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Churchill's Indian Summer

An inspiring leader during the dark days of war, Winston Churchill was losing popularity with the Conservative defeat of the post war years. But despite growing pressure from his cabinet colleagues Churchill chose his own time to relinquish the office of Prime Minister.

All post-war Conservative party leaders have to an extent been subject to pressure to retire by anxious subordinates – Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath, with Margaret Thatcher being perhaps only the next in a long line. Yet one, Winston Churchill, calmly evaded such prompting from concerned colleagues, treating their manoeuvres with quiet disdain. Hugh Massingham, wrote in 1954, 'Sir Winston holds all the trumps. He cannot be hurried, and there is no one, inside or outside the Cabinet, who is strong enough, or tough enough, to make him leave one moment before he wishes.' But what is even more remarkable than Churchill's tenacity was the failure of the Press to give any hint of the high-level discussions amongst Cabinet Ministers to induce the old man to retire. It is highly probable that Churchill's friends amongst newspaper proprietors in particular Lords Beaverbrook, Bracken and Camrose played a part in discouraging stories, as they did about Churchill's stroke in the summer of 1953. It is only now, when witnesses at last feel able to talk, and unpublished diaries and letters have become available on both sides of the Atlantic, that it is possible to piece together the events of Churchill's last years at Number Ten.

Churchill had been deeply distressed by the landslide Labour victory of 1945, but so high was his personal standing that scarcely anyone in the Party at this stage considered, even in his most private thoughts, that Churchill should retire. As the months in Opposition wore on, however, Churchill remained aloof from most of his colleagues in Parliament and from the discussions on the reformulation of policy, based at the Conservative Research Department, that were being presided over by R.A. Butler.

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