Winston Churchill Laments Declining British Empire

Attacks Labor Over Iranian Problem (Oct. 1951)

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | June 15, 2022                     

Winston Churchill (Conservative Party)

Winston Churchill gave this campaign speech addressing the Anglo-Iranian oil conflict while running for Prime Minister in 1951. He was re-elected on Oct. 25th, sweeping out the Labor government which defeated him in 1945.

British Foreign Office documents on Iran

Winston Churchill Speech

The Stadium, Liverpool, England

October 2, 1951

I come tonight to make my appeal to this great City of Liverpool in the most momentous election that I have ever seen. I have been many times on Merseyside, I was brought up politically in Lancashire and I have spoken in many other Lancashire cities, when party passions ran high at home or dangers threatened our country from abroad. It was all very vivid and exciting, but somehow or other I never had the same feeling—no, not even in the war—that I have now that the whole future of our country is hanging in the balance. Passions run deep rather than high. There are no spirited interchanges between political figures. The problems which surround us and are presented to us every day that passes are in so numerous an array, and so complicated, that they do not lend themselves to the ordinary bickerings and clatter of lively electioneering. A mood of deep anxiety, mingled with bewilderment, oppresses the nation. They have tried so hard and they have done so well, and yet at the end of it all there is a widespread sense that we have lost much of our strength and greatness, and that unless we are careful and resolute, and to a large extent united, we may lose more still. We have indeed reached a milestone in our national history, when everyone who cares about the life of Britain, with its fifty millions of people crowded in our small island, far more than we can win a living for, except by expression of our genius, must seek faithfully the path of duty and try to find the best way through, not for this party or that, but for all.

In the main lines of foreign policy the Socialists have followed the course suggested to them by the Conservative Party. But they have done this so clumsily and tardily that much of what we might have gained, has been thrown away in the execution. They have joined the U.S. in its effort to maintain the peace of the free world, but they have coupled this with so much ill-natured criticism of the Americans that they have lost a lot of the goodwill we had gained during the war years. On the Continent, outside the Iron Curtain, they have set back the cause of United Europe by making it only too clear that what they meant was a United Socialist Europe. Thus they and the other Socialist parties on the Continent have lost a great deal of their influence. The Government, after long delays, have adopted a more conciliatory policy to Western Germany, and now they seek German military assistance against the Soviet menace. But they kept up their demolitions of factories and trials of German generals so long after the war as to rob their present attitude of any sign of magnanimity; and magnanimity may be priceless in the advantages it may sometimes win for the victors. Thus they have lost in these six disastrous years much that Britain had gained and more that she might have gained for herself and for the Empire and Commonwealth by all our efforts and sacrifices during the war and after.

I did not intend to speak to you tonight about Persia. I understood until twenty-four hours ago that no final decision would be taken by the Government, pending the result of the belated appeal which they had made to the Security Council of the United Nations. But now they have given orders and made arrangements to withdraw and evacuate all the remaining British and Indian staffs from Abadan, and this is to happen tomorrow. This decision convicts Mr. Attlee and the Lord Chancellor of breaking the solemn undertakings they gave to Parliament before it rose early in August. Let me read them to you. In the House of Commons the Prime Minister said: “There may have to be a withdrawal from the oil wells and there may have to be a withdrawal from some parts of Abadan, but our intention is not to evacuate entirely.” [Premier Clement Attlee, July 30, 1951. He said “part”, not “parts”.]

In the House of Lords the next day the Lord Chancellor repeated the Prime Minister’s assurance, and added that the Government “accept all the implications that follow from that decision.” [William Jowitt, July 31, 1951] I do not remember any case where public men have broken their word so abruptly and without even an attempt at explanation. But the immediate issue is now settled. We have been ejected from the immense economic structure and organization built up over fifty years by British enterprise and management. We are markedly impoverished thereby. All this has been done in defiance of the ruling in our favour of The Hague Court. Mr. Morrison, the Foreign Secretary, and his party associates no doubt hope to cover up their failure by saying that the Tories want war, while they are for peace at any price. [Herbert Morrison]

But this question of war or peace is not now a living issue. There is no question of using force, we have fled from the field even before the parleys were completed. Dr. Mossadegh can hardly follow us over here. [Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadegh] I don’t know what would happen if he got loose in Downing Street, but that cannot happen, so the question of whether force should or should not be used to defend our rights or protect our people is settled. Dr. Mossadegh has won a triumph, although at a heavy cost to his own people. He has penetrated the minds and measured accurately the will-power of the men he had to deal with in Whitehall. He knew that with all their cruisers, frigates, destroyers, tank-landing craft, troops and paratroops, sent at such great expense, and all their bold confident statements, they were only bluffing. They were only doing what the Prime Minister calls, “rattling the sabre”. And the Persian Prime Minister shrewdly chose the moment of the election, knowing what they would be thinking about then. And so this chapter is finished. The Conservative Party accepts no responsibility for what has happened. Presently it will be my duty and that of my trusted friend and deputy, Mr. Anthony Eden, to unfold and expose the melancholy story of inadvertence, incompetence, indecision and final collapse, which has for six months marked the policy of our Socialist rulers.

Had foresight, alertness and reasonable common sense been shown there need have been no danger of any serious conflict. But all this belongs to the past. We have now only to bear the loss and suffer the consequences. I now turn to our fortunes at home.

We have suffered seriously from six years of partisan rule and party strife. An attempt has been made to fasten upon the British people a doctrinaire system of society which is certainly foreign to our nature, and a form of economic life which is most injurious to our power to win our livelihood in the modern world. Whatever may be thought of the merits or demerits of the Socialist theory, there never was a time like these six years when the attempt to put it into force could produce more harm. We only survived the war because we were united. After the victory was won we had no less need of unity and comradeship than in the deadly days of the struggle, but the Socialist Party, who were returned in overwhelming strength at the Election of 1945, allowed themselves to use their power to force upon our varied society their strait-jacket system of State management and State control, although many of them did not believe in it and many more did not understand it. We hoped that the last Election eighteen months ago would put an end to these harassing and distressing conditions. Instead of that it only brought about a Parliamentary stalemate which resulted in futility of Government and harsh strife of factions.

Parliamentary democracy rests upon elections, but prolonged electioneering is not good for any country, least of all is it good for Britain in these years of world change and turmoil. For nearly two years we have suffered from electioneering fever. No doubt it takes two parties to make a quarrel and we certainly have done our duty in the Opposition, but I am dealing with facts which none will deny. A Government supported only by a minority of the electors, and split to the core from what we now see at Scarborough, dependent from day to day and night to night upon half-a-dozen members, a Government which, weak though it was, pursued its party aims with scrupulous and gigantic rigidity, could not possibly sustain our reputation or defend our rights amid all the new difficulties and perils which have fallen upon the free nations of the world. The result of these lamentable eighteen months of Socialist minority rule has been growing disunity at home and a continuous diminution of the respect in which Britain is held abroad. Our friends have been baffled and downcast by the way we seem to have fallen from the high rank we had won. Our enemies rejoice to see what they call “the decline and fall of the British Empire”. You will have your opportunity in this fateful month to show that our enemies are wrong. But do not fail. The chance may not come again.

There is a conviction not confined to any one party that we cannot go on like this. What we need is a period of steady, stable administration by a broadly-based Government, wielding the national power and content to serve the nation’s interest rather than give party satisfaction. What is required is a Government with the power to carry on a tolerant, non-partisan, non-doctrinaire system of policy for a considerable time. We need four or five years of calm, resolute policy and administration to enable us, after all we have been through, to re-gather our inherent strength and allow our native qualities and genius to shine forth and earn their reward.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, “don’t put the clock back”. [Hugh Gaitskell] But the danger that faces us today is not putting the clock back. The clock is running down. Everyone can feel it in their bones when they look at our position whether at home or abroad. No, what we need is a new impulse to wind up the clock and regulate it in an orderly and accurate manner so that it will tell the hours of a long day of recovery. To hear the Socialists talk you would suppose that there was nothing here before they came into office. Nothing was ever done by all the generations of which we are the heirs. All that we have that is worth having is due to the agitators and apostles of class warfare who came into office in 1945 and have lived upon, exploited and squandered the hard-won, long-stored treasures and glories of British history.

It was a fine legacy that they inherited when they took over in 1945. All our enemies had surrendered or were about to surrender. We stood at the pinnacle of worldly renown. All over the world our friends saluted us as the one solid, enduring champion of freedom, ready to stand alone, starting from the first day, and ending in full strength, on the last. But our vanquished foes, they also regarded us with a strange admiration. We alone had never hesitated to stake our life on freedom. We had never faltered in the year of darkest peril. We had given all we had freely and without stint from first to last.

Very different will be the inheritance which it may be our duty to take over from Mr. Attlee and his friends in a few weeks’ time. But we do not fear it. We have not lost faith in our race and in our destiny. We are the same people, in the same island, as we were in the great days we can all remember. Never shall we lose our faith and courage, and never shall we fail in exertion and resolve.

• Source: Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 & 1952 (1953) by Winston S. Churchill [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

Note that a middle section on the British economy has been removed [.....].

Richard Stokes’ Second Thoughts on Iranian Oil (1951 Letter)
Richard Stokes' Letter to Clement Attlee, Aga Khan Concurs (1951)


Related links:

Winston Churchill | Campaign Speech on Iran Oil Crisis (1951)

A Curious Form of ‘Oppression’ | Montreal Gazette, Oct. 6, 1951

British Oil Interests In Persia | House of Lords, May 1, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Tumblr   Instagram