After precipitously offering his resignation to Lord Salisbury, Lord Randolph was now out of power. Winston loyally supported his father’s interest in the Primrose League, a Conservative organization founded by Lord Randolph and Sir Henry Drummond Wolff in 1883 to honour the memory of Disraeli.
On 24 May Winston wrote to Lady Randolph, “About a dozen boys have joined the Primrose League since yesterday. I am among the number and intend to join the one down here, and also the one which you have in London. Would you send me a nice badge as well as a paper of Diploma, for I want to belong to yours most tremendously.”
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Lord Randolph Churchill’s performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons earned him considerable praise. The Queen noted that he had shown “much skill and judgement in his leadership” and The Times declared that “no leader of the House of Commons in recent years has met obstruction, open or disguised, with more exemplary patience.”
His ‘bons mots’ earned him some notoriety in the Treasury. Although he is reputed to have stated that he could never make out what those “damned dots meant’ (decimals), Winston later cautioned readers not to take the comment too seriously.
The first budget was certainly not a Tory budget. His objective was economy but the strategy was to reduce taxes to benefit the lower middle classes and increase taxes on luxuries such as race-horses and cartridges for game-shooting. These proposals found little support among his Cabinet colleagues. He also differed with his peers over local government, Ireland and relations with Germany.
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The defeat of the Home Rule Bill also brought down the Gladstone Government. In the ensuing General Election, the Tories and the Liberal-Unionists gained a clear majority over the Liberals and Irish Nationalists, and The Queen called on the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury to form a government. Lord Randolph Churchill’s contribution to the Tory victory had been significant and, since he was the most popular Tory in the land, he was offered a major post in the new government. However, in the words of one of Randolph’s friends, “you know what a creature of impulse he is and how he fancies neglect without cause, ” and it was necessary for Lord Salisbury to court him assiduously.
Winston observed his father’s ascent from school in Brighton; his fascination and admiration for his parents were undiminished. Later he was to write of his father: “With a swiftness which in modern Parliamentary history had been excelled only by the younger Pitt, he had risen by no man’s leave or monarch’s favour from a private gentleman to almost the first position under the Crown.”
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The overall result of the November General Election was a political deadlock with Charles Parnell’s Irish Nationalists holding the balance of power. In the ensuing months, English politics was monopolized by the Irish question and Lord Randolph played a prominent role in the intrigues and machinations between both major parties and the Irish. One biographer later wrote, “1886 may well be the most important period in Churchill’s life, but it can hardly be called his finest hour.”
One of Randolph Churchill’s political strategies was a plan to unite with the Whig faction of the Liberal Party. But within his own party he despised the Ulster Unionists. He wrote Lord Salisbury about “those abominable Ulster Tories who are playing the devil in Northern Ireland … I foresee enormous difficulties in the future with Parnell’s party.”
At the end of January, Salisbury’s Tories resigned and the Third Gladstone Ministry was formed. While Gladstone prepared an Irish policy, Lord Randolph prepared for his own visit to Ireland. In February, he wrote,”I decided some time ago that if Gladstone went for Home Rule, the Orange card would be the one to play. Please God it may turn out the ace of trumps and not the two.” Later, he uttered the phrase that became the “ace of trumps” for all opponents of Home Rule: “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right.” Winston’s contact with his family was only by letter. One remark to his brother Jack was particularly humorous in light of his later scholastic record: “When I come home I must try and teach you the rudiments of Latin.”
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The highlight of young Winston’s year was the visit of his nanny, Mrs. Everest (Woom), and his brother Jack, to his school at Brighton. Despite many pleadings Lord and Lady Randolph had declined to visit their son at school, but when the young boy’s life was seriously threatened by pneumonia the parents rushed to his bedside. The constant attention of Dr. Robson Roose, the family physician who came down from London, may have been the critical factor in saving Winston’s life. Both Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, and the Prince of Wales enquired about the boy’s health.
In April Lord Randolph made an infrequent visit to his recovering son and presented the delighted boy with a toy steam locomotive. Lord Randolph’s political life was as anxious as his personal affairs. Joseph Chamberlain and other Liberals split with Gladstone over Home Rule for Ireland.
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On April 17, 1888, Winston entered Harrow School, a boy’s school near London. Winston found his years at Harrow challenging. He was not thought of as a good student. Winston wrote, “I was on the whole considerably discouraged by my school days.” However, Winston’s ability to memorize lines was clearly apparent while at Harrow. Winston entered a competition and won a school prize for reciting from memory 1,200 lines from Macaulay’s, long poem Lays of Ancient Rome.
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