Boris Johnson – The Churchill Factor

Churchill

 

At school I was never taught to love my country for its history or its heroes. The subject of WWII was discussed matter-of-factly as a linear assortment of dates with particular focus on the evils of national fascism. It was never impressed upon me by teachers or textbooks what a colossal influence Winston Churchill had on the British contribution to war. Boris’s biography fills this vacuum quite deliberately with its open praise of the colourful protagonist, “the point of the Churchill Factor is that one man can make all the difference”.[1]

I first saw this book on the shelves of my local library and, having read the first few pages, I was hooked. The fluid sentences and amusing, approachable tone persuaded me to purchase my own copy. In this sense he mimics the work of Churchill in which he finds the same eloquent characteristics. At one point Boris picks out an “ascending tricolon” with an anaphora, “Now is not the end/ It is not even the beginning of the end/ But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”[2] It was Churchill’s simplicity of language and sentence structure that solidified his speeches into political and historical discourse; who hasn’t heard of the famous lines after the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict has/ So much been owed by/ So many to/ So few”?[3]

Boris necessarily features the second World War and Churchill’s prescient rejection of Hitler in the 1930s when the papers and popular politicians like David Lloyd George were praising the German leader. We learn how Churchill was alienated by his own party as a fruitcake and only reluctantly let into premiership when Neville Chamberlain’s leadership became untenable. He proved his party wrong and his country right; Britain could and would resist European fascism “if necessary for years, if necessary alone.” Boris concedes that this great man made mistakes in the war but tempers it with cautionary praise, “You can’t win a war without risks, and you won’t take risks unless you are brave…Of the immense physical and moral courage of Churchill there can be no doubt”.[4]In contrast to my school experience, Boris upholds one man as the axel upon which the destiny of Britain was rested. He also admires the man for his intellect, incessant drive and sheer mental fortitude. This view, common now amongst politicians who seek to emulate him and the wider public who see him as the man who gave us victory when almost every other European nation conceded defeat, was never presented to me in my formative years. But Boris unashamedly does and presents his case with passion, “It has been said that the difference between Hitler’s speeches and Churchill’s speeches was that Hitler made you think he could do anything; Churchill made you think you could do anything.”[5]

Churchill factor

Most people regard Churchill as the war-time hero of Britain but little else of his past has reached wider public recognition. Johnson seeks to implant the “Churchill Factor” or “ethic” as a worthy template for aspiring Brits that goes beyond his war contributions. He maps out Churchill’s background as a physically inferior boy never living up to the expectations of his father and the subsequent drive to impress his peers as a result of this boyhood experience. Aside from politics it seems Churchill had a decorated journalistic career through contentious and colourful reports of colonial wars which earned him huge sums of money as well as popular acclaim. In politics, Boris consistently highlights the social side to Churchill’s conservatism, noting Churchill’s own intention that the party should be “Conservative in principal but Liberal in sympathy”.[6]It is interesting to note that Boris is known not only, like Churchill, for his spoken word but also his centrist vision of the Conservative party. Similarly they agree on the issue of Europe, that “we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it.”[7]Boris decisively comes down on the side of Euro-scepticism which makes me wonder why there was a question mark above his head on whether he would campaign to leave or remain in the recent referendum. Evidently the media, in their click-bait hurry to process news, never thought to consult literature, preferring instead dog-bites-man clips to inflame indecision.

As a biography the book is detailed enough for the reader to come out feeling enlightened on Churchill’s life and imbibed with a hunger to stare down the same evils the great man did. The book acts as a powerful argument for the “great man” theory of history but a more comprehensive and less partisan study of Churchill’s life can no doubt be found elsewhere.

[1] Johnson, B. The Churchill Factor (Hodder, 2014), p. 5.

[2] Ibid., p. 99.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 55.

[5] Ibid., p. 100.

[6] Ibid., p. 160.

[7] Ibid., p. 304.

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