John McDonnell has called Winston Churchill ‘not a hero but a villain’.

Isn’t Churchill our greatest national hero? How can John McDonnell, or anyone, say he’s a villain, not just overrated or not as great as some other hero? Why would anyone want to attack Churchill’s legacy or his memory in this way?

What crime did John McDonnell say Churchill committed?

John referred to the 1911 riots in Tonypandy, in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales, by striking miners and their families, when Churchill as Home Secretary sent in troops to restore order, resulting in many injuries and allegedly one death.

Is John McDonnell correct?

It depends who you ask. People disagree as to the facts, let alone their interpretation. The Army says it sent troops, but they never fired at the rioters. Anyway, Churchill did not order the Army to intervene. In fact, he ordered them to wait until the authorities asked again. Meanwhile, he sent more police. Many people say the police did more harm than the Army. Others argue that the miners were being violent and someone had to intervene.

Who were the miners attacking?

Mainly, local shops and shopkeepers. Were they looting? People disagree. Why then attack shops? The miners thought of shopkeepers as capitalists, enemies of the workers. Also, they refused to give credit to striking miners, thus putting pressure on them to go back to work. People say the miners were also attacking mine owners’ homes and other property.

Does Mr McDonnell know how many people were injured?

Nobody knows. Estimates vary wildly. Up to 500? How badly were they injured? Nobody knows. Most rioters didn’t want to go to hospital for treatment as they didn’t want to admit to their part in the riots. Was someone killed? Yes, but nobody knows who did it or whether it was deliberate. A blunt instrument to the head. It could have been a policeman’s truncheon, or there again… almost anything. Nobody claimed to have seen what happened.

Is John McDonnell alone in blaming Churchill?

No. Many people blamed him at the time: some for being too heavy-handed, others for being too soft! Arguments have flared up every few years. Of course, Conservatives defend him, socialists, trades unionists and Welsh people tend to blame him. (Welsh Conservatives are so rare, they don’t count).

The Red Dragon of Wales. Most Welsh people probably agree with John McDonnell about this.

The Red Dragon of Wales. Most Welsh people probably agree with John McDonnell about this.

Do I blame Churchill? I think the authorities are in a no-win situation when riots break out. Remember Toxteth? Or Tottenham? With hindsight, I think Churchill could have handled it better, but it doesn’t make him a villain.

What do I think of Winston Churchill?

I think he was a great man, a great prime minister and the man who saved the nation in World War II. I also think he had many shortcomings, political and personal. He made a lot of mistakes,  but the person who never made a mistake never made a thing. He was human. Not Superman, not the Son of God, not a plaster saint. I have my faults but also a few good points. What about you?

I will celebrate Churchill as a hero. As for my assessment of John McDonnell – it’s too soon to say!