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How absurd that we had to free Winston Churchill - the man who freed us

A box is no place for a man once named the greatest Briton of all time. Release him back into the community right this minute

The statue of Churchill on Parliament Green has been boarded up for protection 
'The bronze effigy of the wartime prime minister, which has stood on Parliament Green since its unveiling in 1973, is boarded up for Churchill’s own protection' Credit: Aaron Chown/PA 

I hated seeing Winston Churchill in that grey tomb of a box. Or not seeing him rather. As it’s announced that the bronze effigy of the wartime prime minister, which has stood on Parliament Square since its unveiling in 1973, will be released after being boarded up for Churchill’s own protection – we have to ask who exactly was being protected by removing him from public view. 

The present Prime Minister, writing in The Telegraph this week, agreed that it was miserable for his mighty predecessor to be thus shielded, saying “it was utterly absurd that a load of far-Right thugs and bovver boys” had converged on London to protect the statue. “They were violent. They were aggressive towards the police. They were patently racist. There is nothing that can excuse their behaviour.”

I agree. There is no excuse for violent or racist behaviour. 

Surely, though, in the interests of balance, the PM could have acknowledged that it was appalling violence by a minority of anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter protesters the previous weekend, when the police failed to defend either themselves or the statues of Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, which fuelled the anger that inspired the latest protest? It wasn’t just soccer hooligans or white supremacists who were incensed. Much of Middle England looked on in horrified disbelief as the streets of the capital came close to anarchy. Millions of us flinched as a bike was hurled at a police horse. On Saturday, military veterans – of the Falklands War, of Iraq – travelled to London to “protect Winston”, as one charming elderly chap in a blazer put it. He didn’t look like a bovver boy to me, Boris.

The now-toxic statue was based on a famous photograph of Churchill inspecting the debating chamber of the House of Commons after it had been bombed to rubble on the night of May 10 1941. It is the most haunting image. The PM rests on his stick and the future of the free world rests on him. Somehow, democracy must be rescued from the ruins. If the great old man could speak to us now, now that his descendants have put him in a grey box to protect him from a righteous, anti-fascist mob, what do you reckon he would say? “Pah! I saw off the Luftwaffe, and now you surrender to the bloody Left-waffe!” 

British leader Winston Churchill working in his office

The BBC, bending the knee to fashionable opinion, calls Churchill’s statue “controversial”, and it is controversial, but only if you give credence to a small number of shrill protesters who don’t understand the past terribly well. Like the young black female leader of an “independent police advisory group” who appeared on Channel 4 News to debate whether the statue of Winston Churchill should be removed. “Some say he’s a racist, some say he’s a hero,” she averred. “I haven’t personally met him.” 

Such youthful ignorance, as the novelist Lionel Shriver tells me in a terrific interview this week for Planet Normal (a weekly podcast Liam Halligan and I do for those still clinging on to sanity), is beyond a joke. A whole generation has been so badly educated, Shriver observes, they barely know their own history. It’s scary and sad. The statesman whom protesters now call racist did more than any other human being to ensure that their great-grandparents were not extinguished from this Earth. That they lived to enjoy the unthinking privilege of spraying graffiti on his plinth is all thanks to him. 

Black Lives Matter protesters, both black and white, find it hard to grasp that figures from the past who were not 100 per cent signed up to the furious mottos on their placards were capable of good, even great, deeds. If those figures held “problematic” views (that’s pretty much everyone who lived before 1997), they must be purged. But the protesters are young, and to be young is to be passion’s slave. 

For the British Broadcasting Corporation, there is no such excuse. In 2002, Winston Churchill was named the greatest Briton of all time, ahead of Shakespeare, Darwin and Elizabeth I, in the corporation’s own poll. Nothing remotely “controversial” about that. With the viewers, he is hugely and rightly popular, and that includes an older ethnic-minority generation who often revere him. Yet the BBC insists on acting as the broadcasting arm of anti-Churchill, Left-wing sects, never losing an opportunity to feature horrifying stories of race discrimination and hatred. 

The bias is as astonishing as it is harmful. To take one example, on last week’s Planet Normal, I pointed out that after the BLM protest, the BBC news said that 27 police officers had been injured in “largely peaceful protests”. I bet Liam that should pro-Churchill protesters respond, they would be called “far-Right” and “violent”. Sure enough, on Saturday, BBC news reported that six police officers had been injured by “far-Right thugs” in “violent” and “racist” protests. Decades ago, when I arrived in London as a wobbly, naive 22-year-old, I was befriended by a Winston. “As in Churchill?” I said. “As in Silcott…” he cackled gleefully. He was joking – well, a little. 

Winston was a fan of his famous namesake and could quote several of his astonishing speeches by heart, although he was fully aware of the statesman’s dodgy record on race. The deal between us was Winston gave me free rides in his minicab, while I proofread and corrected his essays for college. Many Jamaican boys of his generation were named after the wartime prime minister, he explained, because their parents felt that Mr Churchill had saved them. They owed him. Years later, after Winston got his philosophy degree, I put him in my first novel. A reviewer said Winston, the auto-didact minicab driver, was a charming, lovable black character of a kind only a white writer could invent. I smiled. 

I know what Winston would have said about that reviewer lady. I know what he would have said about hiding Churchill’s statue so that anti-fascist protesters couldn’t tear down fascism’s greatest foe. Boris Johnson, Churchill’s biographer, wrote with stirring eloquence this week that he would “resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better”. Excellently put, Prime Minister. 

If the democratically elected leader of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland couldn’t insist that Winston Churchill is released back into the community, that he who shielded our world so well needs no shielding, then who could?  

Read more: Rather than tear some people down we should build others up

Read Allison Pearson at telegraph.co.uk every Tuesday, from 7pm

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