Americans may not have expected Theresa May to become the UK Prime Minister after the unexpected decision in our European referendum.
Few of us can say with confidence who might succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany, Francois Hollande as French president or, who knows when, Vladimir Putin in Russia.
On Tuesday, I arranged for the Lib Dem peer Lord Watson of Richmond, the former broadcaster Alan Watson, to speak on Winston Churchill’s two speeches to save the world.
In 1946, the successful wartime leader had unexpectedly lost the general election (I think because Labour indicated that they would demobilise faster than the Conservatives).
He received many invitations to speak. He accepted one from an obscure college in Fulton, Missouri because the 33rd US president Harry Truman would be with him.
In his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, Churchill warned of the danger of Soviet power in central and eastern Europe. He argued for the US commitment to defend Europe.
Later he said it was the most important speech he ever made.
With the fortune that the then British Foreign Secretary was Ernest Bevin who knew from trade union experience of communists, Churchill’s initiative was crucial in creating the alliance, the decision and the determination for the later Berlin airlift that halted the Soviets crossing further westwards in Europe.
He changed the American attitude to Joseph Stalin and to the USSR.
He said: “Trying to maintain good relations with a communist is like wooing a crocodile. You do not know whether to tickle under the chin or to beat it over the head. When it opens its mouth you cannot tell whether it is trying to smile or preparing to eat you up.”
Bevin’s creation of the Western European Union led to NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation which politically and militarily helped us to have peace in our part of the continent since 1945.
The second speech was later in 1946 when Churchill in Zurich, Switzerland explained what western European nations had to do to match American economic and political commitment.
He argued for a kind of ‘United States of Europe’, reconciling France and Germany.
He challenged the status quo of recrimination and despair.
Like the Fulton speech, Churchill’s ideas were initially rejected.
Truman wrote to Churchill in 1947 after declaring the Truman Doctrine committing America to defend freedom: “Your Fulton speech becomes more nearly a prophesy every day.”
That year also saw the inauguration of the Marshall Plan to restore Europe’s economies, at least in the countries free from the Soviets. This was linked to cooperation in Europe.
Randolph Churchill, the great man’s great-grandson, has written that the two speeches ensured that the United States played a full part in defending cherished European liberties and also a full part in the rebuilding and recovery of Europe.
Yesterday, we had the news that Donald Trump is president-elect in the USA.
On behalf of Worthing West constituents and in the interests of the UK and our neighbours, I will send him a copy of Alan Watson’s book on the two speeches.
Let us hope that the people of the United States share growing prosperity and that the US remains determined partners for peace and prosperity in Europe and around the world.
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