Winston Churchill's Last Campaign: Britain and the Cold War, 1951-5

By John W. Young | Go to book overview

2
RETURN TO DOWNING STREET,
OCTOBER-DECEMBER 1951

CHURCHILL returned to power on 26 October 1951 with a disappointing overall majority of seventeen seats. One leading Conservative concluded that Labour's 'warmonger' charge had been 'devastating', but the Prime Minister was simply relieved to be back in office and set about forming a government. Coming after the election, he found it a tiring business.1 This was not surprising. In a month he would be 77. He was increasingly deaf and forgetful, rambled in private conversation, and had already suffered a stroke (as well as a threatened stroke during the 1950 election). His former Parliamentary Private Secretary, Robert Boothby found Churchill in late 1951 to be 'very, very old; tragically old' and Clementine Churchill was not alone in believing her husband should retire.2 One study has described him at this time as 'a virtual walking textbook of pathology', suffering from bouts of depression, the skin disease eczema, inflammation of the eyes, an 'excessive use of alcohol and drugs', and a hardening of the arteries around the brain. It was the last problem, arteriosclerosis, responsible for his stroke, which had a particular impact on Churchill's character. Typical symptoms of arteriosclerosis include a loss of concentration and memory, a tendency to inflexibility and to the simplification of problems, and a greater tendency to emotionalism, with bouts of anger, irritability, melancholy, or euphoria. Hardening of the arteries also amplifies existing character traits, and in Churchill's case probably made him even more stubborn, determined, and selfcentred. Overall, it also made him even more likely to adhere to ideas and methods to which he had long been attached. Although his exact mental state fluctuated, and he could sometimes seem his old self, he undoubtedly underwent a gradual but inexorable decline. Yet he was unable to

____________________
1
H. Macmillan, Tides of Fortune, 1945-55 ( 1969), 361-2; Lord Moran, Winston Churchill: The struggle for Survival ( 1966), diary entries of 27 Oct. and 8 Nov.
2
H. Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 1945-62 ( 1968), diary of 15 Nov.; J. Colville, The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries ( 1985), 632.

-41-

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