Churchill on Duty: Representatives of the People, Please Note

Churchill on Duty: Representatives of the People, Please Note

Excerpt­ed from “Boris Resigns, Churchill Reminds: Con­sti­tu­tion­al Duty of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” writ­ten for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal arti­cle with end­notes and more images, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address is not giv­en out and remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.

Churchill on Duty

On 9 June 2023, Boris John­son resigned as a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment. It was not yet a year since John­son resigned as prime min­is­ter, after hav­ing swept into office with the largest major­i­ty since Mar­garet Thatcher’s Con­ser­v­a­tives in 1987.

On 26 March 1955, Sir Win­ston Churchill spoke to his con­stituen­cy for the last time as prime minister—an elo­quent tes­ti­mo­ni­al to the duty of elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives in a con­sti­tu­tion­al democ­ra­cy. Lit­tle known until now, his remarks are wor­thy of attention:

The first duty of a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment is to do what he thinks in his faith­ful and dis­in­ter­est­ed judg­ment is right and nec­es­sary for the hon­our and safe­ty of Great Britain. His sec­ond duty is to his con­stituents, of whom he is the rep­re­sen­ta­tive but not the del­e­gate. Burke’s famous dec­la­ra­tion on this sub­ject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to the par­ty orga­ni­za­tion or pro­gramme takes rank. All these three loy­al­ties should be observed, but there is no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy man­i­fes­ta­tion of democracy.

Fol­low­ing Johnson’s res­ig­na­tion, Churchill’s speech resur­faced and went viral on the Inter­net. This was remark­able because it was obscure. The orig­i­nal pub­lished appear­ance was in Par­lia­men­tary Affairsthen edit­ed by Stephen King-Hall.

Duty, judgment, Burke

Stu­dents of Churchill will rec­og­nize that his sen­ti­ments in 1955 are no dif­fer­ent from those at any oth­er time in his life.

For him, the safe­ty and hon­or of the nation always came first. He pur­sued that tena­cious­ly, often at risk to his career. Sec­ond came the con­stituents who elect­ed him. He dis­tin­guish­es between a “rep­re­sen­ta­tive” (the duty of the Mem­ber) and a “del­e­gate.” Third among his pri­or­i­ties was “duty to the par­ty orga­ni­za­tion or pro­gramme.” All too often, rep­re­sen­ta­tives today place that duty above the oth­er two.

Churchill draws guid­ance from Edmund Burke’s famous Speech to the Elec­tors of Bris­tol, 3 Novem­ber 1774. It is “the hap­pi­ness and glo­ry of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive,” Burke said, “to live in the strictest union” with con­stituents. Yet the representative’s duty is not to sac­ri­fice judg­ment or con­science, because “they are a trust from Providence”:

Your rep­re­sen­ta­tive owes you, not his indus­try only, but his judg­ment; and he betrays, instead of serv­ing you, if he sac­ri­fices it to your opin­ion…. But author­i­ta­tive instruc­tions; man­dates issued, which the mem­ber is bound blind­ly and implic­it­ly to obey…these are things utter­ly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fun­da­men­tal mis­take of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Par­lia­ment is not a con­gress of ambas­sadors from dif­fer­ent and hos­tile inter­ests…. [It] is a delib­er­a­tive assem­bly of one nation, with one inter­est, that of the whole…. You choose a Mem­ber indeed; but when you have cho­sen him, he is not Mem­ber of Bris­tol, but he is a Mem­ber of Parliament.

Churchill’s words…

 …were quot­ed by Jack Peat in Lon­don Eco­nom­ic. They make, he writes, “pret­ty unpleas­ant read­ing for his biog­ra­ph­er.” (Boris John­son pub­lished a Churchill biog­ra­phy in 2014.) In his res­ig­na­tion remarks, Mr. John­son accused the Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee of pro­duc­ing a biased report on Down­ing Street par­ties dur­ing the Covid lock­downs his own gov­ern­ment had imposed.

It is not for this writer but for the elec­tors of Britain to pass judg­ment on these argu­ments. I will only refer to Lord Roberts’ obser­va­tion, that the Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee is a court of law. Still Churchill’s words endure. It would be use­ful to repro­duce them on plac­ards, to be hung round the necks of cer­tain rep­re­sen­ta­tives, here and there, who seem often to for­get them.

Grateful thanks

The author appre­ci­ates the kind assis­tance of Dave Tur­rell and Andrew Roberts (Lord Roberts of Bel­gravia) in research­ing this article.

Further reading

Andrew Roberts:

“Win­ston Churchill and Edmund Burke: An Appre­ci­a­tion of Kin­dred Souls,” 2019

“Boris Johnson’s Churchill is Fun, but Most­ly Jokes,” 2015

2 thoughts on “Churchill on Duty: Representatives of the People, Please Note

  1. Thank you so much. I enjoy and avid­ly look for­ward to your comments.
    All the best,


  2. Do you find Churchill remarks on his rela­tion­ship with Gen­er­al George C. Mar­shall dur­ing their times togeth­er dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, par­tic­u­lar­ly the times they shared dur­ing the sev­er­al con­fer­ences with the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union? Thank you, Jim.

    Jim: Yes indeed. Here are two remarks about Mar­shall (the first quot­ing Shake­speare), from the 5th edi­tion of my quo­ta­tion book Churchill by Him­self, to be pub­lished in 2024: “That is the noblest Roman of them all. His work in train­ing the Amer­i­can armies has been won­der­ful. I will pay trib­ute to it one day when the occa­sion offers.” (16 July 1945, Pots­dam. WSC is quot­ing Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Cae­sar, Act 5, Scene 5, line 68.) The occa­sion was offered in the fourth vol­ume of his war memoirs…

    “Hith­er­to I had thought of Mar­shall as a rugged sol­dier and a mag­nif­i­cent organ­is­er and builder of armies—the Amer­i­can Carnot. But now I saw that he was a states­man with a pen­e­trat­ing and com­mand­ing view of the whole scene.” (1950,
    The Hinge of Fate, 726–77. Lazare Nico­las Mar­querite, Comte Carnot (1753–1823), known as the “Orga­niz­er of Vic­to­ry” in the French rev­o­lu­tion­ary wars. He left pub­lic life in 1804, but returned loy­al­ly to serve Napoleon in 1812–15.)

    Sub­scribe to the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project (see para­graph 1) and you will short­ly be read­ing “Great Con­tem­po­raries: George Catlett Mar­shall,” by Pro­fes­sor Ray­mond Calla­han. Also, if you haven’t already, do watch Orson Welles’ impres­sions of Hitler, Mar­shall and Churchill (the last very fun­ny) with Dick Cavett on YouTube
    . RML

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