Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Today, we say goodbye as a Member of Parliament to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). He has played a great many parts in the House of Commons. He has on occasions been very angry with the House of Commons. He has been ignored by the House of Commons. He has been howled at by the House of Commons. He has received almost unparalleled adulation from the House of Commons, and in over 50 years he has held the highest offices and been present on the most august occasions in the House of Commons. He has also had a book thrown at him in the House of Commons, and a point of order has been taken against him for attempting to vote in his pyjamas. But he has never attempted to patronise or belittle the House of Commons.
This is no occasion for sentimentality. We are here to celebrate one of the greatest careers of our history. But few people can have failed to be moved when, day after day, the right hon. Gentleman comes into this House and takes his seat below the Gangway. Few people can fail to be moved by the meticulous care which he takes to pay his respects to this assembly, in which his whole life, almost, has been spent.
At this time, when so many people, with a rather superior or world-weary air, speak contemptuously of the House of Commons, of the whole rough system of party politics on which the House of Commons thrives, it is good that we should praise a famous man who, in the middle of great wars and great crises, has never failed to come here and give an account of his doings before the motley collection of Members of this House who represent the people of Britain. In no other assembly that I know of do those who wield the highest power come to it and answer Questions in person, Questions sometimes wounding, often petty, but which are collectively one of the great foundations of our liberties.
The right hon. Gentleman was not only a Member of the House of Commons and a great statesman. He was through and through a politician. Here again, let those who, for one reason or another, deride politics and refuse to dirty their hands with what they consider a frustrating or dishonourable service, consider the career of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford. We are told that when vast projects are undertaken democratic politics must go by the board. Yet the right hon. Gentleman led this country through one of its toughest crises by commanding the assent of the people and by making no inroads on the democratic rights of the people other than those which they accepted themselves. At the highest point of his career he accepted summary dismissal at the nod of the people.
The right hon. Gentleman has had an enthusiasm for politics which, with characteristic magnanimity, he has showered upon two of the older established parties and one of his own invention. What has made him so great a politician is not only this enthusiasm, his thirst for power and his appetite for the rancour and the asperity of political debate and, indeed, his humour, but his capacity to derive arguments, even on minor matters, from his view of great and enduring principles. He points the whole of his immense ability on whatever he has in hand.
Lastly, he has always wanted Britain to be not only great, but happy, and he wanted everyone to share his pleasure and his triumphs. The tribute that we shall pass today is, as has been said, of a type often offered to great captains like Marlborough and Wellington, and today, surely, we salute a great captain at the end of a long and glorious political campaign.