Churchill College’s working group – which organised an event where it was claimed that the wartime Prime Minister was a “white supremacist” – has been disbanded, it emerged on Thursday night.
The next event as part of a series run by the working group on Churchill, Race and Empire was cancelled following a dispute with the college council over its contents.
The working group was set up last October by the college’s Master Prof Dame Athene Donald in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, which saw Churchill’s statue on Parliament Square defaced.
Announcing the launch of the group, Prof Donald said there would be a year of events aimed at sparking “meaningful discussions” about Churchill’s views on race and empire.
She said the college has an “additional responsibility” to lead these discussions given their name, adding that Churchill should not be “mythologised” as a man who did not have “significant flaws”.
At an event run by the working group in February, Churchill was labelled a white supremacist who led an empire “worse than the Nazis”.
One panellist said the former Prime Minister was immersed in a “white supremacist philosophy” of which he was the “perfect embodiment”.
During the panel, Prof Kehinde Andrews, author of The Psychosis of Whiteness, said Churchill was: “The perfect embodiment of white supremacy”.
He claimed that this supremacist view dominated the politics of the day, and currently dominates in post-Imperial Britain, adding: “The British Empire far worse than the Nazis and lasted far longer. That’s just a fact. But if you state something like that it’s like heresy.”
The event, chaired by college fellow Prof Priyamvada Gopala, criticised in 2020 for claiming on social media that “white lives don’t matter… as white lives”, was accused of being biased for omitting defenders of the wartime leader.
Prof Gopal wrote on Twitter on Thursday night that the working group’s upcoming event about commemoration had not gone ahead.
She wrote on Twitter: “Members of the Working Group (I was) were told that they had dissolved themselves (untrue) & that in any case, they had been constituted for a limited time (also not something they had been told).”
Vindication of Churchill’s reputation
Churchill’s biographer Andrew Roberts said: “It is welcome news that this ill-judged series of events on Churchill – which included, for example, the preposterous claim that ‘the British Empire was far worse than the Nazis’ – has been discontinued.
“Policy Exchange’s recent paper, which Zewditu Gebreyohanes and I co-authored, carefully reviewed this and other poorly evidenced claims made by panellists and found that they fell well below Churchill College’s usually impeccable standards of scholarship.
“This decision vindicates Churchill’s reputation as a revered figure in British history, and protects the academic integrity of the college named in his honour.”
Prof Donald said the working group was always intended to have a "finite lifetime" and added that its event in February received "a great deal of hostile attention".
Kickstart a discussion
She said that the series of events were intended to kickstart a discussion, but "at some point" the working group "seem to have changed direction" and the February event did not align with the initial proposals put to the College, nor did their suggestion for their next event.
She went on to claim that Prof Gopal had "expressed her frustration" that the council had not accepted the working group’s proposals for their next event.
"Consequently, she wrote at that point that the group might as well dissolve themselves and I was told that, at its meeting of 20th May, the group decided that it would not make further recommendations on a third event," Prof Donald said.
"Rightly or wrongly, as Master, I took that statement at face value: that they had in fact disbanded themselves, and that Council would instead need to take the next steps in moving the explorations of Churchill, Empire and Race forward."
She said the College will continue to engage in debate and examine the actions of "important historical figures including Churchill himself, and working on challenging attitudes".