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Churchill’s Indian Summer

Anthony Seldon
Date Published
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Winston Churchill was seventy-six when the Conservative Party won the 1951 General Election. At the third attempt since the end of the Second World War he had finally been returned to power by the will of the people. A lifetime’s ambition had been achieved after nearly half a century in Parliament. In Anthony Seldon’s own words, ‘the most controversial element in the book is likely to prove the reassessment of Churchill’s contribution as a peacetime premier. The title Churchill’s Indian Summer is not intended to be sensational, but it is meant to be combative. I do not suggest he was as fit or as brilliant as he had been during the war. He clearly was not. The characteristic of an Indian Summer is that the temperature is cooler than at the height of the season: indeed, a feature one would expect of a man a month off his seventy-sixth birthday on his return to Number Ten. Yet despite his failing powers, he was, I believe, right to remain in office, at least until his major stroke in the summer of 1953, and a good case can be made for his retention of power until the autumn of 1954. Only in his last six months in office was he not fully up to the task.’

The book though is not just about Churchill. In an approach more thematic than chronological Anthony Seldon also gives a detailed analysis of each major Government department, its ministers and especially the civil servants who in many cases not merely implemented policies but determined them too. On the whole, it was an emollient administration somewhat to the left of both the Conservative and Labour Parties of today. Nor was it unsuccessful be it on the home front or in foreign policy. Anthony Seldon’s book, first published in 1981, was the first to cover this still slightly forgotten Government.

‘Mr Seldon has used an historical method which provides flesh and blood: he has talked to some 200 surviving politicians and civil servants and it is remarkable how little their views and recollections diverge. . . It is a gigantic exercise in oral history, and it is a triumph.’ John Colville, Sunday Telegraph

‘Here is a massive, excellently researched and very readable account of Winston Churchill’s only Prime Ministership in peacetime, from 1951 to 1955. . . There is plenty of shrewd analysis, particularly of character and much balanced and generally charitable personalisation. A valuable book, in fact, and a first-class account of those four years in which Britain was still thought of as ”Great’. One is left with a sense of abiding gratitude to the author as well as his subject.’ Terence Prittie

‘So much has been made of Churchill’s infirmities in these years that too little attention has been given to his final, and extraordinary achievement, and it is the outstanding achievement of Mr Seldon that, although no slavish adulator, he recognizes that little of this would have been possible without that spirit of humanity and warmth and faith which radiated from the Prime Minister. . . . There are few histories of a single Government so competent and reasoned as this.’ Robert Rhodes James