So, the controversial statue of the merchant Edward Colston has been tugged down and thrown into Bristol Harbour. There had long been moves to have it either removed to be museum-bound or have a plaque added to its base to reflect his slave-trading past. Both options seemed fair – if there had been enough support for one or the other.
There had been hitches with the plaque because nobody could agree on the wording. The project had after all been left within the gift of Bristol City Council, so it was destined to float on forever even if the old bronze bandit himself did not.
A petition to remove it altogether had garnered 11,000 signatures, yet from a population of 463,400, that didn’t feel like the weight of public opinion. It might even tell you something of the lack of substance to the arguments that had been put forward – or their relevance – that more people could not have been convinced put scrawl their John Hancock in support.
So, a mob did the deed. Now, I wonder whether the police, who opted for retrospective action rather than confrontation, will now be seeking restorative justice? That would mean recovering, patching up old Edward, and returning him to his plinth.
But I doubt it, even though that is what would happen in any other case of criminal damage.
Pulling it down – and jumping on it (*facepalms*) – did rather feel like they were flogging a dead horse. The guy’s long gone, and the statue had never been alive in the first instance. Still, nothing like a spot of symbolic rage if addressing actual problems seems a tad too stretching. History is a narrative and the more you discover or learn, the more scope you have to rewrite it. But not to erase it. You understand it, evaluate it, and use those processes to inform constructive action.
None of that happened here.
Imagine, if you walked around Bristol and torched a VW car for symbolising Hitler’s People’s Car Project. Well, expect to be laughed out of the custody suite by some sage Sarge, even if you could magic up 11,000 signatures in your support. I would certainly rate Hitler higher than Colston on the bastardometer, but that is hardly the point. It’s nailed-on, pre-meditated criminal damage, pure and simple. And it’s unlawful for a reason, which even the most brain-dead crusty would get his matted, dreadlocked head around.
We seem to have lost our clarity of thought and, along with our disregard for facts, it’s scuppering us. We’ve just spent the best part of 3 months in lockdown having surrendered some fundamental rights, and we’ve seen people deemed to have broken the rules accused of ‘killing others’. Yet mass demonstrations were this week not just allowed but condoned by leading politicians and commentators who advised demonstrators to wear facemasks and practice social distancing on the demos. In doing so, they conveniently side-stepped the obvious fact that this would be impossible, not to mention the gatherings unlawful.
It’s not too much of a stretch to pin the tail on the donkey with all these double standards, is it?
If black lives matter, it’s probably not a sensible idea for thousands of them to be packed in close proximity to each other during a major virus crisis, and even dafter when current evidence is suggesting that many of them they might be in higher-risk groups.
Of course, nobody wanted to drop any woke brownie points by telling the would-be protesters to stay at home. That’s not how suck-up politics work.
This is not to doubt the criticality of addressing racism. But if there were any justification for the lockdown, there could have been no justification for breaking the rules as they had been with the timing of the demonstration. Of course, they might argue that with the killing of George Floyd the moment was now, and it had to happen. Well, if that was the case then it makes their failure to connect with the UK public even more lamentable because we can hardly say that this has all amounted to progress.
In the spotlight of the national media, with a platform on a plate to deliver some cogent messages about inequality, those clutching the opportunity just decided to trash the joint. Talk about blowing it. Even Dominic Cummings would have been grimacing this morning.
But many who accused Mr Goings of ‘killing people’ for his trip to Barnard Castle went on to praise the fact that these demonstrations took place in the middle of a public health crisis. And indeed, many who have celebrated the toppling of Colston have declared the desecration of the Churchill statue as abhorrent. More dimwits who have great platforms that they could be using to bolster a worthy cause are lacerating their own credibility with contradiction in a tragically vain attempt to scramble onto the woke bandwagon and at the same time safeguard their social righteousness. The ‘Churchill outraged’ who support the Colston removal are by far my favourite. They just don’t know which way to way to feign.
They’ve ignored the facts that it’s all criminal damage and that both historical figures had chequered pasts. Punish the criminals, weigh it all up, and take a decision on the monuments. Can it really be that challenging to be factual and balanced?
Well, maybe it can. We went into lockdown on a whim (or ‘science as it is now termed), and we’re now leaving it sharpish on the same footing. People latched onto the coronavirus without thinking it through with consistent facts. Others did likewise with BLM and as a result, the momentum for constructive progress on both counts has bitten the dust.
Sadly, the whole business will set the equality movement in Bristol – and indeed the whole UK – back several steps, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Tens of thousands who never gave a toss about a bronze figure will now close their ears to the debate. Well, they had closed it already for the last 60 years, but now they’re gone forever. Add to that, even more around the country who saw the criminality and the lockdown breaches will now switch off, whereas the whole point of the movement should have been to gain support and get people switched on.
All because people cannot get it together to make out their case clearly and coherently. I mean, it’s a winning argument, but they’re still failing woefully.
Though there has been one success. The protesters have given the Government a convenient loophole for their disastrous coronapolicy, and Boris will be driving his big, red, Brexit-branded bus right through it. When we see a second spike in infections, the BLM protests will be dug up as the reason.
That will set the equality movement back and push the political Right forward. Which you might think pushes the equality movement back even further. Throw in a period of economic depression, and it doesn’t look great for those who are already marginalised.
But hey, at least a statue has gone from a plinth.
An excellent post as always, Max. As a mixed-race woman who’s a total history nerd – whether it’s good or bad, I simpy cannot understand this new obssession with trying to erase things that happened several centuries ago. Where do we draw the line? In 100 years time will be looking back at current politicians and celebrities and deleting them from all online existence (assuming internet will still exist in the future) because they once said hurty words on Twitter? Colston should be removed from the river and displayed in an appropriate museum where future generations can learn about his life, the slave trade and how he benefitted from it – he is still a crucial figure in Bristol history and trying to erase all traces of him is a dangerous path to tread.
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Thank you for your comments here, Natalie.
Yes, I agree that we need more education on the past, perhaps within Bristol museum, as has been done in Liverpool.
And I believe he has now been fished out already with this in mind…
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I have no love for Edward Colston, but I’m now seeing calls to remove all British historical figures – from Charles II, to Richard the Lionheart, Brunel, Queen Victoria, Ghandi et al and this breaks my heart. Why? Because my 14 year old daughter is passionate about history and it’s her dream to be a historian, especially focusing on the Georgian era. She was in tears this evening after getting trolled nastily on twitter because she defended Horatio Nelson. She deleted her account. She’s now disillusioned and feels she can’t enjoy her favourite subject any more. Apparently a naval historian on twitter has received death threats from activists too. Is this the future we want for our children? A world where the past is censored and any reasonable discussion is immediately silenced? Old TV programmes are now being banned. What next to be banned? Period dramas? Re-enactment groups? Historical Cosplay? Last Night of the Proms?
And just for the record, I’m black.
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Hello Andy, yes erasure of the past helps nobody. It’s particularly grim when those who are keen to understand the past are deflected from this because they will be the ones best placed to help guide the future.
I hope your daughter gets back on track to pursue her dreams because, the way things are going, we will need good historians to play a more prominent role…
Many thanks, Oduwale 🙏
I’m 17, disabled, have struggled with my mental health and i’m very interested in UK history. If statues of Nelson and George III come down I’ll be furious. Why? Because Nelson suffered from the loss of an arm and sight in one eye, yet went on to lead a fleet and win a war. George suffered terribly with his mental health and endured cruel treatments. This may sound odd, but I can relate to these men. George is stereotyped in pop culture as a tyrannical mad king – even the Hamilton musical reinforces this stereotype. Is it ok to laugh at a person who suffered with MH simply because he lived 200 years ago? Some might think it’s in poor taste, others might say you’re just being a snowflake. I think these figures are highly relevant to today’s generation, especially as MH and disability is getting more attention and becoming more mainstream.
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Hi Carole – yes, all valid points. Again, we need to understand more about historical figures in order to shape the present and the future…