Churchill

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Gold Standard

The Gold Standard is a system where paper money can be exchanged quickly for gold. This means that it has a real value as you exchange really valuable things for fixed amount of money. It makes a currency really secure and stops inflation. It stops situations like Germany 1920s or Zimbabwe today where the value of money is completely unstable and can multiply rapidly. If you fix the value of money to Gold that stops this type of “hyper-inflation” happening.

During the war, Britain had to go “off Gold” because they needed to print money. By 1924 many people thought that it would be good to return to the Gold Standard and Churchill did this in 1925. This made Britain’s currency more stable which was really good for businesses such as banks. However, due to a higher exchange rate against the dollar, exports (goods sold to other countries) became a lot more expensive which meant that those who produced coal would find it very difficult to sell it. Therefore, there were both advantages and disadvantages to this action. One critic was John Maynard Keynes who thought that the move would be a disaster but he is balanced by others who thought that Churchill was making a good decision. 

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Reaction to Russian Revolution

Churchill was horrified at the Russian Revolution. This was both because of Russia’s withdrawal from the First World War and the communist state which Lenin was creating. He wanted to support the Tsar’s supporters who had supported the war against Germany and protect the assets which the British held in the region. Lloyd George’s government had an unclear policy on Russia. On the one hand they wanted to protect British interests and resist the instability which the Revolution brought. However, they felt that Churchill did not see the reality that resisting Lenin would involve a massive commitment and was probably unachievable. Russia was a long way from Britain and most British troops were tied up in defeating Germany. After the war few people had Churchill’s appetite for another conflict. His critics criticised Churchill’s reaction as one of a higher class aristocrat. 

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Fear of Communism and Social Unrest

Before the First World War, most of Europe’s powers were still run by a higher class of elites. Churchill himself was one such ruling class politician. However, there were deep social divides which were beginning to become far more important. 

After 1918 there were a number of things which had changed the way in which countries were run. Given Churchill’s background and beliefs these were very likely to be a point of conflict for him. 

•Membership of trade unions doubled during the First World War
•Workers became more militant in their demands for better wages and conditions. 
•The Russian Revolution of 1917 changed the largest country in the world from rule by a traditional monarch to a new Communist government.
•Ireland 


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Social Unrest

After the war there was widespread unrest in Britain with many workers striking for better conditions and pay. Some were also excited at the success of socialist ideas in Russia. 

Churchill took a hard line on strikes and in 1919-20 was keen on the use of troops to stop what he saw as a great threat to security. In this he used his position as minister for war to use the military against strikers. For example, during a rail strike 50,000 troops were deployed. He tried to rally people against communism and trade unions, even suggesting the setting up of a “Citizen Guard” of opponents to socialism. He saw Russian communism and British organised workers in the same light; as class enemies. 

This hard-line attitude was also seen in the newly acquired Iraq where Churchill advocated the use of extreme tactics such as RAF bombing to keep control. In Ireland he wanted to see severe measures used to suppress Irish nationalist forces. 

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His attempts at conciliation after the strike


Churchill was often a man of contradictions and he worked hard towards conciliation with the miners. He seems genuinely unhappy about their treatment and worked earnestly to come to an agreement between the miners and the mine owners. He asked the Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald to negotiate with the unions and used all of his skills to get the mine owners to agree to some settlement.

Therefore, the sources will disagree about his intentions and ideas about the strikes. It will be important for you to identify the different interpretations of Churchill’s policies in this area.

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Churchill’s weaknesses

•Criticism from many about his budgets as Chancellor
•The British Gazette made him seem extreme and alienated him from the unions and Labour
•Armed services were unhappy with his cuts
•Unemployment made the return to the Gold Standard seem like a bad idea
•Liberals thought that he was a traitor for switching parties (again)
Churchill’s strengths
•Views on Constitutional Government (as opposed to the unions) was admired by some
•He had supported good social reforms like National Insurance in 1929
•He was an expert politician and a great speaker
In 1929 Britain seemed to need a steady government which steadily improved the economy and living conditions. Churchill was not the man for this moment. He was seen as too reactionary and outspoken for government at this time. From 1929 he was not popular with political elite (such as Neville Chamberlain who made sure Churchill stayed “in the wilderness” during this period. 

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The abdication crisis

Churchill reached a particularly low point over the abdication crisis. The King (Edward VIII) had been linked to Wallis Simpson; a divorcee. To most people marriage to her was seen as impossible given the King’s role as the head of the Church of England. 

Baldwin was forced to express the view that a marriage would be unwise but most people in parliament wanted to stay out of the King’s private affairs. Churchill wanted to raise the issue in parliament and was a supporter of the king’s right to choose his own wife and marry for love. Politically, this was a bad move and he was shouted down when he tried to raise the matter. In any case the King abdicated in 1937. Churchill seemed even more out of touch and “in the wilderness” than ever

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Churchill against the National Government

In 1931 the government held a Round Table Conference on giving India Dominion Status (the same type of independence given to places like Australia and Canada). This was not highly debated in Parliament as there was good consensus between the parties that this was the best thing to do. Stanley Baldwin as Conservative Prime Minister, the Labour party and the Liberals all supported policy on India. 

However, Churchill did not. He joined the Indian Empire Society; a group of people who were committed to resisting any transfer of power away from Britain. He also tried to rally support from some MPs and the general public. He founded the India Defence League which attracted the support of The Daily Mail and The Morning Post as well as 57 Conservative MPs. 

Despite some support, Churchill was pushing a very old fashioned policy and was never going to get the support which he needed. The only alternative was to suppress the nationalist movements with force. In 1935, the government passed the Government of India Act which gave federal control to India. This simply confirmed the ineffectiveness of Churchill’s viewpoint. 

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The Cripps Mission

1942: This was one concession which Churchill was forced to make. Given the Japanese threat to India he needed to give assurances about greater freedom after the war. Clement Atlee (the Labour deputy Prime Minister) sent Stafford Cripps to negotiate giving most of the control of domestic issues to the Indians. This was a tough mission but Churchill scuppered any progress by getting cabinet to reject Cripps’ agreement on defence. This caused the Congress party to take up a position of “Quit India”. 

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The Bengal Famine,

1942-43: This was an awful famine in one of India’s provinces which claimed three million lives. Avery (the Colonial Secretary) and Wavell (The Viceroy) both criticised Churchill for the limited help which he gave towards solving the famine. Many people think that this episode turned many Indians against the British. Background
Since 1857, India had been under British control. The government appointed a viceroy who ruled over the country like a king and Indian participation in government was limited. However, following the First World War it was widely accepted that there was a need to give more control to the Indian population themselves. 

Within India, the Congress party (led by M.K. Gandhi and the Nehru family) campaigned for more power to be given to Indians. They protested peacefully but effectively using civil disobedience. 

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The Grand Alliance

One of Churchill’s major suggestions was to form a Grand Alliance to stand up to Germany. This would have echoed back to the First World War where Britain, France and Russia opposed the Central Powers. Following the war Churchill was particularly critical of the limited attempts to tie Stalin into an alliance (only a minor delegation was sent). Stalin was particularly worried about being left to fight the war on his own if Hitler made peace with the western powers which partly explains the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939. Churchill claimed that had the USSR been firmly on the allied side in 1938-9 then Hitler would not have gone to war over Poland or Czechoslovakia. 

However, others point out that Churchill’s options for a Grand Alliance were quite limited. Chamberlain claims to have considered the options but recognised the potential problems. France was seen as very unreliable both politically and militarily. Russia had its own internal politics with the purges in full swing in the 1930s. The USA was also in the depths of isolationist policy and even during the war Churchill struggled to get Roosevelt to join the conflict until the Pearl Harbour attacks. Churchill’s ideas of creating a Grand Alliance were optimistic and based on a lot of “what ifs”. 

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