Would Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher have voted Remain?

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament SquarePhoto: PA

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament SquarePhoto: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The Labour party lost a stalwart this week.

Baroness Patricia Hollis died aged 77 leaving an impressive legacy of political activism.

Whatever your political persuasion, it cannot be denied that Baroness Hollis fought tooth and nail for what she believed was right.

She was loved by those she worked tirelessly to help but feared by political opponents both in and outside of her adored Labour party.

MORE: WATCH: PM calls Baroness Hollis 'champion of the poor'

But perhaps the most impressive tribute to Baroness Hollis was the respect she won from all sides of the political divide. One Tory opponent said he would shudder if she stood up to speak against something he was supporting: 'She had the power to persuade. The power to make people change their minds. In politics that is the ultimate weapon.'

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And, of course, she was unwavering in her support, promotion and love for the East of England. Her stint as leader of Norwich City Council has been cannonised.

Beyond that when she was made a peer and entered the House of Lords she continued to speak up for East Anglia.

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She was a colossus – of that there is no question.

And her loss will be all the greater because politicians of purpose, vigour and skill on all sides of the House are in short supply.

Where have all the big beasts gone? The sensible politicians who argue with respect and valour for what they believe in? The orators who make people stop and listen whatever their political persuasion? Where are they when the UK needs them the most?

Today we have a political class that spends more time trading cheap insults on social media than rigorously researching the problems facing the public.

Remainers and Leavers fight an almost constant (and often wildly ill-informed) battle online with Twitter being the favourite battleground. One of their favourite topics is imagining how the politicians of the past might have handled Brexit.

And the two names that spark the most debate are Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Both sides would love to have either of these former PMs on their team – and the argument rages because they both held very strong views on Britain's place and stature in the world and Europe.

For many the referendum vote was about sovereignty. And, rightly or wrongly, the Leave campaign tried to turn a vote for quitting the EU into an act of patriotism. Rhetoric like 'take back control' and 'we want our country back' were deemed deeply offensive by some – but they tapped into a Chruchillian tradition that has always aroused pride in the Union flag.

What many Brexiteers conveniently forget is Sir Winston was, in many ways, the architect of modern Europe.

In Zurich on September 19, 1946, Sir Winston gave one of his exquisite speeches: 'What is this sovereign remedy?

'It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.

'We must build a kind of United States of Europe.

'In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.'

So that's clear then – Sir Winston would have voted remain.

And what about Mrs Thatcher? In 1975 she said: 'It is a fact that there has been peace in Europe for the last quarter of a century, and for that alone I am grateful ...

'Nor do I think that we should take this peace too much for granted, for it has been secured by the conscious and concerted effort of nations to work together. We are part of Europe. It was Churchill who, at the Congress of Europe in 1948, said: 'The movement for European unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values ...'

So she would have voted remain as well? Nonsense.

The arguments about what the greats would do today are utterly pointless. Both Mr Churchill and Mrs Thatcher died in times very different from today. The truth is they could have voted either way. Mrs Thatcher was certainly no fan of the way the EU was developing during her tenure.

But one thing is for sure: Mr Churchill, Mrs Thatcher and Baroness Hollis would have conducted themselves in a very different manner to many of today's politicians.

Brexit is divisive – and that is why we need strong, principled, honest politicians. Let's hope someone steps up to the plate – and soon.

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