Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prime Minister's wife advises him to calm down

Following Andrew Rawnsley's revelations today, a letter from the Prime Minister's wife has come to light:

"My Darling, I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know. One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic & overbearing manner. It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys and 'take what's coming to them' and then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders.

"Higher up if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you. I said this and I was told, 'No doubt it's the strain'. My Darling... I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; and you are not so kind as you used to be.

"It is for you to give the Orders and if they are bungled... you can sack anyone and everyone. Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote: 'On ne regne sur les ames que par le calme' [We don’t reign on souls, but through calm]. I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you - besides you won't get the best results by irascibility and rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality - (Rebellion in war time being out of the question!). Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful..."

The letter is, of course, signed "Clemmie", and was written to Winston Churchill by his wife in 1940. Despite the comparisons some have attempted to draw between our wartime leader's conduct and Gordon Brown's alleged bad temper, it should be said that Churchill's irritability and demanding nature were balanced by great personal charm and kindness, which inspired the devotion of his close personal staff. As his personal servant Norman McGowan wrote in his memoir: "An eighteenth century French wit said 'no man is a hero to his valet'. In the twentieth century one was."

If you read the many accounts of Churchill that exist by those who saw him at close quarters - his private secretary Jock Colville, his personal detective Walter Thompson, or his "Garden Girl" secretaries - the picture that emerges is not one of a bully, but of an impatient genius. Yes, he could be demanding, unreasonable, inconsiderate and downright rude - but he never seemed to bear a grudge, usually apologised, and made up for it with generosity and friendliness which inspired loyalty and affection. And of course, he was a Great Man.

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