibly low level that one gets nowadays.

I’m just going to give you a few examples that, that cropped up recently in my own experience. I was at a literary festival in India and an Indian academic actually said, told me in front of about a thousand people that Winston Churchill had given orders to the Metropolitan Police to abuse suffragettes during a during a famous Trafalgar Square meeting that turned into a essentially turned into a riot.

And I said “what’s the evidence for this?” I knew perfectly well that this was completely untrue because Winston Churchill was a gentleman to women and there was simply no way that this was going to be the case. Anyhow, I asked her what her evidence was and she said “I intuited it”. Now that’s the level of historical evidence that we get.

There was some historian called Alex von Tunzelmann – I’ve done it again, sorry about that – Anyway, she put out a tweet or retweeted somebody else’s tweet essentially saying that because Churchill had created Pakistan, therefore he was one of the progenitors of radical Islam which is so wrong on so many levels, not least because of course Pakistan was created when Clement Attlee was prime minister and Churchill was leader of the opposition, that it beggars belief really that that people can say these things.

There’s a man in Greenock, a historian in Greenock who’s about to bring out a book on D-day saying that Churchill was completely opposed all the way through to D-days and only allowed D-day because he was forced into it by Stalin and Roosevelt. Here again, you know, Churchill was writing letters, talking about the importance of coming back onto the continent as early as 1940. He was putting money into the creation of Mulberry Harbours precisely for the reconquest of the continent to take place from southern England. And yes, he didn’t want to go back to do an invasion of the continent when the Allies weren’t ready when there was a chance of them being thrown back into the sea as they had been in Dunkirk. But the idea that he was always opposed to Operation Overlord is complete and utter rot. So you see this and these are just 3 that have cropped up recently. There have been a couple of have biographies of Churchill that I’ve reviewed in The Spectator, one of which had, I think, 60 factual errors in the first few chapters. There’s been a movie called Churchill in which I counted 120 factual errors in the 2h of the movie. That works out one every minute. So you do have this extraordinary sense that because Churchill is such a famous person, and because he was somebody who did believe in this appalling hierarchy of the races concept, that therefore you can say anything about him at all and hope to be taken seriously. Well, that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough. Ladies and gentlemen, you have to have the proper factual, written preferably, evidence to back up what you say about somebody. Just because they’re dead it doesn’t mean that you’ve got a perfect right to lie about them essentially.

I’m going to end now with another quotation from that same speech that I started with the Neville Chamberlain funeral speech in which Churchill ended “What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It’s very imprudent to walk through life without this shield because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations. But with this shield, however the fates may play, we always march in the ranks of honour.” It’s strikes me, ladies and gentlemen, that, Winston Churchill marches there still. Thank you very much.

Lawrence Goldman

Well, Andrew, thank you very much indeed for that excellent distillation of the problem and indeed your very fluent of the problem and indeed your very fluent responses to the problem as it were.

I wonder if I can take you back with the first question to I think it was 2000 when Winston Churchill was voted to be, by a very large audience on the BBC, the greatest Briton of all time, and perhaps ask you whether the revisionism you’ve been talking about is very much an academic thing but that perhaps the people continue, if polled, to believe that what he did for Britain in the twentieth century makes him still a great figure.

Andrew Roberts

Oh yes, absolutely. No, no, no. I don’t want for a moment to imply that any of this revisionism has changed the national view of Winston Churchill, which is, as you say, as the greatest Briton, I’d love to see a new poll, because I think that all of this, all of this revisionism actually goes very skin deep because, you know, the British people are sensible bunch and they know their history. A lot of them actually are not taught history unfortunately. We had a terrible survey which came out quite recently saying that 20% of school children believe that Winston Churchill was a fictional character. Whereas they believe that, Sherlock Holmes and Eleanor Rigby were real people. So we do have an issue in the in the schools with the next generation. But as far as most people, most Britons are concerned, they do recognise of course that he’s a hero and this is therefore a kind of a publishing thing, it’s very much part of the woke agenda to hate Winston Churchill, it’s very prominent on the on the political left of course, but as far as ordinary people are concerned, they go to Chartwell in ever larger numbers they buy books about Winston Churchill, good books I mean, about Winston Churchill in huge numbers. They’re interested in him. There’s a Netflix documentary series that’s coming out next year about him which I imagine is going to be huge. It’s certainly a very good one that I’ve seen so far and I think that’ll work. And then you’ve got the other thing in the great fight back you’ve got the International Churchill Society, of which I’m very proud to be a board member which fights for his memory and then in the United States you have this wonderful thing called the Hillsdale Project at Hillsdale College in Michigan, which is really very scholarly. What they do, it’s run by a chap called Richard Langworth, what they do is pick up every one of these of these ridiculous libels and woke, fantasies and they check out what truly did happen when Winston Churchill was alive and they give quotes and dates and statistics and figures and so on and they nail these lies one off the other after the other. It’s a fantastic sight to watch. I really do recommend the Churchill project at Hillsdale. Their, website is just one series of revisionist massacre after another, frankly. So there is a fight back.

Lawrence Goldman

I was wondering though, just to continue this, I mean throughout our lives, and we’re getting on a bit now, it has been the historical memory of 2 world wars that has really shaped our sense of modern British history. Obviously Churchill is central to both the First and the Second World War. I wonder if perhaps as an older generation of those who fought, dies off, and the memory begins to dwindle a bit, among a new generation who know little of the privations and problems of Britain from 1914 to 45 whether, as it were, that has something to do with it, the history of memory or the memory of history is  waning where Churchill is concerned.

Andrew Roberts

I used to think that. I used to take that for granted that that was going to happen. But do you know, actually, I can’t remember the Second World War and looking at you, I don’t think you can either. I was born 18 years after Adolf Hitler committed suicide and you don’t look as though you’re from that much different a time period. It strikes me that a new generation, so long as they’re taught properly, are going to be fascinated by Winston Churchill because he has such a fascinating figure. To bring together all of these various aspects in of achievement and character personality into one human being will always fascinate people. We’re still fascinated by Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great and so on and they died 2000 years ago so I don’t think it’s that. I don’t think sheer chronology explains it. I think that a love of dragging down heroes is part of it, which is a form, I think, of national decadence. You see it of course also in the United States where Thomas Jefferson’s statue was removed from the New York council chamber. What a thing to do to essentially turn on your founding fathers in the way that they’re doing in the states. And Winston Churchill is so much of a figure in our democracy that it’s natural that people who don’t like our democracy will want to drag him down.

Lawrence Goldman

I was wondering also if it’s really the scale of history that Churchill was involved with which makes him such a target. When you ran through that list of great events and the way they have been revised by his critics, all the things he’s involved in, you stop and think that very few prime ministers, very few politicians, have had to deal with such essentially existential issues, not only for Britain but for the Empire as well. And is that part of the problem, in a way? It’s the scale which Churchill deals with which opens him up to criticism.

Andrew Roberts

Well, he became an MP in 1900 and he didn’t give up being an MP and until 1964 so you know you essentially have 2 thirds of a century in which he is making decisions or indeed being involved in politics in some way at usually at the very top level. Because he became a cabinet minister in 1908. So, you know, you have this extraordinary half century plus period of him having to be involved in all of the most important issues of the day and so of course he’s on record with his with his various stances some of which history proved absolutely magnificently right and some of which have been wrong. And so I think that’s another aspect, just the sheer width and breadth of his taking part in the decision making process. It’s pretty easy to pick apart somebody who has had to take so many decisions on so many issues over so long.

Lawrence Goldman

Yes, well it’s the benefit of hindsight as well. I was recently in a national portrait gallery, but I won’t say which one, in fact, which had a portrait of Churchill. And the label blamed him for, as it were, the modern history of the Middle East because he’d been involved after the First World War in the drawing of boundaries of course of all those new nations which emerged out of the Ottoman Empire. So he was blamed for that and blamed, if you like, for the subsequent problems, which of course continue to haunt us right up to the present day. The answer to which of course, I suppose, is you can’t be blamed for acting in good faith and making mistakes.

Andrew Roberts

And what else were we going to do? The Turkish Empire had collapsed, there was simply no way that it could be resuscitated. It had supported the central powers in that war and areas like Transjordan and Iraq were essentially pro-British states at that stage.

The French were dealing with their part of their whole process and we dealt with ours. Some of the alternatives, I would contend, were worse That’s another thing about history that, people are not given the black and white decisions. They are given grey decisions. Some decisions that are that are the better of 2 evils, that  constantly happens in history. And yet, the only way that you can work that out is actually by studying it closely rather than just jumping to essentially ignorant conclusions, which is what so many revisionists tend to do.

The other thing is of course that Churchill hatred very often, and it is a particular form of psychological disorder I’ve discovered, this kind of irrational loathing of Churchill that you do see in certain people often says more about the person themselves and what they’re having to face and go through than anything about Winston Churchill, frankly.

The other thing is the number of people who believe that they are qualified to write books about Winston Churchill who up until this appalling rant that they bring out, there’s nothing in their background to imply that they have any sort of wider knowledge of history of the past. The classic example being Nicholson Baker who wrote a book about Churchill accusing him of absolutely everything that you can think of and an awful lot more. And so I looked into this chap and wondered, you know, where had he done his undergraduate thesis? Where had he got his PhD in history? And so on. It turns out that the book that he’d written beforehand was about phone sex and masturbation.

I’m not for a moment denying that Nicholson Baker might be a world expert on phone sex and indeed masturbation, however he certainly is not an expert on Winston Churchill.

 

Lawrence Goldman

A question has come in about another critical aspect of Churchill. His criticisms at the end of the Second World War of the labour movement, the famous comparison as it were with the Gestapo and his general anti-socialism. In the past when one thinks of criticism of Churchill it tended to be focused on his views on the labour movement on Bolshevism, on socialism and so forth. And this questioner asks for your response to that particular passage when during the election campaign of 45 he made those inappropriate remarks.

 

Andrew Roberts

Yes, that’s right and Clementine, his wife, urged him not to and he ignored her tragically.

Look, he was a phrase maker. I mean, there were lots of other phrases. The soft underbelly of Europe, calling Italy the soft underbelly of Europe didn’t sound too clever when we were held up for 4 months outside Monte Casino in 1943, 1944 so there is a real there’s a real sense, I think, that Churchill got himself into trouble partly because of his own splendid capacity for phrase making. There are lots of them. “Their half-naked fakir striding up the steps of the vice-regal palace to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king emperor” was not a very sensible way of discussing somebody who’s now seen essentially as a secular saint in the Indian subcontinent. So yes, there are drawbacks. By the way, if the alternative is writing a book about the, about somebody who has the genius phrase making capacity of Keir Starmer I think I was rather lucky to choose Winston Churchill instead.

 

Lawrence Goldman

Well on this subject actually I wrote a biography of one of the great socialist thinkers of the twentieth century RH Tawney and was amazed to discover that in the 1930s he was a great Churchillian. He got his brother-in-law William Beveridge to give him as a present Churchill’s biography of the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, his ancestor and Tony admired Churchill. He admired his foresight in seeing the rise of Nazism and he loved his turns of phrase in 1940. Tawney is writing letters to his family or his wife and to others, admiring Winston, in a way that actually gives a very interesting insight into a man who was a socialist and a patriot, R H Tawney, but also shows that there was a left that nevertheless had an open mind about Churchill and could admire all his qualities.

Andrew Roberts

And, of course, Clement Attlee recognised that there were good things to be said about the Gallipoli campaign, at least the concept of the Gallipoli campaign, Ernest Bevin worked very closely with Churchill during the Second World War and admired him, a mutual admiration society there very much. There were some socialists that got under Churchill skin. Dalton he never really warmed to but he did say to Dalton set Europe ablaze, he gave Dalton the job the crucial job of trying to encourage resistance movements in Europe during the Second World War. He didn’t much like, in fact, he couldn’t stand Nye Bevan. And that was because Nye Bevan actually wanted to bring him down in 1942. It’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take in Churchill’s case, it strikes me. So, he had different views on different personalities. Philip Snowden, I think he had a good working relationship with as well. So there was an element of course of theatre but overall, if somebody was patriotic he didn’t care really which political party they came from.

Lawrence Goldman

I was just wondering just to, as it were, give the revisionists their day: Is there anything out of this slew, as you put it, of new publications in the past decade, is there anything as it were that has expanded the way we might think about Churchill? Obviously you’ve made the point about race and I think people accept that and you’ve explained very well how we should look at that, but is there anything either particular or more general that actually adds to the corpus of Churchill studies or is it all essentially just a pining for ideological purposes?

Andrew Roberts

Oh no, there’s huge amounts that’s being done in the world of Churchill studies that’s really great. Really impressive. So long as you strip away the revisionist you know ultra woke stuff There’s a there’s a huge amount of really good work. Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, has brought out a book with 12 different chapters I think it was, maybe it’s 20 actually come think of it, which 2 are frankly ridiculous rubbish and the other 18 are extremely useful additions to the sum of our knowledge on Churchill. Again, going back to the Hillsdale project, that is constantly coming up with new stuff on Winston Churchill. That’s why there needs to be a new biography of Churchill every 20 years, and why our fascination with him won’t wane I don’t think. There’s a big book I think this week by David Reynolds, about Churchill and his friends. If you still have people of the calibre of David Reynolds bringing out important new books on Winston Churchill, then Churchill studies are alive and well. All I’m really talking about today is this this strain of vicious ahistorical hatred of Churchill, which as I say is very much driven when you look at the individuals behind it, either by their own political agendas or sometimes their own sort of psychological hang-ups.

Lawrence Goldman

Well, just to say to those viewing and listening that the new book you’ve just mentioned by David Reynolds has been reviewed by Simon Heffer for the History Reclaimed website, so if people are interested in touching base with the latest scholarship on Churchill do go to our website…

Andrew Roberts

Sorry to stop you there, Lawrence. If we’re plugging people’s books, I think we might mention that this week I’ve got one coming out myself entitled Conflict, the Evolution of Warfare, 1945 to Ukraine, which I’ve co-written with General David Petraeus and which is published this week so let’s not slouch on the book pushing front.

Lawrence Goldman

Absolutely. Well, we’ll see if we can get that one reviewed as well. But anyway, Andrew, puffing aside, thank you so much for that very fascinating insight into the current state of scholarship and some of the things that have gone wrong in some sections of the historical discussion of Churchill in recent years.

About the author

Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts is a Visiting Professor at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London, the Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New-York Historical Society and the Roger & Martha Mertz Visiting Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of fifteen books, including Napoleon the Great and Churchill: Walking with Destiny.