Occasionally the CoS world will bump into the news, and so it was last week, when Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was asked whether Winston Churchill was a hero or a villain and replied, after a long pause. “Tonypandy – villain”
It wasn’t a surprise that the newspapers and political twitter made a big deal of this – the only surprise really is that anyone was surprised. Churchill has divided opinion since he first emerged as a political figure – the cartoon portrait of him as “The Greatest Briton” has never been universally agreed upon – the nation of India and the British electorate which put him out of power in 1945 can attest to this.
Naturally it is beyond the scope of this website to determine whether he was a hero or a villain, but we can at least talk briefly about Tonypandy.
Tonypandy is a mining town in South Wales. The 1910 conflict there started when a cartel of mining companies accused miners of working too slowly, leading to a lock-out, strikebreakers, picketing, and protracted, fruitless negotiations. Eventually skirmishes between strikers and police broke out, and Churchill (then the Liberal Home Secretary) sent in the army, and at least one striker was killed. This action may seem fairly unimportant next to Gallipoli or the carpet bombing of German cities, but it is how he is still remembered in much of South Wales – to the extent that, 109 years later, it is the first thing that comes to mind when John McDonnell thinks about Churchill.