I came across this book in a book store in San Francisco this August. Having previously heard about the book and being very much intrigued by Boris Johnson's name emblazoned across the cover, I decided to turn The Churchill Factor into my final read of the summer before all my energy would be dedicated to read module reading on pdf files.
The book was published in 2014, but it is very interesting to see how Johnson’s narrative of the greatest British statesman fits into his vision of post-Brexit Britain. First, let’s take a look at that narrative Johnson so vividly argues for.
It goes like this: Winston Churchill was not just a great man, but a genius. It was his genius that Johnson labels the “Churchill Factor”, which at so many occasions made the decisive difference. Obviously Churchill’s role in ensuring victory during Battle of Britain and throughout much of the Second World War is given as example of the “Churchill Factor”, but Johnson gives so many more instances of Winston Churchill making all the difference. Laying the early foundations of what would later become our modern welfare system, ordering of the very first prototype tanks despite not having War Office approval, and his passionate speeches seeking to convince the United States to join the war in Europe. Further elements of the “Churchill Factor” are his restless work ethic, his incredible memory, his superb will power and the ability to persevere in the face of failure and disaster.
With an entire chapter dedicated to Churchill and Europe, the book is especially interesting to read in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Churchill had an ambiguous view on cooperation with Europe, on the one hand he is an early advocate of a united European project, on the other hand he is skeptical of Britain’s role in any such alliance. Johnson believes that one historic event at which the “Churchill Factor” was not present, but would have made a profound difference, was the invitation of former French Prime Minister Robert Schuhman to join talks in June 1950. Schuhman wanted Britain to participate in the creation of what would later become the European Coal and Steel Community. The then Labour administration declined and Britain would not join the later European Economic Community until nearly 25 years later. Johnson argues that Churchill would have joined the talks if he had still been in power and that he could have pushed Europe in a “more Anglo-Saxon, more democratic” direction.
It was truly fascinating to discover all the varied activities Winston Churchill engaged with, receiving the the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953, and especially when written in such a sophisticated fashion. You may think of the politics of Boris Johnson as clumsy and gaffe prone, but the man can certainly write eloquently. He includes the reader into his narrative, as if you were there. The book is an easy, enjoyable and quick read, while saying so much more about Johnson than merely the fact that he is an accomplished writer. By the end of the book it becomes clear that Johnson in part views himself as a political reincarnation of Winston Churchill. Just like his hero Johnson too was a journalist, both sharing a politics founded upon a strong sense of national pride. And with true Churchillian flair, the book ends with Johnson having a lavish meal at the Savoy Hotel.
The Churchill Factor: How one man made history.
By Boris Johnson