Leading article: Historical echo

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The Prime Minister and his anointed heir were at each other's throats. A row broke out over the date of the leader's departure, with the heir urging the PM to go sooner rather than later. In Cabinet, Israel and the BBC were hot topics. So was London's traffic congestion and the future ownership of ITV. 2005? No. Try 1955.

The release by the National Archives of the Cabinet Secretary's handwritten notes from the last months of Winston Churchill's final stretch as Prime Minister are, as usual, a treat for historians. But they are also an interesting contrast for those of us more wrapped up in the present.

There is a Brownite flavour to Anthony Eden's impatience for Churchill to step down and hand him the reins of power. There is also something of a Blairite conflation of personal and national interest in Churchill's suggestion that it might be his "public duty" to stay on in the event of a visit to the UK by President Eisenhower.

Sir Norman Brook's notes also raise some questions of what might have been. Had Churchill stayed on, perhaps Britain might never have instigated the disastrous Suez crisis in 1956. It is hard to believe there was ever any likelihood of Israel joining the British Commonwealth, as Churchill suggested, but it is nonetheless an intriguing idea.

And what about London's royal parks being turned into open-air car parks? Or Lord Rothermere running ITV? Churchill's advice on another occasion springs to mind: "A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen."

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