I know, I know, Question Time was last week. I accept that I am considerably uncool for still writing about it after literally every other blogger in the entire world has thrown in their sixpence (or slightly less) worth of uninformed opinion. But now it is my turn to chuck my hat in the ring and try to bring out an issue that has barely been mentioned –Nick Griffin’s idea that Churchill would have been a member of the BNP.

The very suggestion of this made the other politicians on the panel rally round in revulsion. What a disgusting idea, what madness, what a despicable man to suggest that our greatest leader, our wartime leader would have been part of a fascist party like the BNP. Chris Huhne was quick to point out that the three centrist parties had legitimate claims to Churchill: he was once a Liberal, he was later a Conservative and he led a wartime cabinet that included many Labour ministers.

This was, however, more than slightly misleading.  For while it is true that Churchill was once a liberal he was by no means a Liberal Democrat and while he did lead a war-time government that included Labour ministers he was hated by much of the party. In fact Churchill’s politics would be incongruous with much of what the contemporary Conservative party thinks.

On the role of Islam Churchill was undoubtedly sceptical to say the least. As a twenty-four year old he wrote “Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities … but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.” If Nick Griffin had spouted this last Thursday there would have been boos throughout the room.

On the issue of the Middle East even Roy Jenkins’ favourable biography admits Churchill was a Zionist and Malcolm MacDonald, Dominions Minister in 1938, once described how Churchill said that “Arabs were savages and that they ate nothing but camel dung.” And on immigration he was often hostile, particularly towards immigrants of different ethnic backgrounds, once apparently telling a cabinet meeting that ‘the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people’.

So Churchill was anti-immigration, anti-Arab and potentially Islamophobic. Does this mean that Churchill would have been in the BNP? The short answer is probably not. His politics were often dictated by his time and he would not have stood for the outright fascism that the BNP believes in. The point I am getting at, however, is not whether Churchill was wrong or right but that we must not have false illusions of Churchill.

After their death successful historical figures often take a mythical, amorphous role where they are seen to have embraced all that is good about our society and to shoulder none of the blame. Churchill more than any other figure in British politics has become infallible; the one figure whom all politicians agree had a positive influence on our society. If politicians are to continue this constant clamouring to claim Churchill’s legacy it should at least be based upon reality rather than rhetoric.

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