If tearing down the Colston statue is OK, then anything is OK as long as you can justify it to yourself

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None of us was born yesterday! We all know the wheels of history don’t turn with gentle persuasion alone, sometimes it takes people to step beyond what’s permitted by the law before things really change. And yet there was something frightening about Sunday’s protests in Bristol that culminated in the tearing down the statue of Edward Colston.

Some Conservative MPs have described it as mob rule. In a way it was: a group of demonstrators got it into their heads that this was legitimate, and egged on by mutual encouragement, they toppled a public artefact and dumped it in the river. The police decided discretion was the better part of valour and let it go for pragmatic reasons. As it was ‘only’ a statue, perhaps it’s a bit prissy to say it’s lawbreaking (even though it was), and it was a crime against an inanimate object rather than a person, so it pales compared with violence against a person. But I suspect many liberals will feel queasy about it.

If we fight for something, the prize must always be worth winning. We are quite right to stand up for everyone’s life to matter, not just black people’s. But if we do so in a way that threatens to break society, are we not engaging in a form of killing the goose that lays the golden egg? Or at least sawing off the branch we’re sitting on?

The problem with Sunday’s vigilante action is that, if that’s OK, then anything is OK as long as you can justify it to yourself. We know that climate change is a massive issue, but does that mean we have the right to tear down petrol stations? We know that paedophilia is wrong and needs to be rooted out, but remember what happened when a tabloid called for its readers to publicly out paedophiles? – it ended up with respected paediatricians being demonised because some people couldn’t spell.

There’s also the issue of historical perspective. Those of us involved in politics need to decide what we feel most needs changing, and build consensus to change it. That may mean compromising on things that aren’t top of our priority list. If we’re too militant against, say, car driving in our fight against climate change, we will lose a lot of reasonable people who can help us win important battles. Yet 50 years from now, our tolerance of greenhouse-gas-emitting mobility could be levelled against us, just as if we’d profited from slavery or opposed votes for women.

That’s why we have to be so careful not to apply today’s morality to people like Cecil Rhodes, Edward Colston and others. It doesn’t mean we approve of slavery or imperialism – far from it. But we mustn’t forget the climate in which such people operated, and what was considered acceptable practice at the time. We need to learn from those times, not condemn people from our armchair of history – and pretend our generation isn’t guilty of crimes that will be held against us by our descendants.

To me, the liberal approach to last Sunday’s events in Bristol would be to find the perpetrators, bring them to justice, and give them lenient sentences. And to fish the statue out of the Avon, and put it in a museum with enough plaques to start a million discussions. Then one can set about finding a replacement for Colston’s plinth who is beyond all reproach.

* Chris Bowers, a former director of the Environmental Transport Association and communications consultant to the European NGO umbrella Transport & Environment, oversaw the development and writing of the transport chapter of the 2019 review of the Liberal Democrats’ climate change policy. He is standing as a target seat candidate in the East Sussex County Council elections.

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63 Comments

  • Paul Barker 9th Jun '20 - 11:40am

    According to the latest Polling (see Political Betting) most UK Voters (including Libdems) think that the Statue should have been removed but that this was the wrong way to do it.
    The problem with that seemingly reasonable position is that Local People have been campaigning about this Statue for Years & The Council couldnt even agree to put up a Plaque mentioning the Slavery connection. The principle opposition to that idea seems to have come from Charities founded by the man the Statue glorifies.

    We should praise both the Police & The Demonstrators for making sure no-one got hurt during the Action. The Statue is largely unharmed as far as I could see from the coverage; hopefully it can now be fished out of the harbour & put on display in The Local Museum of Slavery.

  • Cllr Huw James 9th Jun '20 - 11:47am

    Non-violent civil disobedience has always played an important role in bringing about liberal change where systems in place have sought about blocking it. Reform to preserve only works when you do actually reform.

    Whether it’s the the protestors at Peterloo and Chartists – breaching the riot act, Paul Stephenson – refusing to leave the pub until he was served, the kinder scout tresspassers, or Nick Clegg – telling everyone to rip up their ID cards as an act of civil disobedience to protest ID cards.

    Decades of petitions, of meetings, of democratic will towards tearing down the name of Edward Colston have been stalled and disrupted by the power of wealth behind Colston’s Legacy.

    All power to Black Lives Matter, racism can get in the sea. Liberal Democrats ought to be leading Liberation and fight Inequalities within their communities.

    Where we fail to do so – liberalism has failed the communities we wish to represent.

  • Maria Pretzler 9th Jun '20 - 11:51am

    I think this article misses the point quite, erm, monumentally.

    This post actually demonstrates why democratic processes have failed in this matter: it’s because the selection of those who are in political positions to change things aren’t selected fairly to represent all voices equally. And this post just illustrates this quite well, and not in a way that does our party credit.

    The question is how far consensus-building can work if some people are seriously hurt by an aspect of our country’s memorials which the privileged majority can’t be bothered to think about. The rights of those who are injured by these monument is not equal to the feelings of those who can just happily ignore such monuments much of the time and who only remember them when somebody points out how problematic they are. It hurts to have to readjust your view of your own history, but it’s necessary. Let’s not be the voice of head-in-the-sand complacency on this.

    Do you need a majority to decide that hurting part of our society is not OK? One would hope that people would be able to see that honouring mass-murderers like this slave trader is not a good idea. But if they won’t? If they come up with the ever same mealy-mouthed excuses, which are so well demonstrated in this article?

    This isn’t about ‘judging people by modern standards’. This is about deciding whether we find it worth celebrating people in our streets today. We are judging our current memorial landscape, the space within we live, by modern standards. And I think this is not just OK, it’s important. Why would you want to live with the statue of a mass murderer looking down on you every day? How did people find it OK for so long?

    Tearing down statues has a long, honourable tradition – going all the way back to ancient times. I think it was high time that we started to honour it in this case.

    I am hardly ever responding to posts here at LDV, but I just find it quite staggering that a party blog is willing to post a post which is so insensitive and so devoid of understanding of these issues. Our Party has to be a lot better than this.

  • “perhaps it’s a bit prissy to say it’s lawbreaking (even though it was), and it was a crime against an inanimate object rather than a person,”

    I don’t understand this, many crimes are against inanimate objects not people. This does not make them legal. Infact, we treat crimes as a crim against society rather than the individual in all circumstances it is the nature of having the rule of law and a feature of dignity cultures rather than honour cultures.

    You will also notice that one statue in parliament square didn’t get much attention but should the thinking of the mobs who want to tear things down leave it untouched:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-34265882

  • Peter Martin 9th Jun '20 - 12:14pm

    “But I suspect many liberals will feel queasy about it.”

    I’m liberal with a small ‘l’ but I don’t feel at all queasy. I feel slightly guilty that I’d never heard of the said Colston but I had heard of the controversy about Rhodes. The Colston issue should have been thoroughly discussed more at National level too. I expect it will now. If it takes some direct action then fair enough.

    I did find this report, from 2018, in the Daily Mail which suggested that Bristol council was going to add a second plaque to explain Colston’s involvement in the slave trade. But somehow they don’t seem to have got around to it. It’s getting on for two years now. How much time do they need?

    This may have been enough to have saved the statue. But I’d be happy to consider that the dumping of it it the river is also a significant part of Bristol’s history. What happened in the last few days will seem just as significant as what happened hundreds of years ago given enough time.

    Whoever was responsible, then good on them! The authorities will probably not be so stupid as to throw them in jail. They are in the wrong and they know it.

    PS I notice Colston was a Tory who didn’t want anyone who disagreed with him to benefit from his ill gotten gains. That’s another reason to leave his statue where it is!

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5981697/Slave-trader-Edward-Colstons-statue-second-plaque-linking-20-000-deaths.html

  • Barry Lofty 9th Jun '20 - 12:31pm

    I am just surprised it has taken so long for the country to recognise the atrocities these slave traders committed and how they achieved such astronomical wealth. Statues and the like celebrating the lives of these criminals should have been replaced long ago, naturally they would become the focus of attention during the present protests.

  • @ Chris Bowers In terms of justifying things to yourself…….. In 1680 Colston joined the Royal African Company (RAC) company that had a monopoly on the west African slave trade. It was formally headed by the brother of King Charles II, later James II. The company branded the slaves – including women and children – with its RAC initials on their chests.

    It is believed to have sold about 100,000 west African people in the Caribbean and the Americas between 1672 and 1689 and it was through this company that Colston made the bulk of his fortune, using profits to move into money lending (the Wonga of its day). Does someone partly responsible for the mutilation with a hot iron of over 100,000 people deserve a statue, Mr Bowers ?

    And while we’re at it, isn’t it time to remove the plaque in Leith to Sir John Gladstone (inscribed as paid for by the then Leith Liberal Club) ?

  • Tony Greaves 9th Jun '20 - 12:38pm

    Sorry, but this post with its legalistic and moralistic quibbling really does not match the moment. There are times when there is a sense of revolution in the air and actions take place which not only catch the moment but go down to be remembered in history. I guess this is one of them. And no, Colston cannot be justified by the fact that the world was different 300 years ago. He was an evil man by the standards of any times – Greek, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, 18th century, or now. And in any place and any society. It is time that the full story of Britain’s (mostly England’s) imperial and mercantilist past was told in schools. Not just the story of William Wilberforce and the goodies but the stories of people like Edward Colston. Forcibly transporting up to 100,000 men, women and children (around a quarter of whom never made it across the Atlantic and just got chucked overboard) is not to be justified by the culture of the era. We learned about it at school (though it was then called the Triangle Trade and given a white supremacist and British imperial gloss, to put it mildly). Now it’s time to tell and understand the truth. (And yes, if I had happened to be walking down Colston Avenue a couple of days ago I would have willingly joined in.)

  • Tony Greaves 9th Jun '20 - 12:39pm

    Or even the 17th century…

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '20 - 1:00pm

    Ignoring the other stuff for a mo, which is more contentious, but whatever I think about what went on in my city this weekend, I have to bite at this:

    “That’s why we have to be so careful not to apply today’s morality to people like Cecil Rhodes, Edward Colston and others. It doesn’t mean we approve of slavery or imperialism – far from it. But we mustn’t forget the climate in which such people operated, and what was considered acceptable practice at the time.”

    I cannot believe that a senior Lib Dem would write this.

    If you know anything about Cecil Rhodes or Liberal History, you know his politics were controversial at the time, and were opposed by many (including many in the Liberal Party). The idea that it was normal, everyone approved, ‘no one knew it was wrong’ is, erm, ahistorical erroneous cr*p nobody looking for a cheap line to pretend appear wise should even bother touching.

    The same is also true (to a lesser extent) of Colston, both when he actually lived, and when the statue was put up in 1895.

    We don’t have to judge them by modern morality, we can actually judge them by the morality of the times (which of course, just like now, wasn’t one thing, and was a debate between different perspectives)!

  • When the people of another country tear down the statues of despots and tyrants, as Liberals, do we not welcome that? Do we not cheer when people reach for liberty and democracy, and seek to remove the statues that glorify the oppression that had been meted out to them? In which case, if we cheer that elsewhere, why do we not cheer when people here rip down the glorification of men who packed thousands into ships, drowned others for being ill, and turned the lucre they earned from this to try and scrub the blood from their name? Why all this wibble and worry?

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '20 - 1:09pm

    https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/lib-dems-say-protesters-who-4206986

    This is the local Lib Dem response:
    – noting that different people in the party feel differently
    – acknowledges that the law may have been broken
    – makes basically same ultimate proposal for a solution that Chris Bowater proposes (put it in a museum)
    – expresses a long-running stream of deep local disquiet about why the d*mn thing was there in the first place
    – empathises with the rage anti-racism protesters feel

  • All ‘revolutions’ have iconic moments – remember the toppling of the statute of Saddam Hussein in 2003? – and I think you do a disservice to those who took down the Colston statue. This act or endorsing it doesn’t mean one can’t distinguish an attack on livelihoods or genuine cultural vandalism.

    It strikes me as a well-chosen target within an agenda of civil disobedience; an artistically worthless piece of metal, hugely symbolic both in terms of what he stood for and the failure of democracy to deal with it. I am an alumnus of Oriel College, Oxford and I’ve written to the Provost to ask him to remove the statue of there of Rhodes: it’s time, and he can either respond to the calls from hopefully many like me or we can watch it get torn down.

    When we start arguing the legal toss or qualifying actions in support of the right cause we cease to be L/liberals: we are first and foremost the party of freedom, equality and community – when the law is wrong it comes second to those concerns,

  • I believe the Gladstone family money was made on the back of thousands of slaves and Gladstone himself fought hard to make sure his family were well compensated for their loss when slavery was banned. If we are throwing statues of slaver’s or racists into the sea their will be few statues left. Ghandi could well follow Gladstone into the sea and even Lincoln was married to a slavers daughter. Once you start where does it stop?

  • Sue Sutherland 9th Jun '20 - 1:21pm

    I’m Somerset born and bred and I feel a great sense of relief that Colston’s statue has gone. It was only there because democracy failed the attempts to remove it, in the same way that it failed Suffragists only allowing change when the more militant Suffragettes emerged.
    Slavery has slimy tentacles which still entangle us in the 21st century. The use of slaves was only stopped when the government agreed to provide compensation to slave owners. The loan for this was paid off in 2015. Gladstone helped his father get some of this money, which is perhaps what David Raw is referring to.
    Bristol isn’t the only city which benefited from slavery and erected statues to those involved in the trade or to those who profited from the sugar and tobacco trade, which was based on slavery. We have to stop honouring these people. Put the statues in anti slavery museums and replace them with explanations engraved in a block of stone as to why the statue is no longer there. Rename the streets and the buildings. I hope the Colston Hall is renamed the Freedom Hall. Put up plaques on all the stately homes built with this blood money. We must ‘out’ slavery in order to deal with it not mutter about different times.
    These memorials are deeply offensive. Sometimes Liberals have to stand up and shout.

  • Interesting the Strawmen are being deployed here to attack the original article.
    I see no excuses for the actions of Coulson or how he made his money, oddly I read the sentence:

    “It doesn’t mean we approve of slavery or imperialism – far from it”
    differently to others.

    I see a questioning of how you deal with the reality of history.

    Erasing history is not the answer to the parts we don’t like, I note that the author appears to live in Sussex so presumably wasn’t a member of the LibDem council that controlled Bristol Council from 2009 to 2011 and therefore did not have the opportunity to move the statue to a museum related to slavery. I note no one seems to have consider that aspect…

    As to the idea that it is wrong to look rationally at matters when “times when there is a sense of revolution in the air” is very disturbing. If “revolutions” have taught us one thing it is that rational responses are far better. The article even provided the example of the ‘Paedo panic’ where rational considerations were dismissed, and only luck ensured that property damage was the only outcomes there.

    What bothers me most about these constant appeals to emotion is that emotions run high and everyone is looking for grand narratives and gestures. The reality is many negative outcomes people wish to complain about have some very boring underlying causes which do need resolution. The spark for this was the murder of a citizen by a police officer in the US, which seemed to have initial universal revulsion. An opportunity to get some unity over fixing many of the factors which hit black men (and the young in particular, though not relevant in this case) particularly hard. However, within a very short time there was a one-up-manship of outrage and division. The multitude of issues which plague the US justice system and disproportionately impact black men get bundled up and will be lost in the desire for grand narratives.

    So, if you are banging the drum for more emotion I hope it brings you some satisfaction. I don’t think it is going to bring any solutions.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '20 - 1:50pm

    Malc, FSpeople:

    I don’t personally agree with (for eg) Layla Mann that everyone who profited from the slave trade and has a statue ought to have that statue removed.

    I believe that local people and their democratic representatives should make decisions about their local public space.

    Bristol Councillors and Mayor had agreed on a plan for the reframing of the Colston statue as a memorial to those killed during the slave trade. That was partially frustrated by the actions of the Society of Merchant Venturers, who own it.

  • Peter Martin 9th Jun '20 - 1:50pm

    What the Papers Say:

    “If your first emotion is anger then you are either part of the problem or yet to be educated. Edward Colston was a slave trader. A leading figure in the transportation of 84,000 Africans, including children, to be sold. Around 19,000 died on the journey from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas.”

    I like the Daily Mirror. I’m going to buy a copy the next time see one!

    https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/darren-lewis-edward-colston-statue-22155008

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '20 - 1:55pm

    But Joe, Liverpool HAS a museum of slavery.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '20 - 1:59pm
  • Excellent article- I think sometimes members forget that we are a political party that needs to win the support of the public, not a pressure group that can say whatever it likes.

    Only 12% of the public support the way the statue in question was removed. Most people, including the vast majority of Lib Dem voters, see that we cannot allow random unelected protesters to tear down public property that they don’t agree with, regardless of the rights and wrongs in this particular case.

    We are far too obsessed as a party with jumping on the latest twitter bandwagon to appease members. Twitter does not represent ordinary voters- as Jeremy Corbyn found out.

    Only yesterday Tim Farron was declaring on Facebook that we should stop exporting equipment to American police- like it or not the US is our biggest security and military ally. It is not in the best interests of the U.K. to treat them like a pariah state- and we as a party need to think far more of ordinary voters than the far-left twitterati. Keir Starmer knows this- which is why he risked the ire of his own members by refusing to endorse the toppling of the statue. He rightly has public opinion in mind.

  • Barry Lofty 9th Jun '20 - 2:36pm

    Just like the slavers of their day as long as there is money to be made who cares about the ethics, and I am not so sure Winston Churchill would agree with you about the Americans being our biggest security and military ally given it took, arguably, Pearl Harbour to convince them to come to our aid!

  • Uncle Joe’s statute was taken down from the town square in Gori. But there is a splendid museum in the town. I enjoyed looking at his train and I even got a good view of South Ossetia on the way to Gori.

  • John Marriott 9th Jun '20 - 2:47pm

    Interesting for me was that, despite their wearing face masks, most of those rolling Mr Colston’s statue down to the harbour and giving it an early bath, appeared to be white. Not only does the event remind me of what happened to that statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad but also what happened to all that tea in Boston harbour over two centuries ago. Back then, the perpetrators apparently dressed up as Red Indians. So, no blackened faces in Bristol then? Times have moved on.

  • John
    The tea destruction as they called it.

  • Charley Hasted 9th Jun '20 - 2:55pm

    Personally I want people in 200 years time to judge me by their morality and find me wanting- that’s how we know society has progressed. I want them to say ‘they tried their best but blimey they were awful on X’.

    Frankly any progressive should want that because that would be the mark that the work you’ve done has succeeded and been built on by others.

    What happened to that statue is what happens when people getting fed up of waiting for democracy to take action – and this debate was raging for at least 20 years with the merchant venturers being delightfully intractable.

  • The problem with that argument @Charley Hasted is it is judging people who lived 200 years ago by the standards of today, rather than by the norms and values of their time.

    As an analogy, if in 200 years, the consumption of meat has become unacceptable and evil, should statues of meat-eaters who lived in 2020 be removed and those individuals treated as pariahs regardless of their contributions to society?

  • It would seem that the Victorians ‘elite’ of Bristol and Bristolian’s knew of his past and acted accordingly (money for the statue was not easy to come by). It was finally put up by the whim of One man. The Victorians ‘whitewashed’reality of famous people of the time (including Rhodes) and made them into great benefactors which permeated all society in the end giving us a one sided look at History. It is that one-sidedness that has enabled a cult of individualism and the organisations they built up, to indoctrinate us to think in Conservative ideology.That false History has to be replaced so that Liberalism can share the benefits of society amongst all peoples efforts to achieve their aims..

  • John Smith
    The Affair of the Sausages (1522)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affair_of_the_Sausages
    Bring down the statues of Luther and Zwingli.

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Jun '20 - 4:27pm

    John Smith, the fairer analogy, is: in the 1960s and 1970s it was known that cigarettes caused lung cancer but there was little legislation in place. But there was an active controversy on the issues.

    Would we put up a statue to a tobacco boss from the 60s / 70s who suppressed that information?

    Just because Colston was operating before slavery was abolished, doesn’t mean that ‘everyone’ at the time had one set of moral values which excused slavery.

    Similarly, Just because Rhodes was a pro-imperialist at a time when there was a strong imperialist movement, doesn’t mean there were no anti-imperialist voices. (There definitely were!)

    The argument that ‘you can’t judge them because they had a different morality at the time and didn’t know they were doing wrong’ is disingenuous and poor history because it hides historic controversies.

    Quite often, statues of controversial figures are put up to deliberately and falsely give the impression that the figure had the respect of the entire population, because the people putting up the statue knew damn well that wasn’t the case, but wished to control how history was recorded.

    What I want is local people to be able to decide who their city councils and ‘city leaders’ put up statues of, and be able to change their minds, democratically.

  • David Evershed 10th Jun '20 - 12:52am

    CJ Williams.

    William Beveridge was not a Socialist Eugenicist.
    He was a Liberal Eugenisist.

    Does he have a statue somewhere we can tear down?

  • Charley Hasted 10th Jun '20 - 9:03am

    @John Smith- I mean frankly in 200 years time I’ll be past knowing or caring what anyone says about me but yeah I actually wouldn’t have an issue saying people who made money from factory farming methods and ignored animal welfare should probably not be being celebrated uncritically. (And uncritically is the key word here.) I don’t have an issue with talking about the good things Colston or Churchill or others did as long as we’re ALSO talking about the bad- the issue with Colston’s statue and others is they don’t do that and where attempts have been made to address that they have been blocked.

  • Doug Chisholm 10th Jun '20 - 9:03am

    Presumably the statue wasnt erected to celebrate his involvement in the sla e trade but his largest to the city.

    I would be more impressed when the good people of Bristol donate all that money to former slaves.

    Isnt Colston, and everyone else, just a scapegoat for our past mistakes.

  • It appears that Gladstone may be a target as well:

    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-liverpool-university-shouldn-t-cancel-william-gladstone

    It is difficult to see exactly where the line is drawn between what is and isn’t an acceptable person to have a statue/monument to. Gladstone’s father was involved in the slave trade but he was also one of the country’s greatest leaders.

    The hard left have previously targeted historical Liberal figures including Lloyd George as well:

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.standard.co.uk/news/row-erupts-as-statue-is-unveiled-of-racist-pm-lloyd-george-7300326.html%3famp

    The risk with supporting mob rule is what happens when you disagree with their next target? You will wish that you had stood up for the rule of law when you had the opportunity to do so.

  • Peter Martin 10th Jun '20 - 9:47am

    William Shockley was another proponent of the theory of eugenics. He had the advantage over Beveridge and Keynes, in that he’d seen, after WW2 how that line of thought could end in a justification for mass murder. Yet he still persisted with it.

    By all accounts, Schockley wasn’t a pleasant individual and was widely disliked even by members of his own family. However, he is generally credited with inventing the transistor (although he was really part of a team) and received a Nobel prize in the 50s for his work in semiconductors.

    So, it’s important to understand that nearly all people are a complex mixture of the good and not so good. They shouldn’t be idolised after their deaths by the construction of statues. On the other hand transistors, Keynesian economics , and the welfare state (just about) as envisaged by Beveridge still function as designed. And that shouldn’t be forgotten.

  • What seems to have been missed is “Who was offended by the statue”…

    I’m not; but that’s not the point…. My family roots are Irish and a statue to Charles Boycott in Dublin would not be acceptable…
    Those whose racial ancestors were victims of Colston have every right to be offended by such statues displayed prominently in today’s multicultural society. We cannot change history (nor should we seek to rewrite it) but there is a great gulf between a historical reference and glorifying (by a permanent reminder) of how the wealth of Colston, etc. was created,

  • Marco

    “The risk with supporting mob rule is what happens when you disagree with their next target? You will wish that you had stood up for the rule of law when you had the opportunity to do so”

    Absolutely spot on.

  • @CJWilliams: “Should we remove the Blue Plaque memorials to both men [J M Keynes and William Beveridge] and cease giving lectures in their name?”

    Leaving aside the broader question of whether we should judge historic figures for viewpoints that were unrelated to the achievements (good or ill) for which they are famous…..

    I think it’s worth recognising, in my great uncle’s defence, that he was 17 when he made these repulsive statements; they apparently reflected a common prejudice in British public schools of the time. I would hate to be judge today by some of the views that I held as a callow and ignorant schoolboy.

  • The sad thing is that it came to this. History is history and all countries have times they are not proud of. Under the present circumstances of endemic racism it is right that anything that might reinforce this is removed from public view.

  • Toby Keynes

    I think you may have missed the point of those citing other figures who are/could be easy next targets.

    Beyond the names above we I have seen the suggestion of Harold Wilson too.

    But no guys, really it is great to encourage emotionally driven outrage and mob action, this will in no way suck up energy that could be more productively directed at fixing actual problems effectively.

    Matt (Bristol)

    I agree the idea of attacking any monument on the basis of any connection to anything negative. It certainly paints anyone aspiring to leadership in a less positive light (where is that mob going, I must know so I can lead them!).

    Also, thanks for the additional details regarding the issue with the ownership by Society of Merchant Venturers. I still think it is the sort of matter that a solution could have been found, it seems unlikely that no accommodation for removal could be found.

  • * Matt (Bristol)

    I agree [with you on] the idea of

  • Philip Moss 10th Jun '20 - 1:36pm

    We were an Empire, how do people think an Empire was built? The Romans had slaves,
    some of them British, we should we stop going there on holiday !! I wish that all this energy was channelled into completing the redress of the Windrush scandal, living human beings,our fellow country men and wemen. What about Grenfell Tower, why is that been allow to drag on ? why are some former residents in limbo still?
    Yes of course teach more of our bad history, Ask ourselves why we have only “Nightingale Field Hospitals” the suggestion was made that other women be “honoured” why not? They were black ???

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Jun '20 - 2:21pm

    It is good some refer to Beveridge and Keynes.

    In my view the praise of them is misplaced.

    The latter was over rated in all aspects. He was a Liberal very few years, and the Social Liberal forum could do better than him for an Annual lecture. They should have chosen someone like Green or Hobbhouse.

    As far as this article, is written, to condemn it, is as is appropriate if against it, to do so against publishing it as one or more have, is worse than ten articles disagreed with.

    I think the tone of the by this comment, noble, Lord Greaves good, though I would not have helped topple that statue, my view, as with David Raw, Colston was wretched!

  • I bet Dominic Cummings welcomes the distraction. I feel a lot more threatened by Johnson’s casual incompetence on Covid.

  • Simon Burall 10th Jun '20 - 4:54pm

    Chris, I fundamentally disagree with you on this issue. The notion that all lives matters is something that has been picked up by the far right as a way of trying to silence people with legitimate and long-term problems with the way the state and society treats them. We have to recognise as liberals that sometimes we need to challenge the power structures and that this sometimes requires non-violent protest.

    Campaigners in Bristol have been thorough and democratic process to try to remove the statue and have been thwarted by a small minority in power. This has gone on for decades. Your argument leads to the point that the status quo will never end.

    Using words like ‘mob’ and ‘vigilante’ does not engage with the debate we need to have about our history, the way we remember it and the way we commemorate it. Worse than this, it risks silencing those with deep seated and legitimate concerns.

    As a party, and as individuals, we need to recognise that there are times to act and there are also times to listen, reflect and support. Now is the time for the latter. It is a time to listen to what those at the sharp end of inequality in outcome and treatment are saying, to reflect on what it means for what we say and how we act, and to support in them in what they are doing to change the system.

    We will be on the wrong side of history if we try to tell them that they are wrong.

  • Matt Wardman 10th Jun '20 - 5:58pm

    @Toby

    I’m not convinced that Keynes improved too much. He lived from 1883-1946. He was Director of the British Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944 ie ages of approx 54 to 61.

    He described Eugenics in 1946 as (source: Wiki)
    “the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists.”

    I agree it is a tricky debate. The humanists have it worse because their society shared senior personnel with the BES into the 1960s I think.

    That’s partly why I roughly share the position of the article, though I would put it back where it was with an appropriate plaque and the criminal damage caused last weekend – as far as I can see the democratic debate in Bristol is not yet done.

    I think Black Lives Matter have a hell of a problem, and need to start thinking about their attitude to black slaveowners who persisted in their ownership of black slaves long after the hated white imperialists had abolished the trade. Currently I see no sign of such reflection. That’s before we get to the enslavement of Africans by other Africans for sale as slaves to Arabs and Europeans, and the European Slave Trade of people from European coasts enslaved by Africans slightly earlier than the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

    I think the key insight will be to recognise that slavery needs to be treated as a matter of power, not race.

  • Nick Stephenson 10th Jun '20 - 6:37pm

    Mostly agree with OP on this issue (though I do think that Colston’s ills outweigh his virtues and the statue should’ve been taken down by the council) It seems far too many within our party are willing to completely overlook historical perspective and the manner in which this statue was removed in order to try and appeal to far-left progressives disillusioned by Starmer (which won’t work and are not the base we need to appeal to if we want to win target seats for the next election but I won’t go into that)

    The prospect of mob rule is one that should scare everyone especially those who have been on social media in the past few months. From what I’ve seen on social media in recent days I do worry that we as a party (especially the youth wing of which I am a part) are becoming less tolerant of certain opinions and are resorting to mudslinging and cancel culture to try and shame those who don’t agree with the majority instead of attempting to engage in a debate.

    Indeed the vitriol towards this article on certain mediums (not necessarily on here where the debate seems to have remained civil for the most part) has me feeling like a complete outsider within the party – I wish to see a return to pragmatic decision making rather than a move towards the Corbyn style campaign in which many overzealous activists successfully managed to alienate a large part of the electorate in large part due to disagreements over minor issues

  • A lot has been said about people of Bristol campaigning to get the statue removed and failing. My understanding was that was such a petition and it gained 11,000 votes. However the remaining 675,000 Bristolians decided not to vote. I have no problem with the people of Bristol campaigning one way or the other to remove the statue but it is their decision, the people of Bristol not just a minority of people. And remember this is a shared history, and like everything it has good bits and bad bits.. Surely it is better to educate people rather than hide evidence in dusty museums or is that too much like hard work ?

  • Mark Jephson 11th Jun '20 - 7:37am

    You raise a valid point, I suspect a lot people are struggling with. I agree the statue should have been taken down, I agree people shouldn’t break the law and follow the democratic process. However, the reality is it seems years of democracy achieved nothing, this direct action has had an immediate impact across the country, which it’s hard not to disagree with. So the question is it ever ok to break the law? How can a politician ever say yes to this question… I’m stuck to be honest. Although, the answer seems to be yes, it is, sometimes.

  • Oliver Cromwell is still widely regarded in Ireland as a genocidal maniac. And yet there is a statue of him standing at Parliament. Should it be destroyed?

  • Chris Bowers,
    “The lesson I take from all this is that putting up statues is fraught with difficulty. We are all packages of good and not-so-good attributes, so anyone who is held up as a shining example is bound to be found out. Maybe all statues should be abolished as a recognition of natural human frailty?”
    I think one matter that is important to distinguish here is that Colston seems to have had very little to recommend considering his contribution to history specifically. I think we should leave statues of those who individually had significant impact should be left in place but seen in all lights.
    Karl Marx monument is a good example, it is possible to make the case that he has one of (if not) the largest body counts attributable to his influence (I’m not making that case). However, his ideas in spite of how wrong they were did spur other ideas in response. Cromwell was brutal to all areas he ruled (Ireland got it particularly bad I wouldn’t have chosen to live under him in England either), but through his actions in the civil war he did impact our political culture and how it evolved (even though in the time of Charles II you wouldn’t have been so sure).
    Some people and ideas are not worth commemorating (advocacy of slavery, opposition to its abolition, advocacy of genocide), but perhaps the lessons of most monuments is that all humans are imperfect. The desire to be able to divide the world into “goodies” and “baddies” is very strong right now, mobs want to find a fault in every figure to declare them a “baddie.”
    This can take the form of demands to rip down almost all statues, it take the form of “cancel culture” on social media. Perhaps the existence of statues of people like Churchill, Ghandi, Lloyd George provide the opportunity to discuss people recognising them as inherently limited and complex without the need to see it played out when someone living gets set upon in the press and social media. Perhaps statues aid a discussion which encourages people to discover some humility.

  • Graeme Chegwidden 12th Jun '20 - 10:47am

    Perhaps its time to tear down the pyramids?

  • Julian Tisi 12th Jun '20 - 1:55pm

    I think this has been an excellent and informative debate. Thanks for starting it Chris Bowers. Personally I particularly agree with the contributions made by FSPeople 9th Jun ’20 – 1:29pm and just above. The point that particularly struck me was this:

    “An opportunity to get some unity over fixing many of the factors which hit black men particularly hard. However, within a very short time there was a one-up-manship of outrage and division. The multitude of issues which plague the US justice system and disproportionately impact black men get bundled up and will be lost in the desire for grand narratives.”

    I worry that an opportunity for real change may be lost because we’re more worried about making a grand gesture to prove our left / liberal credentials than in reaching out beyond our core supporters at a time when, seeing the sheer ugliness of a racist killing, many such people were susceptible to persuasion, but may have been put off by such antics, fearing that monuments to Churchill and other flawed heroes maybe next.

  • Mike Falchikov 12th Jun '20 - 5:40pm

    Joe Otten raises the issue of statues in the Soviet bloc being destroyed when the regime collapsed. My partner and I were staying in a friend’s flat in Moscow in 1991 when the attempted coup against Gorbachev took place. We took a long walk round the city to see what was happening and came upon a crowd of people cheering as some guys with heavy lifting gear starting to pull down the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Soviet Secret Police. Dzerzhinsky was an odious character and his statue was in the same square as the Butyrka Prison where many political prisoners were executed over the years and also looked onto the big department store which catered for children – the point made by many Soviet tour guides was that Dzerzhinsky loved children and gave money to shelters and orphanages for children (many of them orphaned by Dzerzhinsky’s bully boys). I have to say that though I am not by nature an enthusiast for destroying monuments it would have been hard not to welcome what they were doing, especially as it was done as opposition to the anti-perestroika group who were trying to overthrow Gorbachev and return to the old soviet system.

  • Cllr Andrew MacGrego 15th Jun '20 - 3:09pm

    Interesting to read all the comments about democracy being failed here. It was not the power of Colston’s wealth, nor of political interests, but the lack of effort on the part of the public. Those seeking the removal over the last two decades were a small vocal minority, who presented themselves as knowing better than everyone else. The author is right, drect action isn’t the solution and to be honest in this instance it played right into the hands of the RW and those protecting the Status Quo. The protests were about racism and prejudice now. The privations and abuse suffered by black people every single day right now. The inequality and racism they suffered yesterday, today and will do tomorrow. The death of George Floyd was made secondary by backward looking activists who find it easier to topple a statue to salve their grievance than confront those people in power who need to start acting now. The people in power simply looked back at them and said, ‘you’re thugs, and there is no room for thuggery’ and pooft, just like that, slavery was the topic and George Floyd a slowly fading outrage.

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