Why Churchill still matters: the power of the past and the postponement of the future

Autumn 2018

We live in a society which has become fearful of the future and of change, and instead seeks sanctuary in imagined and contested versions of the past. A highly successful Churchill industry taps into this mood, marketing and repackaging the man and his image. Boris Johnson’s Churchill biography is perhaps only the most overtly self-seeking of these efforts. Most of the industry concentrates on Britain’s darkest hour in the second world war: the Churchill of this period invokes a particular idea of Britain, as a place of purpose, moral certainty and national calling - the idealised conservative nation. But these ideas are losing their purchase. Underneath the current public crises of the contemporary Conservative Party sits a longer-term set of issues: what constituencies and social forces does it represent? what sort of Britain is it championing? The answers we need now and for the future are not to be found in the past - and this also applies to the Labour Party. To search for a politics based on past heroes only serves to throw a light on the depth of crisis we are in.