The Home Secretaries (2): Churchill

Siege_of_Sidney_Street_–_ChurchillWinston Churchill, 1910-11

Liberal (under Asquith)

After the general election of January 1910, Churchill (who had made a splash at the Board of Trade) was promoted to the Home Office. This was, of course, in the midst of the constitutional crisis, which saw the House of Lords reject Lloyd George’s People’s Budget and resulted in two general elections in 1910. In the end, the Parliament Act of 1911 saw the ascendancy of the Commons secured: Churchill, never one to eschew a scrap, played a leading role in that victory. He went to the Home Office with plans for reform, which were stymied by his brief tenure, though he did pilot a bill regulating the working hours of shop assistants.

As so often in his career, Churchill’s rhetorical bark was at odds with his political bite. He flirted with eugenics. He opposed a bill for women’s suffrage, and police used notably rough tactics against a Suffragette demonstration (known as Black Friday). He was a firm advocate of capital punishment, but was far more inclined to commute death sentences than many of the home secretaries either side of him: he often intervened to release even petty criminals who he believed had been harshly dealt with. Legend has it he had troops fire on striking miners in Tonypandy in South Wales: in fact, when a pit strike in turned violent Churchill sent in the Metropolitan Police and then the army, but did not allow local control, which in fact prevented violence. However, later on, two rioting strikers were shot dead in Llanelli. This, and Labour attacks on him, did much to deepen Churchill’s antipathy to socialism.

Most famously, his personal role in the siege of Sidney Street (a London gangland affair which resulted in two deaths) showed his gung-ho nature was never too far from the surface.

Sidney_street_churchill

Like Lloyd George, he dallied with idea of coalition before the war: Churchill and FE Smith founded the cross-party Other Club, designed to foster relations between the parties. His time in the Home Office also saw him privy to security briefings, and he became increasingly antipathetic to the Kaiser’s Germany. It was Churchill’s increasing interest and involvement in matters of defence and foreign policy, something that would never leave him, that saw Asquith send him to the Admiralty in the aftermath of the second Moroccan crisis, in 1911: it was not a demotion.

Churchill was one of ten men since 1900 to serve as both home secretary and chancellor; he would be one of only three home secretaries since 1900 to become prime minister (four if you count Asquith); and one of only five to become party leader (six, with Asquith, seven if you allow for Clynes, who had been Labour leader before). Only he, Asquith and Callaghan would be home secretary, chancellor and prime minster. Churchill’s moment was almost 30 years later, and would come at the end of a long and very rocky road.

You can read about Churchill’s time as chancellor here.

 

 

 

 

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