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Why Winston won

Books | November issue

Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister By Nicholas Shakespeare

In July 1940, as the Battle of Britain got under way, a book appeared, Guilty Men, by a ‘Cato’ who turned out to be three journalists; the main one was Michael Foot. The book had huge success, and was reprinted by Penguin in 2000. Some of these ‘guilty men’ are central figures in Nicholas Shakespeare’s excellently told story about the sea change of British wartime politics on 8th May, 1940. Within forty-eight hours, almost out of the blue, it made Winston Churchill Prime Minister, at the head of a National Government which included Labour. The Labour leaders were in fact the main actors in this, even though Churchill had a long record of hostility to socialism. But most of the Labour Party had greater dislike, even contempt, for the ‘guilty men’ whom Churchill displaced. The chief ones named in the book – it appeared only a month after Churchill’s takeover...

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