Notes on Churchill and India from Roy jenkins book on Churchill

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Roy Jenkins, Churchill and India


1896, Churchill posted to India with 4th Hussars in 1896 (“a happy overseas posting”), stayed there for 19 months with some extended periods of London leave.

1899, third and final trip, which mostly involved playing polo.



1929, Conservatives had lost election, narrowly, but Labour had inherited an economic mess.

Minority of Conservative MPs “wanted more extreme policies than ‘Honest Sam’ Baldwin, who believed in consensus, was willing to provide.” [RJ] Press barons Rothermere and Beaverbrook willing to stir things up, on Imperial Trade Preference (Beaverbook) and their opposition to emerging policy of gradual advance to self-rule for India (more Rothermere). Self-rule was supported by Ramsey MacDonald and Wedgwood Benn (Sec of State for India) as well as by Baldwin and Samuel Hoare, along with ‘moderate’ Conservative opinion, including The Times. 


In Oct 1930 Churchill threatened to resign from the ‘Conservative Business Committee’ (Shadow Cabinet) on the trade issue, but stayed.

Instead he quit three months later over India.

He’d been writing columns about India since late 1929 but didn’t speak on the topic in the Commons until 26 Jan 1931. Speech separated him from Baldwin’s position, facing down internal party opposition while supporting Viceroy’s cautious steps towards self-rule.


Outcome #1: “Baldwin’s affectionate admiration for Churchill, which had built up from 1924 onwards ... perished over India in the late winter and early spring on 1931.” [RJ] This may have been a factor in Baldwin’s decisions to exclude Churchill from office in the 1931 and 1935 governments.


Outcome #2: Churchill’s position was exposed - he was “carved up” by Wedgwood Benn during the 26 Jan debate. “The sad fact was that India, which Churchill chose to make the focus of his political activity between 1931 and the first months of 1935, was a subject about which he knew little.”[RJ]

He was poorly briefed, compared to the information he’d collected before other political campaigns (e.g. Naval strength 1911-14, rating reform 1927-28). 1933, in front of Joint Select Committee of both houses, “his lack of detailed knowledge of the subject was most painfully exposed” (Robert Rhodes James.)


Outcome #3: It threw him into the ‘diehard’ wing of the Conservative party, for which he wasn’t a good fit (given Liberal past etc).


BUT despite these issues. Churchill felt invigorated by the issue and set out to lead a national campaign, with big speeches in Manchester, Liverpool and London (23 Feb) where he made the infamous remarks about Gandhi (“a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East”, etc).


Jenkins - easy to understand why a new campaign, press coverage, new allies, and enthusiastic audiences would have an “inspiriting effct” on Churchill.

“What is more difficult to comprehend is why, when he was leading himself up one of the most futile (and four year long) blind alleys of moderns British politics, he persuaded himself, with all his experience, that he was riding


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