As Britain faces its biggest constitutional crisis in a century with the proroguing of parliament, I am being questioned as to what would Winston Churchill do to steer us through these troubled waters. The current prime minister or any potential successor should take heed from his original views and the lessons learnt from his long, varied, well-lived life.
In the 1930s Churchill, alarmed at the risks the world faced, sounded a call to arms. As we all know, his message was for years received with only scorn and derision. What would he think especially now in one of most crucial weeks in British political history in the last hundred years?
His were very different times and circumstances. Our world is more complex, interconnected and more dangerous than what Churchill surveyed in the 1930s.
The threats to global stability are well known with new as well as traditional battlegrounds in climate change and cyber warfare; Russia and the US walking away from arms control agreements; issues with China and also North Korea as well as problems in the Middle East never mind tensions between India and Pakistan.
There is little debate at this crucial time that Brexit, either hard or soft, will diminish the UK’s influence throughout Europe and beyond. We simply cannot rely on the British “muddle through somehow” mentality.
What would Churchill do? Well, we have a pretty good idea of what he would not do. He would not have engaged in endless finger-pointing and blame-shifting. He would not have tossed off bromides and panaceas, or sugar-coated the difficulties that lie ahead.
Instead, he would have identified the challenges clearly and forcefully. He would have explained why some short-term sacrifices would be necessary for the country to realize the “broad, sunlit uplands” of a better future. Above all, he would have trusted the character and good sense of the British people. He would have relied on their natural resilience and bloody-mindedness. He would have trusted them with the truth.
Churchill understood the character of the British. He trusted the people to face adversity with traditional good humoured and natured spirit. That may be the one thing they can all agree upon.
What they are yearning to hear from their leaders, especially the prime minister, is an acknowledgement of that fact, and a plan that calls for the country to work together, both Brexiteers and Remainers, on the tasks ahead.
Perhaps he might simply say, “I will always tell you the truth because you deserve nothing less. Serious challenges lie ahead for us. I believe it is in this great nation’s best interest to deal with them now”.
With that in mind Boris should bluntly tell the truth in this key moment in our history. As Churchill so eloquently put it: “tell the truth to the British people! They are a tough people, a robust people. They may be a bit offended at the moment, but if you have told them exactly what is going on, you have insured yourself against complaints and reproaches which are very unpleasant when they come home on the morrow of some disillusion”.
Our prime minister should appeal to the people in the spirit of Churchill. Trusting the nation with the truth, describing the global situation, explaining our new relationship with Europe, and articulating both the challenges and very real opportunities we will face. Only in this manner can the man match the moment and safeguard our country’s future.
Laurence Geller is a philanthropist, businessman and chairman of the International Churchill Society