Churchill was first elected to Parliament as a Conservative for the town of Oldham in 1900. He was only twenty-five, and Queen Victoria was still on the throne. He quickly made a name for himself as a rising politician, though he was controversial, and in 1904 he switched parties and joined the Liberals. His early career was a mix of radicalism and reaction. He helped introduce labour exchanges and early unemployment insurance, but he also opposed strikers and refused to support votes for women.
He held a succession of senior Government roles. When the WWI broke out he was the Minister in charge of the Navy, but fell from office dramatically over his leadership of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. A short spell commanding a battalion in the trenches was followed by a return to high office and, in 1924, by a return to the Conservative Party as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was clearly talented but many mistrusted him.
This section will tell you more about his rise to prominence in politics and his ups and downs in office – the colourful and varied trajectory of his early political career.
Although he was defeated in his first attempt to enter Parliament in 1899, Churchill’s fame following his dramatic escape from the Boers tipped the balance in the election of 1900. He achieved a small majority and won his longed-for ‘seat’ as a Conservative MP for Oldham, Lancashire, beginning a political career that would last over sixty years.
He made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 18 February 1901 at the age of twenty-six, speaking immediately after Lloyd George, ensuring the young politician a very full house. Churchill had prepared his speech very carefully and more or less learned it by heart. Although this isn’t unusual in a maiden speaker, Churchill – more unusually – continued this meticulous preparation throughout his career.
I am an English Liberal. I hate the Tory party, their men, their words and their methods. I feel no sort of sympathy with them – except to my own people at Oldham. Churchill to Lord Hugh Cecil (unsent), 24 October 1903
In 1905, Prime Minister Balfour resigned and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman formed a government pending a January election, appointing Churchill as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, assisting Lord Elgin. And in the Liberal Party’s landslide election victory in early 1906, Churchill was elected as the Liberal MP for North-West Manchester. Churchill, the ambitious, shining ‘glow-worm’, was on his way.
Churchill rapidly established himself as a prominent New Liberal, combining a commitment to free trade with support for a programme of social reform and was one of the main architects of Britain’s incipient welfare state. To those Tories he’d ‘betrayed’ by ‘crossing the floor’, he was now betraying their class, too. By April 1908, however, his ‘star’ seemed to be shining clearer and clearer (see prophecy), as he achieved cabinet rank, as President of the Board of Trade in Herbert Asquith’s new government, at the age of only thirty-three. In this role he introduced a number of initiatives (not all of which were adopted during his tenure but were later).
Author and historian Dr Christopher Bell discusses one of the most controversial events of Churchill’s career
One of the most controversial periods of Winston Churchill’s long career was that as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915. During this period of WWI he championed a plan to break through the Dardanelles Straits to open a supply line to the
Russians and break the stalemate on the front in France.
Dr Christopher M Bell is an author and a Professor of History at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His books include Churchill and Sea Power(Oxford University Press, 2012), The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy between the Wars (Stanford University Press, 2000) and Naval Mutinies of the Twentieth Century: An International Perspective (Frank Cass/Routledge, 2003).
Churchill: His Radical Decade, by Malcolm Hill. London: Othila Press 1999
In 1854 in the United States, President Franklin Pierce vetoed a bill to finance a federal hospital for the mentally ill because “I find nothing in the Constitution to authorize this.” In 1896, President Grover Cleveland opposed a bill for federal flood relief on the same grounds. Ten years later in Britain, when the Liberal Party swept into power in a landslide election, the ground shifted. The Liberal Government of 1906 held it a State responsibility to create what Churchill called “a Minimum Standard,” below which no citizen should be allowed to fall. Not until the Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal did similar ideas arrive in America. Churchill’s Liberals created a rudimentary welfare state twenty years before FDR and might have extended it had World War I not intervened.
Proceedings of the International Churchill Societies 1994-95
I WANT to speak today about a political combination that was profound and important. Prime Minister Asquith was fond of saying that when the history of the Great War came to be written in its totality; a “war of combinations” would be shown to exist. There were numerous alliances of convenience, axes of advancement, bold alliances of convenience established. And when he wrote this perhaps Asquith was pondering the powerful duo that came to the Admiral Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and Fisher as First Sea Lord.
These two irrepressible personalities joined forces to preserve the primacy of British sea power at its critical hour. It is well known they fell from grace and favor together over the ill-fated Dardanelles affair Strong differences existed between them from time to time. Though the curtain of Dardanelles shame long hung over him, Churchill was able to get even with his professional counterpart. The story is well told in the GreatContemporaries.
Proceedings of the International Churchill Societies 1994-95
During the conference at Washington, D.C. last October, I remarked about my good fortune to have been born in England in 1906 at a time when Winston Churchill was in his early thirties. I had the further good fortune to have a grandfather with some small influence in the Conservative Party, which made it possible for me, during the First World War, to be taken to the Stranger’s Gallery at the House of Commons to listen to the debates and, on six or seven occasions, to hear Winston Churchill speak.
Now I must confess that at that tender age, eight to thirteen or fourteen, the subjects of the debates and indeed the details of the speeches were somewhat beyond my comprehension. But I do most dearly remember the atmosphere in the House of Commons when Mr. Churchill was speaking.
Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma
The University of Berne, 4th March 1970
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten. Wikimedia Commons, Allan Warren.
In 1911 Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty. That is the title of the Minister in charge of the Navy in England. My father came the same year to the Admiralty as the Second Sea Lord, who is the head of the personnel. In 1912 Churchill invited my father to become First Sea Lord, that is the professional head of the Navy and Chief of Naval operations. I was a schoolboy then and I remember Winston Churchill coming to luncheon with my parents. I was present and very impressed with the fact that he spoke to me as though I was grown up and I appreciated that very much. After lunch, when he had gone, my father remarked what a fine young man he was (he was about 37 or 38), how much he liked working with him, how quick he was to understand naval problems and spoke of his immense drive and enthusiasm. My mother said: “That is what you think, I think he is unreliable.” My father said: “In heaven’s name why?” She replied: “I lent him a favourite book of mine, La Psychologie des Foules par Gustave le Bon, and he has not returned it. So I think he is unreliable.”I was too young to realise that my mother was pulling my father’s leg and teasing him, so I made a mental note: “Mr. Churchill unreliable.”
On 16 December 1910, a resident of Sidney Street in London’s East End heard mysterious hammering noises at a house nearby and notified the Police. This was the beginning of a bizarre incident in which the Home Secretary, Winston S. Churchill, would take a direct hand – incurring no little criticism and ridicule at the time, and for years afterward. It was, like several other Churchillian escapades, only partly understood and greatly misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it makes for an exciting story.
The most thorough account of “The Siege of Sidney Street” and the events leading up to it is a book by that title written by Donald Rumbelow, a City of London policeman. Rumbelow gives detailed accounts of the gang of refugees from Russian Latvia who were responsible for this and other sensational crimes in London during 1909-1911. There was the “Tottenham Outrage” of 1909, the Houndsditch murders of 1910, and the famous gun battle on New Year’s Day 1911, around the Sidney Street house in which two of the gang’s members were barricaded.
Allen Packwood explains how the grandson of a Duke came to represent an industrial neighbor of Manchester
Churchill’s links with the town of Oldham began in the summer of 1899 when he was approached by the local Conservative Party and asked to stand as a Tory candidate in the impending by-election. At first glance he appears a strange choice. He was certainly not a local man. In fact, it would be fair to say that his roots were both geographically and socially far removed from the industrial North-West.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.