REALLY, you would think Oliver Dowden would have better things to do right now. The future of both the music and fashion industries – which before coronavirus were each contributing billions to the country’s GDP – are in doubt thanks to Brexit, for a start.

But, no, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in Westminster is not yet ready to sort out those problems (which, of course, his government played a part in creating) because he is too busy playing at being a culture warrior.

Last weekend Dowden announced that he was summoning charity and heritage bodies to a summit next week in order to tell them they had to ”defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down.”

It’s an ongoing theme of Boris Johnson’s government. Robert Jenrick, writing in its house paper the Daily Telegraph last month, attacked “town hall militants and woke worthies” seeking to “impose a single, often negative, narrative which not so much recalls our national story, as seeks to erase part of it”.

What is this? Politicking, pure and simple. A scapegoating exercise and an attempt to conflate the aforementioned national story with conservatism.

It was ever thus, perhaps. But this government is particularly guilty of it.

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Last year Dowden also weighed in on a report from the National Trust into the links between its properties and slavery. Pointing out that Sir Winston Churchill’s home Chartwell was on the National Trust’s list, he fulminated that “Churchill is one of Britain’s greatest heroes . . . It will surprise and disappoint people that the National Trust appears to be making him a subject of criticism and controversy."

In other words, don’t diss our heroes. (Whether that’s what the National Trust was doing is another matter, of course.)

All of this just makes it clear that while Trump may be gone, Trumpism lives on in Westminster. This is, let’s face it, about shutting down historical debate not opening it up. The simple fact is, if you don’t talk about slavery then you can’t talk about 17th and 18th century British history, full stop.

It is also worth remembering that this is a government whose own history is not great when it comes to historical understanding. One of the explicit criticisms in the independent review of the Windrush scandal was the Home Office’s lack of understanding of British colonial history.

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The question that has to be asked here is what does Dowden mean by “our history” anyway? Who is he including in that “our”? More importantly, who is he excluding? And who gets to tell it?

No one is going to dispute that Churchill was a great national hero for his role in the war. But the danger is that anyone who now raises the more complex, contentious parts of Churchill’s story – his role, say, in the General Strike or the famine in Bengal in 1943 – will be dismissed as “woke”. That is a real erasure of history.

It is not the historian’s job to airbrush the past. It’s not down to heritage bodies to protect some national myth that tells us how nice we have always been. Sometimes we weren’t. A proud, self-confident nation could accept that, rather than try to sweep it under the carpet.

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