Oliver Dowden says ‘all aspects of our history’ are being challenged
The culture secretary has accused charities of pandering to a “noisy woke brigade” amid a row about the legacy of wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill.
Oliver Dowden‘s comments came after the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust’s announced it was changing its name to The Churchill Fellowship and removing images of the former prime minister from its website.
Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of the wartime leader, has also criticised the decision, saying the charity sought to “airbrush” the achievements of Churchill.
The charity, which awards grants for social and community causes, denied it was seeking to disown the achievements of the wartime leader but said many of his views on race were “widely seen as unacceptable today, a view that we share”.
But Mr Dowden defended Sir Winston’s legacy, arguing he protected freedom of expression through Britain’s defeat of the Nazis.
He told LBC radio: “I read their explanation and they say there are various reasons for this but the bottom line is, you look at the website before and after, and there is a lot less Churchill on it after than there was before.
“I do really worry, and you see this in relation to many charities, that they pander to a noisy woke brigade who are trying to challenge all aspects of our history.
“They would not have the freedom – no-one would have the freedom – to make these kinds of decisions were it not for Churchill in the first place.
“I do really worry when we start to question the sort of values that have made this such a wonderful country.”
Churchill’s legacy has come under scrutiny over the past year and a statue outside Parliament was targeted by Black Lives Matter protesters and daubed with the word “racist”.
While he has been celebrated for his war efforts, he has also been accused of being racist due to his support for the British Empire and his attitude towards people from India and other races.
The charity bearing his name was set up in the final years of his life with his approval and awarded more than 5,800 fellowships in the years following his death in 1965.
Last month it said its name was being “simplified” as it was “confusing” and “did not explain what we do”.
The charity also removed a lengthy tribute and biography of Churchill, along with pictures of him, from its website. It last year issued a statement on racism noting that “aspects” of his life were today controversial.
This week, it said the decision to change its name – originally taken in 2019 – was not an attempt at ”disowning“ Churchill.
“The key element we kept was the name ‘Churchill’. You cannot look at our new logo and avoid the importance we attach to that name,” it said.
“Today there is international admiration for Sir Winston’s wartime leadership in saving Britain and the world from Nazism. There is also controversy about his views on race.
“None of this takes away from Sir Winston’s enormous contribution to the world as we know it today.”
The culure secretary’s response follows several attempts to counter what he claims is a “woke” bias prevailing in different aspects of UK life.
Earlier this year he told The Times: “Heritage institutions should be free from government meddling but the people who run them need the courage to stand up against the political fads and noisy movements of the moment.”