BOOK REVIEW / A ruler, home work and flogging: Piers Brendon on another revisionist view of Britain's favourite hero: 'Churchill on the Home Front' - Paul Addison: Cape, 20 pounds

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The Independent Culture
The subject of Paul Addison's Churchill on the Home Front (Cape pounds 20) is the peace work of a 'war man'. As we would expect, the author of The Road to 1945 deals with it in exemplary fashion. He finds new things to say about Churchill's domestic achievements and new evidence on which to base them. His conclusions are judicious. All the same, especially at a time when Churchill's war leadership is under attack, the book is rather a disappointment. It may be a corrective to John Charmley's charmless iconoclasm. But it is also a bit like a study of Napoleon with the battles left out.

Addison begins one section, for example: 'On June 1944, nine days after the D-Day landings in Normandy, the War Cabinet discussed the Town and Country Planning Bill. . .' There is of course no reason why a single aspect of Churchill's career should not be treated in isolation. But in what started out as a biography, Addison seldom touches on his subject's character, and with Churchill, it is impossible to divorce policy from personality.

His volatile spirit was the magic ingredient in everything he did. His sublime egotism was tempered by wit, charm and humanity, qualities which helped to conciliate the Left. They found 'grace' in Churchill despite his bellicosity towards workers - epitomised by flaming editorials in the government-run British Gazette during the General Strike.

During his Edwardian days, as Addison shows, Churchill was a unique blend of radical and reactionary. He espoused 'the cause of the left-out millions' with labour exchanges and unemployment insurance. He was in favour of the regulation of sweated trades and the abolition of the House of Lords. But he also blocked efforts to abolish flogging. He wanted labour colonies for vagrants and sterilisation for the 'unfit'. And he advocated the use of soldiers to coerce strikers.

With the advent of socialism (an 'imbecile conception'), he moved sharply to the right. Claiming to put his trust in the people, he preached his father's creed of Tory democracy. But he meant by that (to quote Lord Randolph's cynical quip) 'democracy which supports the Tories'. In practice he tried to deny votes to flappers and had little time for others' freedom of speech. His paternalism, with its talk of feeding John Bull on roast beef, sounded increasingly out of touch. Like Roosevelt and Stalin, he praised Mussolini; only Hitler saved him from monumental irrelevance.

During the Second World War, Churchill did little to realise his rhetoric about broadening social opportunity. Indeed, he damned Beveridge as 'an awful windbag and a dreamer'. But he reluctantly accepted proposals leading to a welfare state. He also recruited trade union leaders into government, regarding them, so to speak, as the NCOs of society. His final premiership, during which he revived the Home Guard, was devoted to 'houses, meat and not getting scuppered'.

Paul Addison perhaps overrates Churchill's home work. He says, for example, that the Blenheim Palace-born sybarite had a 'vivid conception of the working-class'. But it is clear that Churchill had no idea how the other half lived - he travelled by tube only once (getting lost in the process) and he assumed that his private secretary had a valet. However, the real failure of this scholarly account of the domestic dimensions of Churchill's career is that it lacks the vitality, colour and fire of its hero. It is martial music without trumpets or drums.

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