Why good statues of slaves must replace the bad

Statues, as David Olusoga reminds us, are but a distraction from the real issues of race inequality, we as a nation and as a party must change.

But, but, but… They remain a very visual presence in places where people congregate. As an insular Londoner, I have been well aware of the long and principled campaign to remove the bronze Colson, the man who branded his properties on their chests.

How, then can any Liberal Democrat want to continue celebrating such ogres?

Reasons for removing or pulling down statues of slave traders and owners vary greatly. Some deserve a dunking, like Colson. Others, displayed in places of leaning with full histories attached, as history is should represent the truth, whole and inclusive.

But we as Liberals should be seeking something more positive than this. We must recognise the role slaves played in creating our rich, white man’s economy.

Reparation is long overdue, but will takes decades to agree who should get it and how much. But no less than the estimated £16 billion paid to slave owners by most of us.

However, there is a quick and cheap way of marking the suffering and sacrifices of slaves. Every public memorial to slavers should be replaced with statues of black slaves.

Our capital city must give a lead, by filling the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square by what I would like to see there: a large statue of an Unknown Sale, clad in chains. Every Londoner and every visitor would be reminded both of Britain’s past role In slavery — and of our guilt and contrition.
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These qualities should be replicated in major centres, with local people, sculptors, artists deciding what is most effective for them.

Hopefully, it would remind us all of our enormous debt and what we all owe. Moreover, help ensure that all black citizens are treated equally: in housing, employment, education, the arts, sport and entertainment. Plus, of course, fair treatment by the government, especially the institutionally racist Home Office.

(Jonathan Hunt was for eight years secretary or principal officer of EMLD, and ant-racism campaigner. candidate in several seats. )

* Jonathan Hunt is President of Camberwell & Peckham local party and chair of the Southwark Co-ordinating Committee. He is an elected Life Member of the NUJ, and a former parliamentary candidate.

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5 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 17th Jun '20 - 12:53pm

    Our capital city must give a lead, by filling the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square by what I would like to see there: a large statue of an Unknown Sale [sic], clad in chains.

    Using the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for this purpose would, in my view, just be virtue signalling. If we look at who is commemorated on the other three plinths we have: George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. Napier has some justification for retention (see his Wikipedia entry), while Havelock, who is principally known for his army leadership during the Indian Mutiny, has nothing else to commend him. I would rather see Havelock’s statue removed and replaced. Indeed Ken Livingstone back in 2000 called for both the Generals’ statues to be removed.

  • “How, then can any Liberal Democrat want to continue celebrating such ogres?”

    I think I am missing some context here? Regarding Colson I only saw people advocating that his removal should be via legal means some may think having statues with the context of their actions in this regard should be kept, is that celebration?

    “We must recognise the role slaves played in creating our rich, white man’s economy.”

    That is an odd phrase, it sounds like suggestion that slavery is a positive economic system, it is not (despite attempts the claims by some, particularly in the US south prior to their civil war, to portray it as such). As a system it skews wealth in the short term to a minority but in the long term is negative for the whole.

    Slaves played a significant role in our history, and suffered horribly. Their contributions should be recognised.

    However, we should not make the mistake of suggesting slavery has a positive impact on the economy in the long term, most importantly as we live in a world where slavery still exists and certain countries are increasingly unconcerned this behaviour being known. All the moral arguments are against this barbaric practice, we should be clear that all other arguments are against it too.

  • Brian Evans 18th Jun '20 - 8:41am

    However bad the man was – and I recognise that the effect of his life on the city of Bristol is very mixed – we can at least get his name right. I wrote briefly about the matter in my blog https://fourwheelsanywhere.blogspot.com/2020/06/roll-out-statue.html the other week, and research for that told me that the man was Edward Colston.

  • Jonthan HUNT 18th Jun '20 - 7:26pm

    Thanks guys for your comments. Don’t think we will get any more, but it indicates general agreement. Or I think so. Apologies for literals. They may have used a draft that ‘escaped’. Or not.
    Laurence: Did consider using Haverstock’s plinth or both his and Napier’s. But given the outcry at Ken’s suggestion, took the easy option.
    Brian: Afraid I copied Colston name from somewhere else.
    FS People: Low costs create higher profits. If labour costs only their inadequate keep, profits get even higher. Nothing wrong with high profits as such; depends on how they were made, and distributed. That’s the contribution blacks slaves made to our economy during two centuries and we still benefit from today.
    We are all appalled at their treatment and at long last believe we owe their descendants for how we treated their ancestors and continue to treat them badly today.
    Jonathan

  • Jonathan,

    A few errors you have made there, firstly you assume slaves are actually lower cost. That is not a given, cost you don’t consider in compelled work, sabotage, costs of enforcing the regime (which are actually very high), loss of innovation you naturally get from employed workers, etc. these are all additional costs that are hard to predict and dramatically reduce how much you save. That is at the micro level.

    At an economy wide level restricting the freedom and choice of a portion of your workforce skews the development of the economy, it you were to accept a Labour theory of value you could potentially claim there would be some kind of gain but for anyone who thinks free trade is a good idea would see this as fundamentally flawed assessment.

    A way to look at the macro is think about monopolies, if the costs are actually significantly lower as you assume then all you have done is skew the economy, differently but not as much as you may think, like a monopoly. We don’t see creating a monopoly just so you can have one very rich firm over several less profitable firms as a good economic approach. Neither is placing weird restrictions in the market for labour and the economic choices that those individuals would have made if they were free.

    The slaves were owed as they were made to suffer, the world is not a net zero sum situation. The fact that slaves suffered so terribly does not mean that there is an equivalent gain elsewhere (though there are specific gains to individuals, but the total impact is negative). The issue is concentrated benefit and distributed cost (e.g. certain enforcement costs were not borne by the slave owners). With very few exceptions slavery is a negative economic system, we were just to stupid to know at the time and the moral argument for abolition is more important (though to this day has not proved sufficient through out the world).

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