‘I have mostly acted in politics as I felt I wanted to act. ’ 1
The tone of Churchill’s long parliamentary career was set by his maiden speech to the Commons in February 1901. Flouting tradition, he chose to make remarks about the Boer War, then in progress, which he knew to be controversial with his own party, the Conservatives. From the outset, then, he found it difficult to place loyalty to his party above loyalty to himself. Having been elected MP for Oldham in 1900, he quickly found himself opposing many of the Conservatives’ policies: increased spending on the army, the post-war settlement with the Boers and, after 1903, Joseph Chamberlain’s Tariff Reform campaign.
His vehement opposition to Tariff Reform was what drove Churchill to leave the Conservatives in March 1904. However, he joined the Liberal Party only after an attempt to form a ‘centre party’ had failed. This attraction to a political ‘middle ground’ is a recurring theme throughout his career, but it was out of reach this time. Instead, he found that he would have to join the opposition if he was to have a significant career in politics - and this he certainly meant to have. Often described as ‘a young man in a hurry’, his defection from a party that was losing its popularity with voters and its political unity to one which stood a good chance of forming the next government laid him open to accusations of opportunistic ambition.