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Winston Churchill

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History

Winston Churchill is best known for leading Britain to victory during World War II. He has been described as a statesman, writer and orator, and a man who revived the public’s spirit during World War II. Churchill was a member of the Conservative Party and served as Prime Minister twice, first in 1940 and in 1951.

What did he do for Britain during his second term as Prime Minister, and what is his overall legacy?

Winston Churchill's history: timeline

Date: Event:
30 November 1874Winston Churchill is born in Oxfordshire.
1893–1894Churchill attends Sandhurst, the prestigious military academy.
1899Churchill fights in the Boer War.
1900Churchill wins his first election and goes to Parliament as the MP for Oldham.
25 October 1911Churchill is made the First Lord of the Admiralty.
1924Churchill is appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.
1940Churchill became Prime Minister, taking over from Neville Chamberlain.
8 May 1945The Second World War ends – Churchill gives his victory broadcast from 10 Downing Street.
1951Churchill becomes Prime Minister for the second time in April.
April 1955Churchill resigns as Prime Minister.
24 January 1965Winston Churchill dies at the age of 90.

Winston Churchill facts

  • He was half-American on his mother’s side.

  • He was a prisoner of war during the Boer War – he earned fame from his daring escape.

  • He won the Noble prize for literature in 1953.

  • Churchill proposed to three women before he married his wife Clementine in 1908.

  • ‘OMG’ was first used in a letter to Churchill from John Fisher.

Why were Churchill’s speeches so powerful?

He used emotive language, metaphors, and imagery. He also spoke with an authoritative tone which inspired confidence.

Winston Churchill: 1940 appointment

Before Churchill, Neville Chamberlain had served as Britain’s Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940. In response to Nazi Germany’s increasing aggressiveness, he operated a policy of appeasement, negotiating with Nazi Germany to prevent war. The Munich Agreement of 1938 between Germany, the UK, France, and Italy most clearly demonstrated this, allowing Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

However, Hitler continued to annex more territory than agreed in the Czech lands. By 1939, Nazi Germany had invaded Poland. As a result, combined with an ineffective Norwegian campaign, the Labour Party and the Liberal party refused to serve under Chamberlain's leadership. Following a vote of no confidence in his government, Neville Chamberlain had to resign as Prime Minister.

Winston Churchill took his place as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940. The competition between who would replace Chamberlain was mainly between Winston Churchill and Lord Halifax. In the end, Churchill was perceived to have greater support from the electorate because of his vocal opposition to the previous appeasement policies and his support of nuclear warfare. Thus, he seemed like a strong candidate to lead the country to victory in the war.

Winston Churchill, A Photograph of Winston Churchill, StudySmarterWinston Churchill, Wikipedia

Winston Churchill: The 1945 election

The 1945 election, held on 5 July, was known as the ‘Post-war Election’. The two leading parties were the Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee, and the Conservative Party, led by Winston Churchill.

To the surprise of many, the winner of the election was Clement Attlee, not the wartime hero Winston Churchill.

Why was Churchill defeated in the election?

There were several reasons why Churchill was defeated in the election.

1. Desire for change

After the war, the population’s mood shifted. There was a desire for change and to leave the bleak 1930s depression behind. The Labour Party was able to capitalise on this mood by promising to bring about political and economic changes that would positively impact people’s lives.

2. The Conservative Party’s flawed campaign

The Conservative Party spent too much time during their campaign focusing on Churchill as an individual and emphasising his achievements rather than articulating their plans and vision for the future. The Labour Party’s campaign was more impactful because it gave people hope.

3. Conservative Party mistakes

A big issue for the Conservative party at this time was that the public still associated them with the depression and hardship of the 1930s. The public perceived that the Conservative Party had failed to stand up to Adolf Hitler, along with the party’s ineffective appeasement policy of the 1930s that led to so many atrocities. During their campaign, Labour was able to focus on these weaknesses.

The 1951 election – Churchill’s second rise to power

Having recovered from their shock defeat in 1945, in 1951 the Conservatives returned to power.

Winston Churchill was 77 when he became Prime Minister for a second time. He saw his re-election as a belated thank you from the British public for his wartime leadership. However, his age and the demands of his career had taken their toll, and he was too frail to serve as much more than a figurehead.

So, what did he manage to do in his second term as Prime Minister? He focused on international relations and maintaining the post-war consensus – let us find out exactly what he did.

Post-war consensus

The general alignment of Labour and the Conservatives on major issues from 1945 until the 1970s

Winston Churchill: Economic policy

The key figure in the economic policy of the Churchill government was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Richard ‘Rab’ Butler, who was also very influential in the development of modern Conservatism.

He maintained the principles of Keynesian economics that the Attlee government had introduced. Butler also accepted that Labour’s economic policies had helped Britain’s post-war economic situation but was equally aware that Britain was still heavily in debt.

Keynesianism is an economic theory based on the ideas of the economist John Maynard Keynes who promoted increased government expenditure to boost the economy,

For the most part, Butler continued along the same lines as Labour’s economic policies, in line with the post-war consensus. His priorities were:

  • Supporting Britain’s economic growth

  • Achieving full employment

  • Maintaining the welfare state

  • Continuing investing in Britain’s nuclear defence program.

Welfare state

A system in which the government introduces measures to protect citizens

The British welfare state was established after WWII and included measures such as the National Health Service and national insurance.

Butskellism

Butler’s policies were so close to Labour’s policies that a new term was coined to describe Butler’s economic approach – ‘Butskellism’. It was a merging of the names Rab Butler and Hugh Gaitskell. Hugh Gaitskell was the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer under the Attlee Labour government.

Butler stood at the political centre of the Conservative spectrum, and Gaitskell was at the political centre of the Labour party. Their views aligned in many places, and their policies were similar, which is a great example of how post-war consensus politics worked.

Winston Churchill: Denationalisation

One significant change made under the Churchill government was the denationalisation of the steel industry. The Conservative party had always opposed nationalisation and preferred a free-market economy, so they saw the denationalisation of steel as a way to follow through on their values without disturbing the post-war consensus.

Nationalisation

Moving aspects of the economy from private to government control

Winston Churchill: Welfare policy

Even though Churchill and the Conservatives had opposed the introduction of the welfare state at every turn, when they came back into power, they ensured its continuation, in line with the post-war consensus.

Winston Churchill: Rationing

Perhaps the most significant development of the Churchill government was that rationing was brought to an end. Rationing had begun in 1940 to deal with food shortages caused by the Second World War. The end of rationing felt like Britain was finally starting to come out of the austerity caused by the war - this was a significant morale boost for the British people.

Austerity

Economic difficulty caused by the reduction of public expenditure

Winston Churchill: Housing

The new Conservative government promised to build an extra 300,000 houses, which continued from the Attlee government’s policies and aided Britain’s post-war reconstruction after the German bombing raids.

Winston Churchill: Social Security and the National Health Service

Since the welfare state went completely against traditional Conservative values of low government intervention and spending, many thought that the welfare state would be dismantled. However, it continued, and the Conservatives continued to support the NHS and the benefits system. Equally, Churchill probably understood that dismantling the welfare state would make him and his government very unpopular.

Winston Churchill: Foreign policy

As we’ve mentioned, foreign policy was one of Churchill’s main focuses. Let us have a look at what he did.

Winston Churchill: Decolonisation

Churchill’s strategy of dealing with uprisings in the British Empire has resulted in a lot of criticism. Churchill was a part of the Conservative Imperialist faction, which opposed decolonisation and promoted British supremacy. He had criticised Clement Attlee many times for his role in decolonising several British colonies during his leadership.

Churchill wanted to keep the British Empire intact, even though Britain was being crushed under the economic burden of its empire. He was criticised for this, particularly by the Labour party and others who saw the decolonisation of the British Empire as a necessary evil.

The Mau Mau Rebellion

An example of Churchill’s poor handling of decolonisation was the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, which began in 1952 between the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA) and British Authorities.

The British enforced a detention system, forcing hundreds of thousands of Kenyans into internment camps. Kenyan rebels were held in these camps, interrogated, tortured, and executed.

If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."

- British Attorney-General for Kenya, Eric Griffith-Jones, concerning the Mau Mau uprising - 1957

Winston Churchill: The Cold War and the atomic bomb

Churchill was eager to carry on with the development of Britain's nuclear program, and in 1952, Britain successfully tested its first atomic bomb. He had been the one to initiate the program at the end of the Second World War. Britain's nuclear program was also valued as it was a way to remain relevant on the global stage in the face of the gradual decline of the British Empire.

The new Conservative government also followed the previous Labour government in the foreign policy established by the Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, pro-American and anti-Soviet.

Winston Churchill's successes and failures

SuccessesFailures
He supported the welfare state even though it went against Conservative principles.He was ageing and frail when he came to power in 1951 and was out of office for a few months in 1953 when he had a stroke, which limited his ability to be a strong leader.
He developed Britain’s nuclear program and oversaw the first successful test of a British atomic bomb. He did not deal with decolonisation and uprisings in the Empire well – he was heavily criticised for the British treatment of the people of these countries.
Churchill continued to help lift Britain out of its post-war economic austerity.
He ended wartime rationing, which was a significant morale boost for the British people.

Winston Churchill’s legacy

Much of Churchill’s legacy comes from his time as Prime Minister during the Second World War. He is often praised for his wartime leadership. Less is said about his second term as Prime Minister, as his noticeable ageing and ill-health often characterise it.

Much of the credit for government policy during this period does not go to Churchill – rather, it goes to the Conservative politicians like Rab Butler and Lord Woolton, who were essential in reorganising the Conservative party and adapting Conservative values to the modern age.

In the modern-day, perceptions of Winston Churchill are slowly shifting away from the traditional view of the great wartime leader to more critical interpretations. Discussions about Churchill are centring more and more around his foreign policy and views about the British Empire, and its colonies, which some have argued were racist and xenophobic.

Winston Churchill - Key Takeaways

  • Churchill served as Prime Minister between 1940 and 1945 and from 1951 to 1955.

  • During his second term of leadership, he oversaw critical events like the end of rationing and the testing of the first British atomic bomb.

  • Thanks to politicians like Rab Butler, his government was very successful, who helped adapt Conservative values for the post-war era.

  • He maintained the welfare state to keep the post-war consensus in place and keep the support of the British people.

  • However, his ill health marred his second term of leadership, and in many cases, he served as little more than a figurehead.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940–1945 and 1951–1955.

24 January 1965

Winston Churchill died of a stroke, which he had on 15 January 1965 and did not recover from.

He is best known for being the Prime Minister during World War II.

He used emotive language, metaphors, and imagery. He also spoke with an authoritative tone which inspired confidence.

Final Winston Churchill Quiz

Question

When was Winston Churchill Prime Minister?

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Answer

1940-45 and 1951-1955

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Question

Who did Churchill take over from?

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Answer

Neville Chamberlain

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Question

What hindered Churchill personally during his second term?

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Answer

His age and ill health

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Question

Which minister was particularly influential in economic policy?

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Answer

Richard 'Rab' Butler

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Question

What new word was coined to describe Rab Butler's economic policy?

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Answer

Butskellism

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Question

Why did Churchill's government maintain the Welfare State?

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Answer

Wanted to keep the post-war consensus intact and not lose popularity

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Question

Which industry was denationalised under the Churchill government?

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Answer

Steel

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Question

Was Churchill for or against decolonisation?

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Answer

Against - he was a staunch imperialist

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Question

Which rebellion gained particular criticism for Churchill?

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Answer

The Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya

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Question

What significant event happened in 1952 for Britain's defence program?

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Answer

First test of an atomic bomb

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Question

What wartime practice was ended during the Churchill government

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Answer

Rationing

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Question

How many more houses did the government promise to build?

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Answer

300,000

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Question

When did Churchill die?

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Answer

24th January 1965

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