Politics is crammed with what-ifs.
What if Christine Keeler had never slept with John Profumo, thereby extending the life of Harold Macmillan’s government? What if the Falklands hadn’t happened, resulting in Margaret Thatcher’s continued unpopularity and defeat in 1983? What if Michael Foot had smartened up his act, hired a stylist got on the GQ Best-Dressed Men of the Year List and embraced capitalism? Might he have made it to Number 10? What if John Smith hadn’t died of a heart attack and become Prime Minister instead of you know who? What if David Cameron had changed his mind on that referendum?
What-ifs continue to fascinate because they offer up an alternative to actual historical events. But no matter how tantalising they are, there remains no bigger what-ifs than those involving WWII.
Although it’s more than 70 years since the end of hostilities, we still can’t resist wondering what if things hadn’t exactly gone to plan.
What if we hadn’t successfully managed to rescue our troops from Dunkirk? What if Germany had invaded us? What if we’d negotiated a peace settlement with Hitler and become a Nazi puppet state? What if Winston Churchill had never been chosen to head up a coalition government? Or even worse, what if Viscount Halifax had replaced him in a vote of no confidence?
These are the questions anyone going to the cinema to watch ‘Darkest Hour’ might end up asking themselves.
I for one couldn’t help also asking myself how today’s bunch of spineless and slimy politicians would have acted had they found themselves in charge of the nation’s future back then?
Judging by the way our elected representatives are currently squabbling, the answer would seem to be far from fantastically. Before we knew it, the Union Jack would probably have have been torn down and something white and infinitely more cowardly run up the flagpole in its place. Theresa May would no doubt have fled to the neutrality of Switzerland on a permanent walking holiday and the royal family would have scurried off to the safety of Canada with their valuables tucked under their arms in a biscuit tin.
History, of course, has a nasty habit of repeating itself. It’s like pickled onions in that respect. And as much as this latest movie extravaganza is about a war that forever changed Britain’s position as a global power, it can additionally be seen as being about the battles raging over Brexit and how the outcome of that struggle will once again impact on our standing in the world.
The similarities and references made between the past and present are hardly subtle. Take, for instance, a scene where Churchill, as played by Gary Oldman (practically unrecognisable under that fatsuit and make-up) is shouting at an emergency meeting of his core cabinet. It’s a meeting which could in theory have taken place only yesterday.
“When will the lesson be learned?” he bellows. “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”. For a modern day audience, the message is clear.
Unfortunately, as is becoming ever clearer, there is no reasoning with Europe. No matter how much we offer them, whatever we put on the table, they’ll always want more. They’re out for blood. They want revenge. Rest assured, any deal will be on their terms, not ours. Yet it takes a British Prime Minister who has been dead for over half a century to remind us of the fact.
Meanwhile, we have Appeaser in Chief, Tony Blair - Neville Chamberlain in all but name - hell bent on capitulating to our European cousins whatever the cost, including the complete decimation of the concept of democracy.
So where is the country’s new Churchill when we need them the most? After all, every leader, every minister and every humble MP desperately wants to be him, to emulate him and to leave a similarly indelible mark on politics. They long to stand up in parliament and deliver a barnstorming speech equal to that of: ’We shall fight on the beaches.” Boris Johnson might conceivably think he’s Winnie in waiting. Plainly though, he’s not. Pinny in waiting, more like, when as a future contestant on Celebrity Masterchef, he follows his father and sister onto the reality TV circuit.
What’s required is someone who is capable of standing up to tyrants and bully boys. Someone who’s prepared to make the tough decisions regardless of the harm it does to their personal popularity. Someone with the strength of character to see things through to the bitter end, no matter where that end takes them and us.
However, there are those who may argue that such a person already has their hands full being President of the United States. Oh dear God, did I just compare Britain’s greatest ever politician to Donald J. Trump?