It's Churchill or bust: now Britain's culture warriors are looking to Washington

Figcaption Its Churchill Or Bust Now Britains Culture Warriors Are Looking To Washington
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

G ird your loins, foot soldiers – or maybe don’t, for these are confusing times in the Conservative culture wars. On the one hand the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, has chosen this moment to confect some new row about statues. On the other, Boris Johnson is suddenly incredibly relaxed over whether there is or isn’t a bust of Winston Churchill within a 10-yard radius of Joe Biden’s desk.

Incidentally, has a single American reporter based in London ever wondered whether there is or isn’t a bust of FDR or Eisenhower or Mickey Mouse in Downing Street? Don’t be ridiculous. Only complete irrelevances could concern themselves with such irrelevances, which is why the precise coordinates of the Churchill bust are such a perennially hot topic in UK Westminster discourse, where ways to announce your own smallness are apparently cheaper by the dozen.

It is fussed over by the sort of reporters who would have covered the Yalta conference by wanking on loftily about the secret significance of the coats worn by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, and completely missing the fact that Poland was getting screwed. That said, I was intrigued to learn from the Daily Telegraph this week that “Biden’s great, great, great grandfather, Edward Blewitt, left Ballina, Co Mayo, Ireland for America during the Irish Famine 170 years ago, which could mean he is well-disposed towards Great Britain”. Food for thought, there. But we’ll come to the sort of British chaps who yearn to interior-design the Oval Office shortly.

Suffice to say that the slightest irreverence shown to bronze objets these days really is the twat signal, instantly summoning the likes of Nigel Farage, Laurence Fox, and – once upon a time – Boris Johnson. Politicians and guys who want to be politicians REALLY like statues and busts, presumably because they’re the only subspecies of art form that doesn’t openly regard people like them as flawed or comic or lamely villainous. Statues and busts are the opposite of comedy or drama or cartoons. They should consequently be preserved as the only medium that puts the politician where he or she – mainly he, let’s face it – belongs: literally on a pedestal.

But first to Robert Jenrick, who resembles nothing so much as a lifesize cardboard cutout of Robert Jenrick – the sort of smiling, speech-bubbled suit you might expect to act as a greeter in your local Barclays since they’ve laid off half their three-dimensional staff. So in a sense, I suppose we have to look grateful when Robert says ANYTHING other than: “Did you know you can do almost everything you can do in-branch on our mobile app?”

Even so, there was something of the snowflake to his column in the Sunday Telegraph in which he pledged to fight the “mindless” “woke” “baying mobs” threatening to destroy our heritage. Do stop wetting your pants, secretary of state. By way of a reminder, the past year has seen the toppling of precisely ONE statue in this country, itself long the subject of local contention, and four people will appear at Bristol magistrates court on Monday charged with criminal damage. Try cooling your boots, Robert, before you end up screaming “Why do you hate Britain?” at even the pigeons who befoul our statuary.

Alas, boot-cooling isn’t the game plan Robert has gone with, instead announcing a whole lot of new regulations and directions and notification requirements to apply to statuary and plaques and so on. Amazing – MORE red tape. Tell you what, find someone who looks at you the way this government looks at red tape. They’re mad for it. The sort of Conservatives who might once have tied themselves up in noble things, like jump leads or their secretary’s 15 deniers, now fetishise red tape beyond all else. They’ve lashed up our exporters and trussed up our importers in it, and nobody seems to know the safe word.

Furthermore, the current Conservative benches seem to have a bizarre relationship with history, with their leading lights writing truly terrible books about it. Johnson’s Churchill biography is riddled with errors and sheds fascinating light only on the character of Boris Johnson, while Jacob Rees-Mogg’s book on the Victorians was ignorant to the point of exhibitionism. Even Rees-Mogg himself is revered as “authentic” when in fact he is a Disneyfied take on something he isn’t, an appallingly Auto-Tuned X Factor cover version of Charles Ryder who’s spent 35 years trying to convince people he’s Sebastian Flyte – poorly. Hard to think of a more talentless Mr Ripley. Perhaps Nigel Farage, who was naturally straight out of the traps this week to lament the “slap in the face” apparently evidenced by the moving of the Churchill bust. (One of the rolling poignancies of Nigel’s life is his complete failure to get that Churchill would have thought him the most dreadful little man. The penny didn’t even drop when Farage was making alliances with far-right German parties.)

All that said, the great thing about stoking the culture wars is that it’s cheap. Or rather, cheap for now – obviously you pay through the nose, and indeed every other orifice, later. But in these straitened times, you’re not going to get the knockback from the Treasury for an actual costed policy, making it safe to assume we shall be seeing much, much more of this bad-faith posturing from the government in the months ahead.

Speaking of debts being collected upon, do pity Boris Johnson, who seemed to lose the power of all words when asked by Sky’s Sam Coates this week if Joe Biden was “woke”. Did you see this clip? I haven’t seen a political follow-through like it since 2002, when Tony Blair was asked by a Labour MP trying to be helpful for “a brief characterisation of the political philosophy which he espouses and which underlies his policies”. There hasn’t been a gibbering, horror-stricken prime ministerial reply like it – that is, until Johnson’s effort this week.

The latter was followed by Johnson’s spokesman tying himself in knots as to why Johnson the prime minister didn’t mind about the location of the Churchill bust now, when – just four years ago – Johnson the newspaper columnist had given both barrels to “part Kenyan” Barack Obama for moving it. During this latest transition, Biden’s team let it be known how unfavourably that remark still resonated.

Well, what we do in life echoes in eternity (Rusty Crowe, Gladiator). Just as the domestic front of Johnson’s premiership will see him reaping the consequences of a load of stupid crap he wrote about the EU 30 years ago, so its international front will see him trying to manage the consequences of a load of stupid crap he wrote about Barack Obama four years ago. Johnson really does provide an end-to-end service, and it’s great to see young pretenders like Jenrick getting in on the act. Strange that the ancient Greek political philosophers never suggested columnarchy – government by newspaper column. But, like the whole of the rest of history, let’s not question it.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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