Describing Churchill's multi-volume history of the first world war produced in the 1920s, his fellow Tory cabinet minister, Samuel Hoare said, 'Winston has written an enormous book all about himself and called it "The World Crisis"'. Boris Johnson's new biography of Winston Churchill - The Churchill Factor. How One Man Made History - features a rumbustious journalist-politician who was paid handsomely for second rate articles and forgettable books, who was an outsider in the Tory Party, who drank far too much, was an enormous self-publicist but in his country's hour of need saved his people from a monster in Europe. Even the dumbest reader gets the message.
But should Boris be allowed to play so fast and loose with history and facts? Churchill employed six Oxford dons to check his facts. Boris appears not to know how to use Google.
He mistranslates the German from a notorious memo by a Nazi banker. Boris argues the German was proposing a "European Common Market" which is not what the actual words in German say.
Boris argues that the Nazis proposed 'a common agricultural policy' for occupied Europe which conjures up the delicious idea that Nazi Berlin was ready to pay huge CAP subsidies to French, Italian and Polish farmers.
Then the Mayor of London conjures up the image of a "Gestapo-controlled Nazi EU." Churchill did indeed have views on Europe and in 1942 wrote a memo to the cabinet:
'Hard as it is to say now, I trust that the European family may act unitedly as one under a Council of Europe. I look forward to a United States of Europe in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible.'
Boris has no comment on Churchill's appeal for unrestricted travel between the peoples of Europe. Can anyone imagine why?
Our great biographer also says the Germans had plans once they invaded Britain in 1940 'to send the Elgin marbles back to Nazi-controlled Athens.' There is only one small problem with Johnson's timeline. The Germans did not invade Greece until 1941. The idea that Hermann Goering, one of the great looters on history, would have given any of northern Europe's antiquity artefacts back to the despised, occupied, resistant Greeks is just fanciful.
In another hilarious historical howler Boris, writing of the drama of late May 1940, says the French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud:
'knew he was going to be remembered as one of the most abject figures in the history of France: and he believed that if he could persuade the British also to enter negotiations, (with Hitler) that humiliation would be shared and palliated - and above all he might win better terms for France.'
There is not evidence to justify this slur. Paul Reynaud was not a glorious politician. He was a limited centre-right figure who believed in sound finance. But like Churchill, and unlike most Tories, he opposed the Munich agreement. He was installed as French Prime Minister in March 1940 as a known opponent of Hitler's Germany.
When he met Churchill in May 1940 Reynaud made clear he would not sign any separate deal with Hitler. He denounced the capitulation of the Belgians and on radio called the King of Belgium 'a criminal'.
Reynaud resigned in June 1940 rather than have anything to do with supporting an armistice with Hitler. He was put on trial by the Vichy regime on the orders of Berlin.
It seems a second-rate jibe for Boris to say that a man put on trial by Pétain on Hitler's behalf wanted Britain to give in in order to save some face. Reynaud was a notorious womaniser unlike the uxorious Churchill so it is odd that Boris dumps on a prime minister so much closer to his own life-story.
And then there is the strange absence in the 400 page biography of any mention of one of Churchill's post-1945 achievements - the European Convention on Human rights drafted by Churchill's Home Secretary when the Conservatives formed a government in 1951. Around the world the ECHR - submitting the will and arrogance of national governments to a higher judicial authority - is admired as Churchill greatest post-war achievement. There is Jean Monnet's Europe - that of the EU, and Winston Churchill's Europe- that of democracy, rule of law and human rights enshrined in the ECHR.
There no entry for the ECHR in the book's index nor an entry for Sir David Maxwell Fyfe the Tory politician who wrote and put it into British law the European Convention on Human rights in 1953 when Churchill was prime minister
Howlers are not just mistakes but deliberate omissions. The book is a jolly read and the voice of Boris is on every page submerging the words of Churchill. For Boris fans it is a must-read. But next time, might he employ a research assistant to check facts and ask why the great author why key events are left out?Suggest a correction