Advice from Churchill

Jerusalem – There’s a Churchill Society in Israel now whose founder Russell Rothstein believes that Churchill’s views and experience don’t exert enough influence here in Israel
He considers that Israel has a lot to learn from the great British war leader who he says was extremely positive about the establishment of Israel.
So the question is, what advice from Sir Winston would help us today?
Most of us are aware of the famous quotes: “We will fight them on the beaches” “We will never surrender” “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
But try this one for size: “Logic, which has created in so many countries semicircular assemblies with buildings that give every member a seat to sit in, but often a desk to write at, with a lid to bang, has proved fatal to parliamentary democracy as we know it here in its home and in the land of its birth.”
Sounds rather like the Israeli Knesset, doesn’t it?
Churchill was telling the House of Commons in 1944 of plans to rebuild the House which had been blown to pieces in the Nazi blitz. He wanted to restore the house exactly as it was before and he had his way. In particular, he wanted to retain the oblong shape in which the government and the opposition face each other.
But he was also talking about Britain’s electoral tradition in contrast to proportional representation which he termed the group system. “I have seen many earnest and ardent Parliaments destroyed by the group system,” he said.
No doubt he was thinking of Germany where Hitler rose to power through that very system in 1933, enabling him to quickly finish off parliamentary democracy
“The semicircular assembly, “he told the Commons, “which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move around the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes.”
Well might we reflect on Churchill’s enthusiasm for the British system.
Churchill was called “the great commoner,” a double barrelled description. Firstly although descended from the Dukes of Marlborough, he had no noble title but, secondly, as probably the most famous member of the House of Commons.
As we are all aware of the invidious system which passes for our Parliament, let’s give a thought to the British system which he loved so much.
Because there is a mindset here is Israel which quickly dismisses any discussion of the need for electoral districts. This is fixated on the British First Past the Post system which creates strong governments which don’t have a majority of the votes.
The result is governments elected to power by only, say, 37 or 42 per.cent. How can that be democratic, the purists ask? Come back to Israel and our coalition governments and we are led by a Prime Minister whose party got less than 25 percent of the vote.
Little attention was paid here last year to a referendum in Britain on the vote. The British whole-heartedly rejected the idea of the alternative vote, also known as preference voting, by which you put a number against each name on the ballot paper. Then the votes are distributed to the two leaders until a majority is achieved.
The British decided to stick with First Past The Post, in my view, because it’s simple, everybody understands it and results are quick and clear
In Britain and her historic offshoots- the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,etc – electoral districts are the basis of strong and stable government and they produce people like Winston Churchill .

About the Author
David Shaw was a correspondent in South East Asia and China and wrote for British and Australian papers from Jerusalem.