Churchill Refutes Labor’s ‘Warmonger’ Charge

Blames Govt. For Weakness Re: Iran (Oct. 1951)

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | April 29, 2022                     

Winston Churchill (Conservative Party)

Winston Churchill delivered this 1951 campaign speech addressing the Anglo-Iranian oil conflict, in which he refuted the Labor party’s effective ‘warmonger’ characterization of him and the Tories. Churchill was elected on October 25th, reclaiming the premiership six years after he last held it.

British Foreign Office documents on Iran

Winston Churchill Speech

Loughton County High School, England

October 6, 1951

[citing Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison’s criticism]

Mr. Morrison has asked me whether in my judgment we should have gone to war with Persia or not. He had no right to ask this question. The responsibility is entirely that of the Socialist Government who alone had the power and should have had the knowledge. He is only asking the question in order to gain acceptance for the falsehood he and his associates—I can hardly call them his friends—are spreading about that the Conservative Party want another world war. I am quite sure that if a strong Conservative Government had been in power the Persian crisis would never have arisen in the way it did. It is only when the British Government is known to be weak and hesitant that these outrages are inflicted upon us and upon our rights and interests. I cannot believe there would have been any need for a war with Persia.

The Prime Minister has now explained that when he said he would not evacuate our oil staff from Abadan he meant he would not do so unless he was forced. [Clement Attlee] His policy was that nothing would induce him to go unless he were pushed. If he were pushed nothing would induce him to stay. But this was not the interpretation which Parliament and indeed the whole world placed upon his words. And I am bound to say that after the private meetings I and my colleagues have had with him it was certainly not the impression I sustained.

When he saw he was being misunderstood by the whole country, Mr. Attlee could easily have set the matter right. On the contrary, he allowed his Lord Chancellor, the next day, to repeat in the House of Lords what he had said, and to add the remarkable and decisive phrase: “We accept all the implications that follow from that decision.” [Sir William Jowitt, July 31, 1951] Of course he was hoping to deceive Dr. Mossadegh. But Dr. Mossadegh saw through his bluff. It was only the British people and the world in general who were taken in. [Iranian Premier Mohammad Mossadegh]

I repeat, no satisfactory explanation has been given by Mr. Attlee of his and the Lord Chancellor’s statements to Parliament when we separated in early August. I cannot recall any large matter of policy which has been so mishandled as this dispute with Persia. It arose out of the great decline of British prestige and authority in the Middle East which followed inevitably from the loss of India. But foresight would have enabled us to be much better informed than we were at the outset. For a long time we were virtually without a Foreign Secretary owing to Mr. Bevin’s ill-health. [Ernest Bevin] When the Persian Government decreed the nationalization of our oil industry we were quite right to go to The Hague Court. When The Hague Court had given its decision in our favour then was the time, nearly three months ago, to lay our case before the United Nations. But Mr. Attlee and Mr. Morrison have simply drifted until after every kind of humiliation. We have been ignominiously ejected a week before our appeal to UNO could even be considered. [United Nations Organization]

Even at the last moment, after the mission of Mr. Stokes, the Persian Government offered new discussions, and the answer from the Foreign Office was that they would not negotiate with Dr. Mossadegh any more. [Lord Privy Seal Richard Stokes] How can this be reconciled with a definite resolve not in any circumstances to resist physical pressure of any kind? What we have been witnessing is not a policy either of resistance to violence or of negotiation. It is simply a case of Ministers drifting from day to day and week to week, unable to make up their minds, until now we have been confronted with a major loss and disaster.

The lamentable story shows that our influence in the United States, in spite of our close association with them and the great causes we have undertaken together to defend, has also fallen to a very low ebb. I cannot believe this would have happened with any other Government than this one. Of course, now it is known that we will not in any circumstances offer physical resistance to violence and aggression on a small scale in these Middle East countries, we must expect that Egypt will treat us more roughly still, and many other evils will come upon us in the near future unless the Ministers who have shown themselves to be utterly incapable are dismissed from power by the electors. Anyhow, the financial loss is most grave and affects the whole of our position in the present dollar crisis. Now that the Abadan refinery has passed out of our hands we have to buy oil in dollars instead of in sterling. This means that at least 300 million dollars have to be found every year by other forms of export and services. That is to say, that the working people of this country must make and export at a rate of one million dollars more, for every working day in a year. This is a dead loss, which will directly affect our purchasing power abroad and the cost of living at home.

Mr. Bartholomew’s newspaper, the Daily Mirror, coined a phrase the other day which is being used by the Socialist Party whom he supports. ‘Whose finger’, they asked, ‘do you want on the trigger, Attlee’s or Churchill’s?’ [Harry Guy Bartholomew] I am sure we do not want any fingers upon any trigger. Least of all do we want a fumbling finger. I do not believe that a Third World War is inevitable. I even think that the danger of it is less than it was before the immense rearmament of the United States. But I must now tell you that in any case it will not be a British finger that will pull the trigger of a Third World War. It may be a Russian finger, or an American finger, or a United Nations Organization finger, but it cannot be a British finger. Although we should certainly be involved in a struggle between the Soviet Empire and the free world, the control and decision and the timing of that terrible event would not rest with us. Our influence in the world is not what it was in bygone days. I could wish indeed that it was greater because I am sure it would be used as it always has been used to the utmost to prevent a life-and-death struggle between the great nations.

• Source: Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 & 1952 (1953) by Winston S. Churchill [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

Note that this is obviously an excerpt from the speech, yet apparently the most complete transcript available.

Richard Stokes’ Second Thoughts on Iranian Oil (1951 Letter)
Richard Stokes' Letter to Clement Attlee, Aga Khan Concurs (1951)


Related links:

Winston Churchill Laments Declining British Empire (Oct. 2, 1951 Campaign Speech)

British Premier Clement Attlee | Labour Party Manifesto Speech (Oct. 1, 1951)

They Wanted To Use Force In Persia | Ian Colvin, Oct. 22, 1952

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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