Much is being made of various perceived snubs to Britain, or its officials, by the new President of the United States, Barack Obama. One of these being the return of a bust of Sir Winston Churchill.
Barack Obama sends bust of Winston Churchill on its way back to Britain
A bronze bust of Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein was given, on loan for a period of four years, by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to President Bush in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President Bush, when he was re-elected for a second term, decided to keep the statue in the Oval Office of the White House. This loan period ran out in January 2009.
The new President, Barack Obama, was asked if he wished to continue the loan. He decided no, preferring to place a statue of his own personal hero, Abraham Lincoln, in the Oval Office instead. The statue of Churchill was then removed and transferred to the residence of the British Ambassador.
All incoming Presidents, like officials in most countries, have their own heroes, personal memorabilia and ideas for decor when they move into an official residence. Barack Obama is no different. Add to this the fact that Obama’s grandfather was detained during Churchill’s suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, it is hardly surprising that the statue was destined to be removed.
Anyone moving into furnished accommodation knows that one person’s idea of a centrepiece is not necessarily everyone’s idea of good taste. No way was I going to keep the strange vase full of plastic sunflowers occupying centre stage in the apartment I moved into!
Would successive British Prime Ministers be happy to gaze every day at a statue of George Washington occupying centre stage at Number Ten? I think not.
If the statue had been a gift, rather than a loan to a specific President, then the situation might have been different. But it wasn’t.
The decision not to extend the loan period of the statue, for whatever reason, was probably always destined to be perceived as a snub by a media obsessed with the microscopic scrutiny of every move made by anyone in the public eye. Even popping out into the garden for two seconds in slippers these days prompts front page coverage and comments about an alarming decline in fashion standards by the wearer.
So was the removal of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval Office a snub? On this occasion, I would say probably not. Other incidents may well have been, justifiably or not, but this one, no.