In Brief

Churchill bust ‘not on display’ in ‘woke’ Joe Biden’s Oval Office

Statue of British wartime leader was previously removed by Barack Obama but reinstated by Donald Trump

Joe Biden has kicked off his presidency by ditching a bust of Winston Churchill as part of an Oval Office makeover that fans claim cements the new US leader’s “woke” status.

The Jacob Epstein bust of Churchill was on display throughout the reign of Donald Trump, who reinstated the effigy of the British wartime leader after Barack Obama replaced it with one of Martin Luther King Jr.

But the Churchill bust - initially given by Tony Blair to President George W. Bush - was nowhere in sight this week when news outlets including The Washington Post were invited to take a first look at the newly redecorated Oval Office.

“Instead, Mr Biden has chosen busts of iconic civil rights leaders, founding fathers and former presidents,” ITV News reports.

The defacement of a statue of Churchill in London's Parliament Square during a Black Lives Matter protest last summer shone a fresh spotlight on the legacy of Churchill, who critics have claimed was a “racist warmonger”.

And now the removal of his effigy from the Oval Office has fuelled debate over whether Biden is “woke” - a term used to describe the new president by UK shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy in an interview published in The Guardian yesterday.

“Joe Biden - he’s a woke guy, he appointed an amazingly strong woman of colour who is also pro-choice as his running mate, he mentioned the trans community in his victory speech, he stood up for the Black Lives Matter protesters, he spoke out about the policing of that movement, and he’s never shied away from standing up for his values,” the Labour MP said.

Boris Johnson was asked later on Sky News whether he agreed with that assessment. The surprised-looking prime minister replied: “I can't comment on that.”

Having collected himself, Johnson added: “There’s nothing wrong with being woke, but what I can tell you is that I think it’s very, very important for everybody to... I certainly put myself in the category of people who believe that it’s important to stick up for your history, your traditions and your values, the things you believe in.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines woke as “originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice”. The term is most frequently traced to an essay by African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley that was published in The New York Times in 1962.

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