Churchill’s grandson accuses Churchill College of ‘trashing’ his grandfather’s name in historical talk

The talk was part of a year-long programme of events on ‘Churchill, Race and Empire’ in light of recent debate over Churchill’s legacy

The grandson of Winston Churchill has questioned the continued links between Churchill College, Cambridge and Winston Churchill, following a talk on “The Racial Consequences of Mr Churchill.”

Former MP Sir Nicholas Soames said the event was a “trashing” of the reputation of the former prime minister, alleging that there were “many factually incorrect, deeply offensive and ignorant remarks.”

His comments were sparked by a virtual event held at Churchill College in early February which gathered over 500 attendants. The talk was summarised on the college’s website as “a critical re-assessment of Churchill’s life and legacy in light of his views on empire and race.”

This event was part of a collection of events run by the college entitled the “Churchill, Empire and Race” series and according to Churchill College Master, Professor Dame Athene Donald, aimed to ensure that the college remained a “welcoming, diverse and inclusive community”.

Sir Nicholas Soames described the talk as “idiotically sloppy” and accused the college of “allowing pseudo-academic detractors to smear [Churchill] unchallenged.”

He further claimed the talk overlooked his grandfather’s hand in destroying the Nazis, the “most murderously racist regime in all history”.

“The college benefits enormously from Churchill’s name. If they traduce it, should they be able to have their cake and eat it?”, he said.

Prior to the event, Professor Dame Athene Donald said: “This is not a question of attempting to trash Churchill’s reputation, but of looking beyond the familiar tropes.

“We can recognise him as the man who defeated Hitler and fascism, and admire that leadership, but need to look further and with a scholarly lens at his wider actions and the consequences of those actions around the world.”

One of the event panellists, Professor Priyamvada Gopal, echoed this sentiment in her opening remarks during the series, highlighting that the purpose of the event was less about Winston Churchill as an individual, but more focused on the national narrative that surrounds him.

In light of the academic row that has arisen following the event, Churchill College released a statement outlining the importance of free speech, something that Churchill himself valued.

The college said the event was the second of a year-long programme “to examine this specific aspect of Churchill’s life and legacy”.

“The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 [which] served to highlight enduring racial inequalities”, the college added. “The defacing of Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square sparked an international debate about his views on imperialism and race.

“It also revealed a frustration shared by many, especially from ethnic minorities and former British colonies, that their voices on this issue were not being heard and that a more critical perspective was needed on the subject of Churchill, empire and race.”

In response to these concerns, Professor Dame Athene Donald announced a year-long programme to examine this specific aspect of Churchill’s life and legacy. The programme has so far staged two events, the latest of which on 11th February received considerable publicity because of the membership of the panel and nature of some of the views expressed.

The college added: “It was intended to be challenging and to provide a counterpoint to the many more celebratory events that the college stages, but, by its very nature, it was never going to be easy or definitive.

“The purpose of the series and the role of the college as home to Churchill’s papers is to support an honest reckoning with the past in all its complexity and nuance.”

Feature Image Credit:  Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock and Katie Thacker

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