A memorial to a lie

Happy New Year. I come on to a topic I’ve meant to blog about for ages.

In June 2020 Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol was pulled down, rolled down the street and dumped in the River Avon to huge controversy. Why was the statue there in the first place, though?

The statue was erected in 1895 to falsify history. A plaque on the plinth described him as “one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city”. But he wasn’t. Bristol had been a major slave trading port, and Edward Colston had been at the heart of it.

I attempt to imagine that my skin pigmentation is black. The history I was taught at school was the history of the white-skinned people, omitting the history of the ancestors from whose DNA the hypothetical me’s skin pigmentation comes. Those ancestors, or kin of theirs, were kidnapped, enslaved, sold, classed as subhuman and as property, whipped, raped, exploited, even killed, with impunity under laws created by white-skinned people for profit.

Even Queen Elizabeth the First profited from slavery. How many people know that? I can’t recall a history lesson or popular depiction of Good Queen Bess mentioning that fact.

As this hypothetical me, I go to Bristol and I read that plaque. How can I not be indignant?

Other features of the hypothetical me are probably that:

1. I feel the odd one out in a group.

2. People ask me where I’m from, insinuating that I am an outsider.

3. People are more likely to assume I am a servant.

4. People are more likely to assume I am ill-educated, even unintelligent.

5. I am less likely to get a job interview if my application form has a photograph.

6. Store detectives are more likely to follow me around the supermarket.

7. I am more likely to be insulted in the street.

I can only try to imagine what it is really like to be black. But I’m persuaded that there is something real and troubling and wrong called White Privilege.

The Conservative Right attack the concept. They are stirring resentment by claiming that the concept is discriminatory against white working-class boys, who statistically fall behind educationally. But it’s not. The point is surely this. White working-class boys struggle against poverty, social deprivation and cultural obstacles. Black working-class boys struggle against poverty, social deprivation, cultural obstacles and the pigmentation of their skin.

For this reason, it’s a cop-out, or worse, for a White person to believe it’s enough to say that they, you, I, are colour-blind, in this context. To say that is a comfort for fragile egos, but ignores the unearned advantages, the privilege, inherent in having the skin pigmentation of the group that holds nearly all the cards in British society.

Edward Colston’s statue was there in Bristol why? Critics were loud in their condemnation of its removal as an attempt to erase history. But the statue was a memorial to a lie. To me, it’s a visual symbol of White Privilege.

The legendary Peggy McIntosh, then a Wellesley College women’s studies scholar, coined the term and illustrated it by examining her own life and identifying a list of ways in which the simple characteristic of white skin gave her advantages she hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve. She has since done much work on this and given an illuminating TED Talk, as well.

* Jo Hayes is a party activist, a member of the party's Federal Board and Regional Candidates' Chair for the East of England

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  • Brad Barrows 3rd Jan '22 - 9:55am

    Forgive me disagreeing with much of this article but I tend to see the world through the prism of class rather than through the prism of race. From the perspective, some white people did indeed profit from buying, owning and selling slaves. However, most white people were struggling day to day to earn enough to feed and clothe their families – they did not have the resources to own a slave. So rather than demonising all white people for the terrible things done by the wealthy minority of white people who profited from slavery, why not attack those who are wealthy today due to the unacceptable actions of their ancestors? It is actually racist to condemn an entire racial group for the actions of a minority of members of that group. Let us not go there.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Jan '22 - 11:05am

    “…. there is something real and troubling and wrong called White Privilege.”

    From a traditional Marxist perspective racial and sexual issues are played up by the ruling capitalist class as a way of dividing the working class. I am not sure that this is quite so much the case now. Many modern capitalists are very liberal on social issues such as race and sexual orientation. Markets and supply chains are now global and they don’t want to offend anyone with inappropriate attitudes which will interfere with their profitability. Many women, Gay and Lesbian customers are quite likely to have money to spend so they don’t want to offend them either!

    Therefore many on the left who have campaigned on racial and sexual issues have found themselves pushing on an open door. It’s not completely open but considerable progress has been made. Who would have thought, just a few decades ago, that both the Mayor of London and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a front runner for the next PM, would come from ethnic backgrounds?

    Having said this there is still a tendency from some in society who view the working class as a reactionary force to want to use the issue of race as a divisive tactic. Those on the lower end of the income scale, of all races, have been ignored as the emphasis on the left has moved away from a more straightforward class based analysis to one of other issues concerning social identity.

    This isn’t to say that white privilege doesn’t exist. But it’s all relative. Social class is still the main factor. We can accept Rishi Sunak and Sadiq Kahn because they economically affluent, are well educated and are both of ‘right’ social class. Many who would not dare raise the ethnic identity of Alex Scott ( ex England and Arsenal footballer, and now a presenter on BBC TV) still feel they have a right to sneer at her pronunciation of certain words though!


    This is not to deny the existence of white privilege but there is economic privilege too which does tend to be overlooked in Lib Dem circles.

  • Gwyn Williams 3rd Jan '22 - 11:12am

    @Jo Hayes is right to expose the hypocrisy of white privilege. As a Federal Board member could she perhaps give an insight into the issue of Party donations from the descendants of slave owners who were compensated under the 1837 Slave Compensation Act? Is the money channelled at all levels of the Party into a fund to support candidates from BAME backgrounds? It would be a practical and Liberal measure to counter one of the effects of white privilege.

  • Tristan Ward 3rd Jan '22 - 5:21pm

    @ Brad Burrows

    “Why not attack those who are wealthy today because of the actions of their ancestors?”

    Because they did nothing wrong of course. I have never found the bit in the bible about about the sins of the fathers being visited on the children, even to the fourth generation, especially inspiring or very liberal for that matter.

  • Is this obsession with identifying people of colour as victims and pouring hatred on white people making us a better, happier society?

    It is easy to show that many people in history acted appallingly when judged by modern standards. One of my ancestors fought at Culloden. After the battle, those who were injured were put to death. Some of the survivors were transported to the Tower of London to be executed and the rest were shipped to the Caribbean to be slaves on the plantations. Should I be seeking compensation? Who should I blame?

    It makes no sense to sit in modern judgement or destroy statues of the historical figures. It is better to remember these terrible events in our history and celebrate together that we have moved on. Desmond Tutu was the Champion of reconciliation, not the allocator of blame.

    This fad of White Privilege is dangerous, negative, divisive and racist.

  • David Evans 3rd Jan '22 - 6:26pm

    I always find myself worried when I hear otherwise very thoughtful and considered Lib Dems falling for the easy soundbites of Critical Race Theory and the corrosive (to any hope of racial harmony) of the doctrine it is used to spawn, “White Privilege.”

    Sadly, it is not a doctrine with any likelihood of helping right the wrongs of history, with its emphasis on blame and division so loved by the Authoritarian Left, rather than the vision of hope and unity as given to us by great figures such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu with their doctrines of the Rainbow Nation and Truth and Reconciliation, or Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream”. Ultimately proponents of “White Privilege” seem to have fallen for the one side of the condition Sir Humphrey Appleby so clearly demonstrated with his example of leading questions and conscription.

    You only have to look at some of the questions put forward to realise their particular skew.
    • I feel the odd one out in a group. It rather depends on what groups you join and where you go. Lib Dems who get out in their community often feel they are the odd one out.
    • People ask me where I’m from, insinuating that I am an outsider. Actually most people ask where you’re from because they are interested in you as a person and would like to see if they could find areas of common interest that are slightly more demanding than discussing the weather.
    • People are more likely to assume I am a servant. I have never met a servant in my entire life – shop assistant, waiter, waitress – yes, but servant – Never.

    Privilege and its abuse is one framework among many that Lib Dems need to evaluate in addressing its never ending battle with Conservatism and oppression, but the Extreme Left’s doctrine of “White Privilege” really does run counter to everything we stand for.

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Jan '22 - 7:16pm

    Might it be relevant to point out that “46% of children of black and minority ethnic groups are poor compared to 26% of white children” and that “there were 4.3 million children living in poverty in 2019-20,that is 31% of (its) children”?

  • Fact is that there are about 40,300,000 people who are kept as slaves in the world today. That’s more people than during the entire history of the trans Atlantic slave trade. Personally I think that should take priority.

    It might also interest people to know that, though my family are white, we have ancestors that were kept as slaves here in Europe until 1856. After they were freed they had to stay in the same village and pay taxes to a compensation fund to compensate their former owners.

  • Paul Fisher 3rd Jan '22 - 8:45pm

    Well said Jo.
    As ever, the slightest attempt to state a fairly uncontentious point is critiqued from every finely diced purée pont of view. It would be refreshing for commentators to just say “fair point well made” instead of complicating/ sullying it with flute music.

  • David Evans 4th Jan '22 - 5:48am

    Paul, I am afraid you don’t seem to understand the difference between flute music and well argued points made by caring Lib Dems. The dogma of White privilege is corrosive to Liberal Democracy and people were making that clear in many different ways. Lib Dems debate points constructively, not dismiss them as sullying with flute music.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Jan '22 - 8:07am

    “It makes no sense to sit in modern judgement or destroy statues of the historical figures. It is better to remember these terrible events in our history and celebrate together that we have moved on. ”

    How many people even know about this aspect of our history? History tends to be written by the winners. And the winners were the colonising slave owners so only part of the history – that idolising the colonisers – was told.

    The complete history does need to be told.

    Personally I think it would have been better if the Colston statue had been removed peacefully and placed in a museum (with a plaque showing a full explanation of why it was removed).

    “Desmond Tutu was the Champion of reconciliation, not the allocator of blame.”
    Indeed – but very few people manage to live up to his standards. And unless we all know the complete history of how our ancestors treated some human beings we as a society can’t begin to live up to them.

  • Nonconformistradical 4th Jan '22 - 8:09am

    “Fact is that there are about 40,300,000 people who are kept as slaves in the world today. That’s more people than during the entire history of the trans Atlantic slave trade. Personally I think that should take priority.”

    Since when did two wrongs make a right?

  • Mark Blackburn 4th Jan '22 - 9:53am

    Coming to this a day late as I’m only seeing it in the daily round-up, but what a (mostly, not all) depressing bunch of responses. Jo has absolutely nailed it. Did Jo use the expression Critical Race Theory in her piece? No, she didn’t. She talked about white privilege. There is also gender privilege. There is also class privilege. And others. They all interplay. And I wonder how many ‘privileges’ the naysayers commenting above benefit from?

  • I read with interest the blog. To me it was very welcome. Thank you.
    To me political discussions are about people, not about « isms ».
    I am thinking about someone I was working with as a trade unionist. He was black, and he, and a few other people including myself were in a pub. One of the group asked that we should leave. There were a few people nearby who had starting making racist comments. When confronted they said something like – we were just having a laugh no offense.
    The person who was a target of this said there was no point in moving as this happened everywhere. And as time went on I began to understand how differently he was treated as compared to the treatment I received.
    This is where things like restorative justice need to be used. We need to find ways of treating others as human.
    Perhaps we might look at getting rid of poverty in our country so that the stress could be removed from many families and we could create a more equal and coherent society.

  • Andrew Melmoth 4th Jan '22 - 12:01pm

    – David Evans
    ‘White privilege’ isn’t a doctrine or a dogma it is well-established sociological fact.
    Minority ethnic britons face shocking job discrimination

    It is an inversion of reality to claim attempts to face up to uncomfortable truths and to tackle racial injustice are divisive. It is the injustice itself which is divisive and corrosive of liberal democracy.

  • Jo Hayes, Slavery didn’t start with ‘white privilege’; the ‘rules’ of slavery were not the ‘laws created by white-skinned people for profit’. Slavery was indigenous among the earliest civilisations in the Indus/Euphrates region.. etc., etc.
    The bible is not a history of ‘white pivilege’ and never, as far as I’m aware, criticises slavery and, as for Coulson, he was neither good nor evil; just a man of his time.. Nor, again as far as I’m aware, did the perfect man (Jesus) ever speak out against slavery; he. too, was a man of his time’….
    I’m not ashamed of being white; it is an accident of birth.. However, I will support any action that ensures that all equality acts are implementated in full and those who avoid their responsibilty under the acts, be it race, colour, sex or sexual orientation, are prosecuted..

    BTW..regarding tearing down statues of long dead benefacctors/functionaries is IMO counter productive; as I said before they were a product of the values at the time ( I note that ‘statues/memorials that the new regime in Hong Kong find ’embarrassing reminders’ are being removed.) A far better action would be a plaque on the statue stating that much of the good works of the benefactor were funded by slavery; let history judge if their good work outweighs the bad,,After all, the Salvation Army used to fund their good works from ‘sinners’ in pubs..

  • Tumi Hawkins 4th Jan '22 - 2:48pm

    As a Black African Briton, I want to say thanks to Jo Hayes for this opinion piece. She is spot on. Unlike Jo, I don’t have to imagine those 7 points – it is the world I live in and I have experienced for many years. I have many examples to illustrate those points and for brevity on here, you will find at https://bit.ly/TH-LDV220104

    I am very disappointed and saddened by some of the comments on here, but not surprised. I and many like me have come to expect such deflection. It is all the more disappointing in a community that claims to be liberal.

    We Blacks have a headwind against us that White people don’t see and won’t ever feel, and obstacles they will never have to jump over or hoops to jump through because of their skin colour. That is white privilege. It is why Black people have to work doubly hard just to be taken seriously and triply hard to get on. I will simply ask many on here to listen, ask questions, try and understand where we are coming from.

    We are not seeking to attack or demonise current generation or blame all White people for atrocities of the past. We are simply asking that Britain comes to a real and correct understanding of its past, accept that harm was done, understand that the harm is continuing in current generations. Then as a country move forward by removing the legislative and other structural barriers that continue to hold Black people down of which there are many. What we want is equality of opportunities, and for as long as people pretend, ignore or refuse to understand that those racial barriers really do exist or try and conflate it with other barriers, this society will continue to languish in division and misconception of an equal society when it is anything but. The Party also must take action to correct its own failings on this issue.

    This is a recent article that should give us all food for thought https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/02/more-than-half-of-uks-black-children-live-in-poverty-analysis-shows?

    Black lives must matter in the same way as White lives do. Still unconvinced, I recommend you listen to Jane Elliot the well known anti-racist educationist here https://bit.ly/JaneElliot-anti-racist

    Thank you for reading this!

  • @nonconformistradical
    “Personally I think it would have been better if the Colston statue had been removed peacefully and placed in a museum”

    It was removed peacefully – no-one was injured or attacked while the removal took place, those removing it were unarmed, and the videos show a celebratory atmosphere. And it is now in a museum accompanied by appropriate contextualisation for both its existence and removal. So that all seems in order? (Did you mean to say “legally”? If so, I agree, but the council had years of opportunity to do that if it was going to)

    @David Evans
    Interesting that you pick Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela as examples of palatable great figures in the fight against racism, as I’m pretty sure from the rest of your post that you’d be among the first to criticise a modern-day British King or Mandela bringing their campaigning tactics to London or Bristol … or Birmingham.

    Here’s a representative extract from MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written while imprisoned for taking part in a peaceful protest. The whole text is on the internet and worth reading:

    >> First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” <<

    Meanwhile … Nelson Mandela spent quite a long time in jail as a terrorist whose organisation had bombed numerous apartheid government facilities in acts of sabotage and was prepared to escalate to guerilla warfare, and was inspired by among others Fidel Castro. I don't dispute your claim that he was a great figure … but he seems rather more willing to blow things up than his modern-day UK equivalents who, what, tore down a minor statue?

  • Peter Martin 5th Jan '22 - 6:27pm

    Congratulations to the Colston 4 on their justified acquittal!

  • Sarah Whitebread 6th Jan '22 - 8:43am

    Well said Tumi!

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Jan '22 - 3:04pm

    “Congratulations to the Colston 4 on their justified acquittal!”

    Interesting that while some tory MPs are very critical ……….
    – look who’s defending juries…..
    “Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended juries amid criticism from some Conservative MPs after four people who removed a statue of slave trader Edward Colston were cleared of criminal damage.”

  • Nonconformistradical –
    “It makes no sense to sit in modern judgement or destroy statues of the historical figures. It is better to remember these terrible events in our history and celebrate together that we have moved on. ”

    How many people even know about this aspect of our history? History tends to be written by the winners. And the winners were the colonising slave owners so only part of the history – that idolising the colonisers – was told.

    The complete history does need to be told.

    Just what is “the complete history”? and will we recognise it if we see it?

    Fundamentally, we are fortunate (?) to be living in a time where historians are taking a different perspective on the often unreliable historical documents available to them; resulting in interpretations that don’t support the jingoistic golden age and sun lit uplands that politicians like to invoke and would like schools to teach.

    Adam is right, we need to accept our shared history – it happened, move on, and that means tackling present-day slavery – something we can actually do something about (just as Wilberforce did in his day), and potentially create events that find their way into future history books…

  • Jayne mansfield 6th Jan '22 - 11:16pm

    @ Jo Hayes and those posters who support her view,

    Happy New Year.

    You have improved the start to mine immensely.

  • Nigel Quinton 7th Jan '22 - 9:14am

    Very interesting piece Jo, thank you. And also thanks to Tumi, a very helpful piece.

    My own view is that White Privilege is real, has nothing to do with “extreme left” ideology, and that as Mark Blackburn noted there are other privileges that all interplay. That doesn’t mean those of us so privileged should be punished, but we do need to be aware and to take inspiration from those like Desmond Tutu who can see beyond past wrongs to forge a better future.

  • Peter Martin 7th Jan '22 - 10:00am

    @ Expats,

    “…..regarding tearing down statues of long dead benefacctors/functionaries is IMO counter productive; as I said before they were a product of the values at the time ”

    Would you have applied this argument in post war Germany? Would we still have, albeit with the addition of plaques explaining their historical significance and that they represented the “values at the time”, swastikas on public buildings, statues of Nazi leaders, and streets named after them etc?

  • John Marriott 7th Jan '22 - 10:55am

    I see little difference to taking the law into your own hands on the streets of Bristol or storming the Capitol in Washington DC just over a year ago. Both incidents were wrong as both were breaking the law. The difference would appear to be that those who took Trump’s advice to “fight like hell” appear to be getting their just desserts. The so called “Colston Four”, however, appear to have benefitted from the inability of the prosecution to convince the jury of their case. Whether this would be the verdict of the jury of majority public opinion is another matter.

    It would have made me much happier had those who attacked the Capitol accepted the verdict of the democratic process and those who objected to the presence of the Colston statue in their midst had exhausted the democratic process by seeking to influence, through petitions and election participation etc., those with the power legally to remove the statue to see how far their views were shared by the majority of Bristolians. Perhaps they did; but I personally doubt it. They may well represent a minority as those attacking the seat of US democracy undoubtedly did. That both movements on either side of the pond appear to enjoy such a level of support makes me ask where this kind of anarchy will be taking us.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Jan '22 - 2:45pm

    “Just what is “the complete history”? and will we recognise it if we see it?”

    A fair question. There might be 2 different issues – history which is known about but has been largely ignored by some and history where an event or action has not been recorded in the past but where at some future date good evidence supporting it comes to light.

    We are talking here about the first situation – the issue of powerful British citizens exploiting others through slavery and gaining wealth by so doing. An issue known about but glossed over for too long by some.

    It seems to me that some people are only now taking the issue of British involvement in the slave trade seriously and actions such as those by the ‘Colston four’ are playing an important role in publicising the issue. And still there are those who try to brush the issue under the carpet – e.g. those tory politicians complaining about what may well be a perverse verdict – but the ‘Colston four’ verdict is a just one – a verdict in a just cause in my view.

    “Adam is right, we need to accept our shared history – it happened, move on, ”

    ‘Moving on’ does not mean ignoring the history and saying no more about it.

    Moving on is difficult without publicly acknowledging all the known history. If there is a monument to someone who was involved in the slave trade then at the very least that information needs to be publicly available (e.g. with a plaque) or the monument should come down – and a plaque left at the site explaining why the monument has been taken down.

    “and that means tackling present-day slavery”

    But not without acknowledging fully shameful events in some British citizens’ past.

  • simon harries 7th Jan '22 - 7:13pm

    Some surprising comments here but ones that reflect a problem that has existed on the left for over a century. For me the key to understanding this was reading WEB DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP, and finding that back in the period 1890 to 1930 he was in dialogue with the communist party of America about this very issue: is it all about class or is race truly a factor? The line from left-leaning white people was then, and clearly is now, that class is the key to everything and racial awareness/discrimination is a by-product of class issues. It wasn’t until years spent investigating Jim Crow in the southern states, engaging with African intellectuals and travelling widely that DuBois concluded that no, it really is about race. Skin colour still drives discriminatory behaviour and has to be treated as a problem on its own, while white people, even liberals, need to be educated about the role white privilege (he didn’t use that term) but certainly a false consciousness about race played in society. Sorry to say that people who object to white privilege as a concept are wasting everyone’s time. It exists. It affects people of colour every day and in every way, reducing their options and making class barriers higher and harder to overcome. Depressed to see so many Liberals on the other side of this argument. We need to discuss more, maybe argue with each other more, but do better to become part of the solution to this historic wrong. It’s not about statues, it’s not even about history: it’s about how committed we are to building a fairer society.

  • For those who have trouble understanding white privilege watch this video from John Amaechi https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zrvkbqt. As you can see it’s on BBC Bitesize so it was intended for school children, but it explains it just as clearly for adults!

  • Alex Macfie 8th Jan '22 - 12:22am

    John Marriott: The diference is that the Capitol Hill mob were armed insurrectionists who sought to overthrow the constitution using violence against people, while the Coulston Four were unarmed protestors who merely toppled a statue.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Jan '22 - 7:50am

    @John Marriott
    The name Colston has been a festering sore in Bristol for many years.


    “There have been questions about Colston and his profile in Bristol since the 1920s but they remained largely ignored until 1999 when Prof Madge Dresser, at the University of West England, spoke about Colston and his involvement in the slave trade.”


    “Campaigners have argued for years that his connections with slavery mean his contribution to the city should be reassessed. It was decided in 2018 to change the statue’s plaque to include mention to his slave-trading activities but a final wording was never agreed.”

  • John Marriott 8th Jan '22 - 10:32am

    The debate about statues and whether or not they should be pulled down may well go on for a long time. I would prefer to consider the ramifications of the concept of ‘trial by Jury’. Clearly somebody, possibly as high up as the Home Secretary, decided to try the four young people involved, possibly to set an example, after a further six had already been dealt with by means of ‘restorative justice’. If I were one of those six I reckon I would feel pretty hard done to, as I assume they would then have some sort of criminal record. On the other hand, that may have just been par for the course for them.

    I remember when I served on a Jury around 35 years ago. As the elected ‘Chairman of the Jury’ I had to come up with a decision in a case of alleged GBH upon which we could all agree. What jury service taught me was just what a beauty or possibly talent contest a trial can be between the abilities of the counsels for the Prosecution and the Defence to put their case together. After all, as we were told in no uncertain terms, you had to pass judgement on the evidence presented in court and nothing else.

    In this particular trial, the counsel for the Prosecution, who, incidentally, went on to become a Labour Peer, did a pretty poor job, although a few of us on the Jury had a sneaking feeling that the accused was not quite the innocent that the counsel for the Defence had painted him. However, we could not convince the majority of our fellow jurors of this and so had to ask the Judge if we could deliver a verdict based on a lesser offence. After he was found guilt of this lesser offence, the Judge then proceeded to outline the accused’s ‘previous’. Need I say more?

    I still support the Jury system. The problem clearly for me is the ability of the participants in the legal profession in making an effective case. Clearly, based on the advice I was given all those years ago, it was the Defence that carried the day in Bristol.

  • John Marriott 9th Jan '22 - 12:07pm

    @Alex Macfie
    I am reminded of the quote from the late US Senator, Barry Goldwater; “Extremism in defense(sic) of liberty is no vice”. Well, that didn’t get him very far when he opposed LBJ in the 1964 US Presidential Election, did it?

    While the present state of affairs in Bristol is as much a reflection on the state of democracy in that city’s local government, it could equally be argued that, for most people, acknowledging an individual’s past and acting upon it may not be that high on their list of priorities.

    I return to my original premise. Indulging in an act of vandalism, which the ‘removal’ of the statue clearly was, is in my mind no different from attacking a seat of Democracy. Both are clearly breaking the law. My real worry is that, whereas 1960s America rejected Goldwater and his followers, I am becoming increasingly worried that 2020s America may be warming to their modern equivalents.

    Taking the law into your own hands can never be right, which is clearly what those people in Bristol did in the wake of the George Floyd murder and what those people on Capitol Hill did just over a year ago. Both acts could be argued to be an indictment on our current level of democracy and its ability to satisfy the needs of the majority of our citizens. It would seem to me that, if it can engender this level of protest, it is clearly not working.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Jan '22 - 7:29am

    John Marriott: I completely disagree. The attack on Capitol Hill a year ago was nothing less than an attempted coup. It had been planned as such, and had the support of many in the US Government machine, including the then President himself. The toppling of the Coulston statue doesn’t seem to have been planned in advance — it looks like it was a spur-of-the-moment action by the crowd of protestors who happened to be in the vicinity of the statue at the time. And it certainly wasn’t part of an attempt to overthrow the government, much less a government-backed attempt to keep the government in power in defiance of an election in which it had been voted out. Lawbreaking is not all the same — we don’t (anymore) throw pickpockets in jail for life without parole.

    Incidentally, if I were a juror on the Coulston Four or any similar trial, and the prosecutor had compared the actions of the accused to the Capitol Hill insurrection, then I would have viewed the comparison with deep skepticism and would have been more included to acquit. The insurrection is often invoked completely inappropriately by people with an agenda — for instance there are those (including some who ought to know better) who compare the resistance to Brexit by entirely lawful, constitutional and democratic means with the Capitol Hill insurrection. Making such comparisons downplays the seriousness of last year’s attempted coup on Capitol Hill, and the comparison is therefore a somewhat devalued currency.

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Jan '22 - 11:44pm

    BBC4 is currently re-running a series called ‘Shipwrecks: Britain’s sunken history’. This evening’s (11 Jan) episode had some graphic descriptions of the treatment of slaves by British slave traders.

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Recent Comments

  • James Brough
    Excellent article. As Mary says, it's just a shame that it needed to be written. Somehow, it seems to have become a worse crime to accuse someone of intolerance...
  • Jennie (she/her)
    ... don't even get me started on supermarket shelves being designed around the 5'8" average male body when I am 5' and quarter of an inch... Most humans of w...
  • Jacci stoyle
    I thought this was an excellent article, brilliantly written and extremely interesting. I also read Invisible Women and was shocked at just how much of women's ...
  • Christopher Stafford
    I think it is wrong to assume that defenders of free-speech are secretly concerned with the promotion of one agenda. This is the party of Mill- that man who mad...
  • Jenny Hazell
    I wonder if the author could give some examples of the sort of speech he thinks needs to be shut down. People who say " how revolting they find LGBT+ people (pa...