September Books 2) Eminent Churchillians

2) Eminent Churchillians, by Andrew Roberts

Picked this up remaindered in Belfast last month; Roberts is of course a famous rightwing historian so I wanted to sample him without spending too much!

It’s a book of essays blaming “Britain’s postwar decline” [sic] on foolish decisions made by Conservatives themselves. Except it isn’t really; most of the essays are attacks on sacred cows. The first piece looks at the character flaws and foolish political views, including thorough-going anti-semitism, of King George VI, and while the evidence is marshalled very skilfully it feels like a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut; it’s not like the king ever actually did very much.

The second piece was on the King’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, a lengthy and total attack on his reputation. While it’s difficult to prove that George VI was ever directly responsible for people dying, the death toll in Mountbatten’s biography just mounts: from the thousands who died in the Dieppe raid and other comprehensively botched operations in the second world war, for which he bore sole command responsibility, to the hundreds of thousands killed at the partition of India and Pakistan, with the evidence being pretty clear that Mountbatten ignored every chance he had to prevent or alleviate the looming catastrophe, and indeed made a some key decisions which made things worse. This habit of recklessness and irresponsibility with other people’s safety goes right to the end of his life, when he wilfully ignored security warnings from the Gardaí and duly got blown up by the IRA along with several members of his family and friends. As well as looking at the actual facts, Roberts is good at explaining why and how the myth of Mountbatten as a great man was constructed. The book was worth the £2.99 I paid for it for this essay alone.

The other rather good essay is on the difficulties Churchill had in consolidating support inside the Conservative Party in the months after he became Prime Minister in 1940, a reminder that the myth of the country uniting behind him is indeed a myth.

There’s a rather schizophrenic piece proving a) that Churchill was himself a racist and b) that he and the Conservative government did not know what they were doing when they started letting emigrants in from the Commonwealth. I was convinced on the first point but rather less so on the second.

And finally two shorter pieces on minor figures; Sir Walter Monckton, apparently, was single-handedly responsible for ensuring the strangle-hold of the unions on the post-war, pre-Thatcher British economy, and noted historian Sir Arthur Bryant was a fascist and a plagiarist. Convinced on the second point, not that it really matters, but less so on the first.

So, generally an interesting read, but as a non-reader of either the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph I am not the intended audience.

One thought on “September Books 2) Eminent Churchillians

  1. I don’t know who you are (or who ‘Harold’ is). Thanks for alerting me to the works of Alden Brooks, though I think you have mis-spelt their titles. Do you agree with him that the true author was the obscure Sir Edward Dyer?

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