Furious response to senior Labour figure branding Churchill a ‘villain’

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has called on shadow chancellor John McDonnell to withdraw his description of wartime prime minister Sir Winston Churchill as a “villain”.

The Labour heavyweight made the comment in response to a sequence of quick-fire questions in an interview with Politico streamed live on the internet, one of which asked: “Winston Churchill. Hero or villain?”

His response made clear that he held the former PM to blame for sending in troops to help police deal with striking Welsh miners when home secretary in 1910.

Mr McDonnell answered with two words: “Tonypandy – villain”.

Churchill’s reputation has long been tarnished for some on the left by events in the South Wales town of Tonypandy more than a century ago.

His decision to deploy a detachment of Lancashire Fusiliers to support police dealing with riots was followed by confrontations in which nearly 80 police and 500 civilians were injured and one miner died. His responsibility for the events is a matter of fierce historical debate.

The shadow chancellor’s judgment on the man voted the greatest Briton in a BBC poll in 2002 sparked immediate controversy.

Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames, grandson of the former Conservative prime minister, told the Daily Telegraph: “Frankly, it’s a very foolish and stupid thing to say, surely said to gain publicity.

“I think my grandfather’s reputation can withstand a publicity-seeking assault from a third-rate, Poundland Lenin. I don’t think it will shake the world.”

And Labour MP Ian Austin voiced his disagreement by posting a picture on social media of a figurine of the wartime leader he keeps at home.

Mr Austin said: “Look who takes pride of place on my mantelpiece in Dudley: a real British hero, the greatest ever Briton, the man who motivated Britain to defeat the Nazis and fight not just for our liberty but the world’s freedom too.”

Writing on Twitter, Mr Johnson – the author of a book on the wartime prime minister – said: “Winston Churchill saved this country and the whole of Europe from a barbaric fascist and racist tyranny and our debt to him is incalculable.

“If John McDonnell had the slightest knowledge of history he would be aware that Churchill also had an extraordinary record as a social reformer who cared deeply for working people and their lives. JM should be utterly ashamed of his remarks and withdraw them forthwith.”