Ian Austin

Independent for Dudley North

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Winston Churchill: hero or villain

Read the piece I wrote for the Times on Winston Churchill. 


Most people would instinctively say hero, but it would have been simple for John McDonnell to give a balanced answer, saying he did some things he abhors, and to praise his role in defeating fascism. Senior politicians have to find their way through difficult interviews all the time.

Instead, he dismissed Churchill out of hand as a villain because the military were sent to Tonypandy in 1910. Churchill’s precise role remains hotly debated today, but there is no doubt that Churchill held some appalling views and made huge mistakes in relation to India, Gallipoli, Iran or Ireland, for example.

So of course there is lots to criticise, but there is no doubt too that he is regarded as a hero for the way he brought Britain together and galvanised our country to defeat Hitler and the Nazis, free Europe from fascism and secure the world’s freedom too. That’s why in 2002, Churchill was voted the greatest ever Briton ahead of Shakespeare, Darwin and Brunel.

Imagine Britain between 1939 and 1941. Europe overrun, America not yet in the war. The Nazi-Soviet Pact in place. Lots of people in senior and influential positions had fought to keep Britain out of the war in 1939, which would have given the Nazis a free hand elsewhere.

Despite all that, Churchill brought together that great wartime coalition with proper Labour heroes like Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevan, and inspired our country to fight on against all odds.

And for me, this period of our history – Britain’s finest hour – shows what is unique about our country.

When people ask what it means to be British or what is special and unique about our country, I say that it is because of who we are as a people and what we are as a country that British people stood up to the Nazis and fought for freedom.

And what makes you British is not what you look like or the colour of your skin, not where you or your parents were born nor how you worship, but the contribution you make and your belief in the values British people have fought and died for: democracy, freedom, fairness and tolerance.

So blundering in to a controversy like this doesn’t just show that you are out of touch with the vast majority of decent mainstream British patriots. In an era where politics is more about character and values, it sums up many of the doubts people have about Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

I’ve lost count of the number of times working class voters in Dudley have told me they don’t think they would trust them on defence or with our national security. And I think this latest incident will confirm people’s doubts about whether Jeremy and John could really describe themselves as patriots, whether they love our country and are proud of its achievements.

And it shows, I think, an unhealthy and unpleasant tribalism too. A belief that Churchill must have been a bad person because he was a Tory. John McDonnell actually confirmed this himself with the previous question in which he was asked to name his favourite Conservative and just said “pass”.

No one in John McDonnell’s position would have backed violent street protest as he did between 2010 and 2012 when he called for “insurrection” to “bring down” the government and praised rioters who had “kicked the s---” out of the Conservative Party’s offices in Westminster.

John McDonnell claims that he did “everything I possibly could to secure the peace process in Northern Ireland", but it is just not true.

Younger supporters will dismiss it as ancient history, but lots of other people will not forget Jeremy and John’s position when the IRA were planting bombs and murdering people in shopping centres, hotels and pubs.

Weeks after the IRA bombed the Tory Party Conference in 1984, Jeremy Corbyn invited two suspected IRA terrorists to the House of Commons. When the man who had planted the bomb was put on trial, he demonstrated outside the court.

As recently as 2003, John McDonnell said “those people involved in the armed struggle” should be honoured - people who he said had used “bombs and bullets”.

They were supporting the terrorists, not trying to find peace in a bitterly divided society.

No other Labour leaders would have backed totalitarian dictatorship in Venezuela, echoed the Russian dictatorship’s line on Ukraine or have taken money from the Iranian dictatorship’s official state broadcaster.

And there is no way any other Labour leader would have echoed the Kremlin position when they sent hitmen to murder people on the streets of Britain.

It is the same story when it comes to the poisonous scandal of antisemitism. How could a party so many of us joined to fight racism have caused such offence and distress to the Jewish community?

But then no one else would have invited "friends" from Hamas and Hezbollah to an event in Parliament or taken money from the official broadcaster of the brutal Iranian regime.

I am afraid what this latest controversy shows is what many of us have suspected for a long time: John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and the people around them from the hard left have taken over the Labour Party and turned it into something completely different.

They have created a new political party with not just a different leadership and new policies, but different values too.


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