Did Defeat in 1922 in Scotland Turn Churchill Tory Again?
It may seem unfair to start an article with a question that the author has no intention of answering, but that's exactly what I'm going to do. The question is: Did the experience of being Liberal MP for Dundee turn Churchill into a Tory again? Winston was the Liberal member of parliament for the burgh from 1908 to 1922 and did not enjoy a uniformly smooth time during his representation. After defeat in Dundee, Churchill returned to his former political home with the Tories. As he said: 'Any fool can rat on a political party. It takes a genius to rerat.'
The Road and the Miles to Dundee
Churchill was almost gifted Dundee's parliamentary seat after he lost his previous seat in Manchester, where he lost to the Tories, partly because local Jewish voters disliked his stance on the Aliens Act. This lack of savvy about local matters was to be repeated north of the border, though the storm was a slow brewing one. What attracted him to Dundee was that it was staunchly Liberal and a seat which many would have thought was guaranteed to be held for an entire political career. In the event he received 7079 votes, while the opposing Tory and Labour candidates mustered 8,384 votes between them. He was MP for Dundee for over 14 years.
The downside, of course, was that it was over 400 miles from London; no good if you were a cabinet member, and Churchill was president of the Board of Trade and then first lord of the Admiralty. His physical absence from Dundee might have been alleviated by some gestures towards the sensibilities and concerns of Dundonians, but these were apparently few and far between. When he did turn up in Dundee it was noted with distaste that he was conspicuously lavish with his spending on himself; not an endearing trait in a place gripped by widespread poverty. One piece of research states that he spent the modern equivalent of £1000 in one three day visit, of which a sizeable amount was on alcohol. Some of his remarks on Dundee were jocular, but they were also dark, such as the following contained in a letter to his wife:
This city will kill me. Halfway through my kipper this morning an enormous maggot crawled out and flashed his teeth at me. Such are the penalties which great men pay in the service of their country.
But one of the first elements which caused him trouble was a national one: the fight for women's votes.
Trouble With The Suffragettes
Though far from alone in his opposition to the emancipation of women, Churchill hardly helped himself with his outspoken comments on the subject. He once notoriously stated there was no need for women to have the vote because they were 'well represented by their fathers, brother and husbands'. The tide for suffrage was against him and he was targeted by militant women from an early date. While he was campaigning for the Dundee seat he was prevented from delivering a speech, as this newspaper report states:
'London, May 9 . The Irish suffragettes at Dundee maintained persistent bellringing, who, while refusing to apologise, explained that he did not wish to reflect on the personal character of the suffragettes.'
In September 1912, Chruchill faced more rowdy heckling from the same source at a public meeting held in Lochee, on the west side of his constituency. After the 'turbulent ones' had been ejected Chruchill commented, 'The political status of women will not be won by such tactics as those witnessed.'
That same month a suffragette from Nairnshire with a genius for publicity managed to have herself posted to Mr Churchill, after a debate among postal staff about the legitimacy of accepting this human parcel. As it happened, Churchill was absent when she was delivered and his outraged secretary refused to accept her.
Dundee's population of course contained a far greater than average percentage of working women who toiled in the factories within the burgh and increasingly they were insulted by their representative's facile attitude towards their rights.
Antagonising the Dundee Irish, later Years in Dundee and Defeat
Churchill's sending in troops to defeat a miner's strike in Wales in 1910 might have causes ripples of discontent among sympathetic people in Dundee, but the feeling was nothing compared to the outrage when, in March 1920 as Secretary of State for War, he sent the black and tan auxiliaries over to Ireland to quell the incipient stirrings of the independence movement. This was likely the straw which broke the back of Churchill's credibility in Dundee. His end in the city was not long after this event.
There were elements of farce and rich irony in the woeful 1922 campaign which unseated Winston Churchill. He was struck down by appendicitis, but battled on bravely at the hustings. He did not arrive in Dundee until three days before the vote. When he was carried into the first meeting in the Caird Hall it became known he had paid the men £1 to bear him in. Some caustic wit offered the bearers £2 if they would let him fall down. The audience were muted rather than hostile. The second meeting in Drill Hall was noticeably more antagonistic towards him. Churchill stated:
I was struck by the looks of passionate hatred on the faces of some of the younger men and women. Indeed, but for my helpless condition, I am sure they would have attacked me.
Churchill poorly misjudged his opponents and made unsavoury remarks which showed he was out of sync with the changing nature of British society. One of his opponents, the Labour man E. D. Morel had been a conscientious objector. Churchill chose to berate him because of his French ancestry. 'No foreigner should be in the British parliament,' he announced. He also termed socialists reptiles. It was his distrust of the Liberals' alliance with Labour that led him to jumping back in bed with the Tories in 1925, three years after his Scottish defeat. His reward was a lengthy exile, the Wildreness Years, when he was trusted by neither Conservatives nor Liberals. Disillusion at defeat in Dundee, surely a shock, may have had some part in him switching political sides. His previous majority in Dundee was 15,000, in 1918, so the fall from grace in 1922 was absolute and humiliating.
(Another local candidate in 1922 was Willie Gallagher, the Communist who had toured Bolshevik Russia and had an audience with Lenin).
In the end, Churchill finished in a dismal fourth place in the poles and he joked that defeat at Dundee left him without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix'. The victor in the hustings was local councillor Edwin Scymgeour, who had stood against him at every election since 1908. He could hardly have believed his luck, and in retrospect it seems almost like a mass protest vote which saw him elected. Scrymgeour was the only candidate ever to become a member of cabinet on a prohibitionist mandate. 'Vote as you pray' was his campaign war cry. It is doubtful whether Dundee's underclass gave his philosophy of banning alcohol any credence whatever. Yet 'Neddy' Scrymgeour, despite the eccentric outer credentials, was a legitimate man of the people and got re-elected in the seat several times. It is noted that he was a firm supporter of Irish Home Rule.
After the Defeat: Dundee Forgets; Churchill Does Not Forgive
In 1942 Churchill told an audience in Edinburgh that he remembered his time representing Dundee with a degree of fondness. Yet the feeling might have been weaker than he cared to admit, for when Dundee offered him the freedom of the city in the following year he pointedly refused to accept it. There is no statue to the great man in the burgh, just a plaque unveiled by his daughter in 2008, celebrating the centenary of his election win, which is affixed to the Queen's Hotel.