ANDREW ADONIS: How would Winston Churchill address parliament today?
PUBLISHED: 09:50 05 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:50 05 September 2019
ANDREW ADONIS imagines how Winston Churchill would address the House of Commons in 2019: ‘Do not forget Britain’s European destiny’
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Disraeli quipped that the House of Lords is proof of life after death, for which I can vouch. Here, I imagine what we might hear if there was a House of Commons in the afterlife, and what sort of speech Boris Johnson's political hero, Winston Churchill, would make in the current circumstances.
Mr Speaker, I have nothing to offer but amazement, pity, contempt - but also hope!
Never was so much damage inflicted by so few on so many outside an actual war. In the olden times Eton was a school of martial valour; now it is a nursery of rogues and ruffians.
I would pity Mr Johnson if he were not so obviously the author of his own misfortunes. He is not merely a purveyor of terminological inexactitudes: his life and career are one long existential inexactitude. Mr Darwin would have regarded him as a freak political mutation worthy of a whole museum.
I know a thing or two about being larger than life. For me it was a cigar and a growl standing up to the great dictators. For Mr Johnson, it is a licentiousness worthy of Mr Fox and the Prince Regent, in pursuit of personal pleasure and vanity.
All governments are organised hypocrisies. They are human. This is tolerable, provided their destination is the public weal. But never have I seen so great a hypocrisy in one person, to no public purpose. Her Majesty's Government is a political orgy which would have made Caligula blush.
Mr Johnson prays in aid of a referendum held three years ago with a narrow result which he himself procured, as if that relieves him of exercising wisdom and leadership to end this ludicrous farrago. I recall Mr Baldwin saying that he would have lost the 1935 election had he not made peace with appeasement. I was unimpressed, but he could at least plead the most terrible foe. By contrast Johnson himself caused the catastrophe he now makes his master.
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When leaders in a democracy contract out their conscience and vital judgement, decadence and decay follow. Their responsibility is to lead not to follow, to reason not to rubber-stamp. If their leadership is rejected by their fellow men and women, they fall with honour not ignominy.
I saw many a Mr Farage in my day. I treated them, at home and abroad, with scorn and contempt. Our great democracy is to be led not by blackguards and blackshirts but by leaders of conscience and good will, with generosity of spirit to all.
Referendums, the device of dictators and demagogues down the ages, are chalk and cheese to parliamentary democracy. But if they are to be held - and I confess I contemplated one to extend the life of my great wartime coalition - let them be to confirm the judgement of responsible leaders, not to contract out their judgement to the four winds.
Above all, I pray you, do not to lose sight of Britain's European destiny. Britain cannot abdicate from Europe with safety and honour. Every time that happened in times past, disaster followed. Lead not leave, that is your mission and vocation, as it was mine.
At Zurich in 1946, as we rebuilt this European continent after yet another human conflagration, I called for us to construct a kind of United States of Europe. The European Union honours that injunction. I look on it with pride. It is harbinger of a peace and prosperity Europe has never before known. The flowering of its power and prestige has been in the era since Britain took its rightful place at the centre of these European councils.
In my day, the United States of America was a wise, beneficiary force. Roosevelt and Truman were our comrades in war and peace. They were friends to Europe and its fledgling post-war democracies, and implacable foe to Stalin as he sought dominion and slavery for its peoples.
In the era of Trump and Putin, we must look to our united European home for power, security and global reach. Treasure it. Strengthen it. Weaken and abuse it not - for if you do, you weaken and abuse only yourself.
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