Five-year Whitehall row over Churchill statues

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Indy Politics

Plans to commemorate Sir Winston Churchill with two statues in Westminster led to a political struggle over the historical reputations of two of Britain's wartime leaders and the relative size of their plinths, according to government documents released today.

The death of Sir Winston on 24 January 1965, at the age of 90, led to an outpouring of patriotic grief for Britain's leader during the Second World War and calls for a bronze within the Houses of Parliament.

There followed more than five years of wrangling by MPs over the rule that no statue or picture of a statesman can be erected in Parliament until 10 years after his death – a rule which came to the fore again recently with plans to mount a marble statue of Baroness Thatcher, handbag and all, within Parliament.

Tories wanted the rule waived and even the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, had no objections, even though Churchill himself had defended the tradition during a debate over plans to commemorate the First World War prime minister, David Lloyd George.

The rule was eventually ignored but when the Oscar Nemon statue was unveiled in December 1969 it became clear that it would tower over the bronze of Lloyd George already in the Members' Lobby.

Downing Street documents at the Public Record Office in Kew reveal that Charles Pannell, a Labour MP,wrote: "The final result looks like 'man and boy'. Lloyd George is dwarfed by Winston ... I do not believe that historically it is right for Winston to dwarf David. It is the opinion of many that the Welshman was the greater war leader.

After Lloyd George's widow objected to Downing Street's plan to move her husband's statue, a compromise was reached by lowering the height of the plinth for the Churchill statue and increasing the base for Lloyd George. A two-month trial was proposed to see if MPs objected. The statues remain in that position to this day.