The Glow-Worm 1900-1914

"We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm."

Churchill returned from the Boer War a national hero. In October 1900 at age 25, Winston ran for political office. He narrowly defeated a Liberal candidate to win one of the two Conservative Party seats in Oldham, Lancashire, beginning a political career that would last for over 60 years.

A character sketch in Vanity Fair remarked: "He can write and he can fight... he is ambitious; he means to get on, and he love his country. But he can hardly be the slave of any Party." Indeed, within four years he would abandon the Conservatives for the Liberal Party and champion many causes of social and military reform.

Churchill as Celebrity

"I have suddenly become one of the two or three most popular speakers in this election... great audiences (five and six thousand people) twice & even three times a day, bands, crowds and enthusiasm of all kinds."

Churchill's celebrity made him a popular speaker and an attractive candidate. Eleven constituencies wanted him to represent them in Parliament and many fellow politicians wanted to appear with him.

Since Members of Parliament were not paid, Winston's writing and lecturing became a necessary source of income. He capitalized on his popularity with a speaking tour of Britain. In one month, November 1900, he gave thirty lectures, earning the equivalent of five year's income for a professional of his age.

In December, Winston toured the United States and Canada, meeting with heads of state and speaking on the Boer War.

By the time Churchill took his seat in Parliament on 14 February 1901, his books, articles and lectures had earned him over £10,000 - a modest fortune at that time. From this moment on, Winston lived his life in the public eye.

Conservative by Birth

"I had to choose between fighting & standing aside."

Churchill entered Parliament a Conservative Party member as his father before him. The Conservative Party, associated with the Church of England, the monarchy, and the established upper class, was generally resistant to social change. Most of Churchill's relations, social class, and fellow army officers identified with the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party, associated with the rising and professional classes, hoped to open British society through merit, education, and social reform. Winston's father tried to bridge the gap with something he called "Tory Democracy," but it was never a serious political option. Winston would go him one better.

Winston became increasingly disenchanted with the Conservative Party, disagreeing with its:

When the Conservative Party became irrevocably attached to a policy of protective tariffs in 1904, Churchill bolted.

Liberal by Choice

"I am an English Liberal. I hate the Tory party, their men, their words & their methods. I feel no sort of sympathy with them..."

On 31 May 1904, at age twenty-nine, Churchill walked into the House of Commons chamber, bowed to the Speaker, and crossed the floor to the other side. He had joined the Liberals. It was a stunning event, but should not have been a surprise.

Winston had been associated with a group of young politicians - the Hughligans - who were Liberal Imperialists. They believed in both a strong Britain and social reform, sympathies more aligned with the Liberal Party. They would become the "New Liberals." The Labour Party, the political embodiment of the organized working class, was also gaining strength, and the "New Liberals" hoped social reform would blunt its political appeal.

Churchill had perfect timing. The Conservative Party shortly fell from office and a period of Liberal Party dominance began. Churchill's move opened the door to ministerial office. It also earned him a reputation for opportunism as well as the enmity and distrust of Conservatives for many years.

Parliamentary Primer

"He is asked to stand, he wants to sit, he is expected to lie."

The Monarchy (or Crown)
The Monarch is the head of state, and the government acts in the name of the Crown. While the Crown has the power to dissolve Parliament, its actual role is advisory. The Crown remains, however, the one constant in British politics.

The British Parliament consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The House of Commons is the center of parliamentary power. Every member of the House of Commons stands for election in a local district. Political parties control the selection of candidates.

The House of Lords (known as "peers") consist of Lords Spiritual (senior bishops) and Lords Temporal (lay peers). Law Lords (senior judges) also sit as Lords Temporal. Members of the House of Lords are not elected. Originally, they were drawn from the various groups of senior and influential nobility in Britain, who advised the monarch throughout the country's early history.

Beginning in the twentieth century, the House of Lords has recognized the supremacy of the elected chamber.

The Prime Minister
Unlike the United States, the British government is run by the political party in power. The party with an elected majority takes charge of government functions.

There are no national elections for Prime Minister; the leader of the majority party is invited by the Monarch to form a government. The leader of the majority party then becomes Prime Minister and selects cabinet members who are also elected Members of Parliament.

General Elections are held at least every five years. However, the incumbent Prime Minister may decide to call a General Election earlier if he or she believes it may increase the party's majority.

Between General Elections there are also By-elections. A By-election is held to fill a seat made vacant by the death or resignation of the member. Churchill unsuccessfully ran for a seat in Oldham in a By-election before securing it in the General Election that followed.

Members of Parliament need not live in the district they represent. A member defeated in one district could immediately seek election in another. This practice is not uncommon, and Churchill used this device himself.

The Premier Partnership: Winston and Clementine

"At Blenheim I took two very important decisions; to be born and to marry. I am happily content with the decision I took on both those occasions."

In 1904 Winston met Clementine Hozier at a party. He said nothing to her. She was not impressed.

Four years later, they met again and found enough to talk about to marry later that year.

Like Winston, Clementine came from a good background, but had limited means.

She was beautiful, bright, well educated, liberal, and interested in politics. She was, perhaps, the first woman that Winston found who could personally and intellectually appreciate and share his world.

They were married at St. Margaret's Westminster, the parish church of the House of Commons, 12 September 1908. He was thirty-three; she ten years younger. Thus began one of the strongest political marriages in history. They wrote to each other constantly. Winston confided in her and she never hesitated to give both support and forthright opinion when she felt he was wrong.

"Imperialism Abroad..."

"Our duty is to insist that the principles of justice and the safeguards of judicial procedure are rigidly followed."

Churchill achieved his first ministerial post ten days after his 31st birthday. In 1905, he was appointed Undersecretary of State at the Colonial Office.

Since the Secretary of State was a member of the House of Lords, Winston represented the Colonial Office in the Commons. This made him an unusually powerful Junior Minister.

Winston's knowledge of South Africa, his familiarity with its leaders, and his empathy for the defeated adversary, contributed to his drafting a new constitution for the Transvaal. It was one of his best early acts of statesmanship.

And "Reform at Home"

"...We should reproduce for the defense of this country against poverty and unemployment, the sort of machinery that we have in existence to protect us against foreign aggression."

Churchill became a Cabinet member at age thirty-three with his appointment to the Board of Trade in 1908.

Winston immediately took the lead in a series of social reforms that would define the "New Liberal" Party. He became the Party's principal spokesman, sometimes speaking in place of the Prime Minister.

Not all of Winston's initiatives would be achieved in his tenure, but all were ultimately adopted. These included:


“Leave the past to history especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

Winston S. Churchill