That’s what Winston Churchill did with his back against the wall in 1942. In fact, he didn’t ask for a vote of confidence; he demanded one.
With World War II going badly for Great Britain and criticism circulating worldwide that the prime minister’s administration was crumbling, Churchill told House of Commons members they’d have three days to say anything about the government except for divulging military secrets.
“Could you have any higher expression of democracy than that?” he asked. “Very few other countries have institutions strong enough to sustain such a thing while they are fighting for their lives.”
In demanding his confidence vote, Churchill acknowledged “blunders and shortcomings, both in foresight and action,” in the Far East, where Hong Kong had already fallen to the Japanese and Singapore was about to fall. He admitted that things had “gone badly, and worse is to come,” so he wanted to make sure he had the people’s confidence.
Churchill emphasized that “no one should be chicken-hearted in voting,” noting that he himself had voted against governments he’d been elected to support.
Offering only his original program of “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” augmented by many “mistakes and disappointments” and a ray of hope, the prime minister called on the House of Commons to do its duty.
After a three-day debate, Churchill won a 464-1 vote of confidence.
—Adapted from Never Give In! The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches, edited by his grandson, Winston S. Churchill, Hyperion.
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