Featured image: Mirror.co.uk
In October of 2018, Baroness Patricia Hollis died at the age of 77. A fierce champion of the Labour Party, the Baroness leaves behind an awe-inspiring legacy of political activism, maintaining an image of ethical leadership all the way until the day she died.
Regardless of your political stance, it cannot and should not be denied that the Baroness was an absolutely inspiring figure of fighting for your beliefs and standing up to what is right and true. Her passion for moral governance made her a favorite amongst her coworkers, and was adored by her constituency and the people she fought for. She was feared by her opponents across the floor, and was absolutely beloved in the Labour party.
The Baroness managed to earn the respect of the House of Lords, regardless of the political divide. Her Tory opponents would regularly cite her power to persuade as an “ultimate weapon” in politics. She was both feared and respected for her ability to change minds about certain bills, and even persuade fellow MP’s to cross the floor.
As a model minister, politician, and leader, the Baroness of Heigham was a colossus in British politics, and a shining beacon for British sensibility, passion, and grace. Something that I think is in terribly short supply these days.
In the old days, sensible politicians would argue one another with respect, and stand beside their arguments with valour and purpose. In my day, politicians weren’t just wig-wearing, pencil-pushing bureaucrats: they were orators, skilled in the art of gentle, but forceful, persuasion.
Where have these great figures gone, especially now, when their country needs them the most?
Frankly, I find today’s politicians to be, for lack of a better word, distasteful: arguing like children on television, even trading cheap shots at each other on social media. It seems that today’s MP’s would rather sling insults at one another instead of actually doing their jobs of speaking out against issues that are facing our country.
With Brexit, both Leavers and Remainers seem to almost relish their constant word war on Twitter. However, that child-like excuse for trading schoolyard insults birthed a very interesting thought experiment, one that I’d like to talk about here. A constant question asked by our politicians now, it seems, is how the great leaders of the past would have handled Brexit, or if they would have let it come to that at all.
Of course, we cannot speak of great politicians without mentioning two of the greatest of all time: Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Both sides of the Brexit debacle seem to love postulating how both figures would support their cause. Indeed, this brings about raging debates both online and on the air, particularly because both leaders held strong, unwavering opinions about Britain, our place in Europe, and our reputation around the world.
How Would Churchill Vote on Brexit?
Many Leavers chose to vote the way they did in the referendum for a very specific reason: they wanted to “take back” British sovereignty from the EU, viewing the Leave campaign (whether right or wrong) as an act of sheer patriotism, a manifestation of their love for Queen and Country. Many of the Leaver rhetoric –particularly the offensive “take back control” and “we want our country back” –are often seen as deeply offensive, racist, insular, and xenophobic remarks. However, many leavers attribute them to Churchill’s own values of taking pride in one’s country and raising the Union flag above all else.
Unfortunately, what many Leavers seem to not realize (or, perhaps, conveniently forget) is the fact that Winston Churchill was, in more ways than one, a chief architect of modern Europe, reflected in his 1946 “What is this sovereign remedy” speech:
“It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom…We must build a kind of United States of Europe…In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.”
In those dark and barbaric days of World War 2, Churchill even proposed a complete political union between our country and France. After enduring the destructive results of what Churchill called the “Thirty Years War”, he believed that the only way to effectively solve the “German Problem” was for Great Britain and France to unite and help Germany “re-join the European family”. Through a unified front of Peace, Democracy, and Diplomacy, Churchill believed that the unification of two of Europe’s most powerful nations can bring an end to the destructive nature of their European brother.
Precipitated by the Soviet Union’s development and acquisition of an atomic bomb, as well as the unraveling of the Empire (symbolized by India’s successful independence in 1947), forced Churchill to rethink the way he saw our country in the European context, and the larger role of Europe in the world context as a whole. In 1947, he laid out his vision of a united Europe at the Hague:
“Mutual aid in the economic field and joint military defence must inevitably be accompanied step by step with a parallel policy of closer political unity.”
But in all his speeches, he always made the United Kingdom’s role in the European context clear:
“Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.”
This view was put into action in 1947, when he founded the European Movement, an organization that was dedicated to creating a mutually-beneficial political and economic support system throughout Europe, starting with the Charter of Human Rights, agreed upon by the European Movement in 1951.
Winston Churchill, much like the Baroness Patricia Hollis, championed law and justice for all citizens. This, they believed, was the key to creating a peaceful world that valued democracy and human rights above all things. It is clear, then, that Churchill’s desire to create a Europe that was dedicated to the people rather than governments, reflects how he would have voted today:
He would have voted to remain.
How Would Margaret Thatcher Vote on Brexit?
A 1975 quote from Margaret Thatcher seems to encapsulate how she feels about Britain’s place in the continent:
“It is a fact that there has been peace in Europe for the last quarter of a century, and for that alone I am grateful …Nor do I think that we should take this peace too much for granted, for it has been secured by the conscious and concerted effort of nations to work together. We are part of Europe. It was Churchill who, at the Congress of Europe in 1948, said: ‘The movement for European unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values …’”
We are part of Europe.
However, many Leavers point to her infamous “Bruges Speech”, wherein she seems to make the case of pushing the United Kingdom out of the European Union. In the speech, she makes clear her disapproval of what-she-perceived-to-be Brussels’ attempt at monopolizing power:
“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
While this might seem like a convincing argument that the Iron Lady herself would have wanted to leave, Charles Powell, Thatcher’s then-private secretary, author of the Bruges Speech, and currently a Member of the House of Lords, says that this was never the intention:
“It was not intended as an anti-EU speech, and I don’t think it was delivered with that in mind…Of course she had criticisms of the EU — most member states do — and she set out a course for the EU’s future development which, had it been followed, would have made the institution a much better and more viable one.”
It wasn’t a case of Margaret Thatcher wanting to leave the European Union; instead, it was Thatcher’s way of functioning as a sort of check-and-balance against other members of the European family, particularly France and Germany.
In a major way, Margaret Thatcher’s vision for a unified Europe, as outlined in her Bruges Speech, reflects the real-life status quo of today: it’s a union that is expanding towards the east, welcoming back European states that were once under communist rule, and opening them up for trade with the rest of the European Union
But perhaps the biggest case towards Thatcher’s possible vote on Brexit lies in the fact that she most likely wouldn’t have allowed it to reach a public referendum. When asked about how Thatcher could have voted on Brexit, Charles Powell says:
“She would not have approved of holding a referendum at all on the subject of Britain’s relations with Europe. She thought referendums were in a way the devil’s work. She thought they were the instrument of tyrannies … and therefore a referendum was simply not the best way to proceed under the British constitutional arrangements.”
Because of her pragmatic, practical, and no-nonsense approach to politics, it’s safe to say that the Iron Lady would have wanted to remain in the EU, particularly because she would have been able to check other European powers’ attempts to expand their power more thoroughly if she was on the inside rather than out. So it’s clear:
Margaret Thatcher would have voted to remain.
What It Means Today
Of course, what Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would have done is a moot point: they came from very different generations with a very different milieu from both each other and from today. Either way, it’s good to think about how these political giants could have made sense of the whole Brexit debacle.
But what is clear is that Churchill, Thatcher, and Hollis were some of the last, great politicians of the century. Their control of words, the power of their strong-wills, and their principled stance on issues made them honest politicians that people could look up to and trust to lead.
Will there be another like them? Only time will tell.