FRIDAY May 8 will be the 75th anniversary of VE Day. The Early May Bank Holiday has been moved in order to celebrate it. Will the government use its home-schooling support package to educate our locked-down children about the significance of the day? Will it, in particular, redress an anti-Churchill bias that now permeates much of education?
If so, it is to be hoped that it makes a better job of the commemoration than it did on the 50th anniversary in 1995. On that occasion a VE Day teaching video was sent to every school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The 34-minute primary school version provided Churchill with only 14 seconds of indistinct coverage towards the end. It was more concerned about punching home the message that ‘it was quite sexist in the war’.
The secondary school video also restricted mention of Churchill to a few seconds at the end, largely in the context of his losing the 1945 general election. Whilst Churchill’s name was not mentioned in the coverage of events to 1945 other leaders were highlighted – Chamberlain, Hitler (16 times), Mussolini, Daladier, Stalin.
Some years later Churchill was voted the greatest Briton of all time.
Subsequently, Mary Seacole, a Jamaican ‘nurse’ of Crimean War fame, was voted the greatest black Briton.
A Victorian, she held strikingly similar views to Churchill on those matters of race and Empire that are nowadays used to demonise him. She described the Turks, for example, as degenerate Arabs and as worse than fleas and she was quite happy to use the n***** word to describe black people.
No one is asking whether Seacole deserves her venerated status. A statue to her was unveiled a few years ago in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Churchill, too, has his statues but they are as likely to be denigrated as respected. Even BBC newsreader Huw Edwards felt free to have a bash, live on air, during the State Opening of parliament:
Winston Churchill there, the statue on the left, and for me, far more important, David Lloyd George on the right-hand side.
I’m not taking any complaints from viewers on that, ok?
Can I just say that?
In comparison with what is going on in classrooms, however, this is small beer. As we approach the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the Sunday Express has highlighted how schools are being encouraged to disparage our wartime leader. Under the headline ‘Winston Churchill “demonised” in schools as “brainwashed” pupils told he’s a war criminal’, it reported: ‘Secondary school pupils are being taught Winston Churchill was a “war criminal” who wanted to start a Third World War.
‘Lesson plans shared by thousands of teachers also suggest he made lame, drunken speeches and was less important to British history than Sir Bob Geldof.’
The model lesson plan has been made available by Tes, an educational version of Pravda (Truth) during its Soviet heyday that, along with the Guardian, is regarded as holy writ by many teachers.
The idea here is for Churchill to be put on trial – hero or villain? Weighing up evidence is, of course, a historian’s stock-in-trade, but not in this way. Through carefully selecting and manipulating it, classroom history is invariably a one-sided ‘show trial’ and never more so than with Churchill.
The education establishment, the ‘Blob’, understands full well that if it can use classroom history lessons to bring down Churchill, the whole edifice of British identity will soon come tumbling down, too. Society can then be rebuilt in the best authoritarian tradition. It is succeeding.
And do not be fooled into thinking that this distortion of history to undermine Churchill is a ‘one-off’ aberration. It is not. It is symptomatic of what has been going on in schools for some years.
A many-times reprinted textbook for secondary schools is Longman’s Minds and Machines, Britain 1750-1900. The authors explain how they put together a package of evidence about people in the past: ‘We have tried to imagine what they would tell us if they were to come back from the dead.’
Pupils are furnished with quotations from imaginary zombies purporting to be historical figures. On this fake evidence historical conclusions are supposed to be drawn on such matters as the British Empire. Amongst the authors of this dangerous tosh were senior government advisers with whom I sat on curriculum committees as a lone voice of dissent.
At a time of frenzied educational iconoclasm, Churchill’s reputation does not stand a chance. The government will be cheerleaders on VE Day but do not be fooled. World War II in general and Churchill in particular, along with all the other landmarks of our national past, are relegated to the status of ‘examples (non-statutory)’ in the latest version of the national curriculum for history.
Boris Johnson is a biographer of our wartime leader. He should commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day by restoring statutory status to teaching about Churchill and, indeed, about the World Wars in general. This would give them the same status awarded to ‘early Islamic civilisation’ or ‘Mayan civilisation’ or Benin (West Africa).
More importantly, Ofsted inspectors should report on whether history is being taught in a balanced and unbiased way. The subject, certainly, should not be used as a vehicle for brainwashing children into seeing Churchill as a potential war criminal.