Churchill’s grandson says the war leader wasn’t a racist. But the excuses are wearing thin.

Woman stands in front of Chruchill statue with a sign saying 'the UK is not innocent'
Glen Black

Winston Churchill’s grandson and former top Tory Nicholas Soames told LBC that he was “deeply shocked” to see the war leader’s Westminster statue boxed up. Soames defended Churchill’s legacy by saying he was a ‘saviour of the Western world’ and rubbished claims that Churchill was racist. But we’re living in an age of rapidly expanding awareness about Britain’s colonial history. And people are showing that these lies are wearing thin.

The old ‘man of his time’ excuse

Soames’ defence of Churchill rests on the often repeated idea that the wartime prime minister was a man of his time, telling LBC that:

When he was younger, [Churchill] may have said things that we certainly wouldn’t say today but he was an Edwardian soldier and politician so you have to take people in the whole.

Soames also claimed that opposition to his grandfather is the result of an “abominable” history curriculum. Rather than judge his flaws, Soames says people must judge Churchill by his victories – including the defeat of Nazi Germany.

However, a re-evaluation of Britain’s colonial history has resurged in recent weeks because of Black Lives Matter protests and organising. This was most notably marked by the toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. And during a Black Lives Matter protest in London on 7 June, someone added “was a racist” on Churchill’s statue.

Senior Tories condemned the action. This included Johnson, who took to Twitter to defend the former Conservative leader on the grounds that he was a man of his time. But the Black-led changing of public consciousness means people are now exposing the faults in these opinions.

“This is what colonial education does”

One person turned one of Soames’ arguments inside out by pointing out that defeating Nazi Germany doesn’t change Churchill’s racist views:

And other people pointed out the hypocrisy of Soames’ statement:

Soames’ claim that better history education would exonerate Churchill is deftly taken apart from a global education professor:

Novara Media‘s Aaron Bastani made a similar point:

Many others went on to highlight that Churchill had more than ‘some’ racist views:

History will condemn Churchill

In February 2019, John Ranson wrote for The Canary that:

The time will come for a wholesale re-evaluation of Churchill. In all probability, he’ll be filed alongside Colston and many other famous figures we gradually learned were awful

Now is the time. While this is far from the first time people have attacked Churchill’s statue, it hadn’t yet happened in the context of a Black-led resistance. Moreover, people are focusing not on Churchill’s personal views but on the policies and decisions he made as prime minister. Racism is a systemic problem. Churchill’s personal views pale in comparison to the impact his actions had on people, communities, and nations of non-white peoples.

Soames believes a better understanding of history would exonerate the wartime prime minister. But people are rapidly gaining a better understanding of Britain’s colonial history, and it’s not looking good for Churchill.

Featured image via AFP News Agency/YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. In the words of the historian AJP Taylor, Churchill in his entire, very long, career had “a good 18 months” from 1940 to 1941.
      There’s also, under Churchill as PM, the overthrow of the democratic Mosaddegh government in Iran in 1953 replaced by the despot Shah.
      The ‘man of his time’ argument never washes. There were plenty people of the same time and well before who didn’t have those views. You could argue, as you can now with Soames and Johnson, that Churchill was very much a man of his class.

    2. Churchill was a dreadful racist, and people think he admired the working class but that’s not quite true. He admired their wartime “pluck” but thought their peacetime demands for better pay and conditions were tiresome. In 1926 in an attempt to break the General Strike he said troops should fire on the strikers. He was advised that the troops were working class too and would just as likely turn their guns on their officers (fragging) if they gave that order.

      In WWII he asked why people were complaining about rations and demanded a full ration be brought to him so he could judge for himself. He said, “I don’t know what they’re complaining about. That’s not bad for a day’s ration.” His aide said, “That’s not a day’s ration, sir. That’s a week’s.” Which shows they were eating well.

      1. That said, it was his insistence that Britain fights on which saved the world from the Nazis. A lot of upper classes like Lord Halifax and the Mitfords were appeasers who would serve under Germany and rule Britain for them, so we do owe him that.

    3. So it’s ok due to everyone in the U.K. at that time brings racists. so if a man with a big club wearing an animal skin for clothes were to hit a woman over the head take her back to his cave and do whatever he wanted, that’s ok because that was the way of the world ?

      Just like the chap with the club and animal skin, racism should be where it deserves to be. In the Stone Age

    4. Not only did Churchil say, when informed of the great Bengal Famine, “Just let me know when Gandhi is dead”, When General Wavell ended the famine by giving away free food, Churchill raged at him that “I wanted Gandhi to die, you fool!”; he bloody well DID massacre Welsh miners at Tonypandy in 1910, and railway workers at Llanell in 1911, but he exacerbated the Irish Civil War by sending arms to the “Free Staters” to oppose the republicans, and he burned down an entire street in Stepney to intimidate striking dockers, and then made up a cock and bull story about a “nest of Anarchists” in one of the houses (the so-called “Siege of Sydney Street”). AND he needlessly invaded Norway, giving the Nazis the excuse to invade that country too, condemming them to six years of Nazi occupation. Many people have good reason to spit on the floor at the mention of Churchill’s name. And don’t forget Gallipoli and Dieppe either!

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