“Indefensible for statue to be standing in Bristol in 2020” – Lib Dems speak out on Colston

Leading Liberal Democrats have been speaking out on the controversy surrounding Sunday’s public removal of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol.

Wera Hobhouse, who is MP for neighbouring Bath, wrote on her website:

…it was indefensible for the statue to be standing in Bristol in 2020. Protestors literally took things into their own hands and toppled the statue. This was a symbolic act.

History is dynamic. It is not fixed. Yesterday was part of the history of race relations, not only here in the South West, but for our nation as a whole.

We must face up to, accept and learn from all aspects of our nation’s history. Not only the parts of our history that we are proud of, but the parts of our history that are corrupt and that we are ashamed of.

Layla Moran has asked Oriel College, Oxford to take down its statue of Cecil Rhodes. She has written to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick urging him to issue clear advice to local councils on the removal of statues and street sign names associated with the slave trade. She remarked:

My personal view is clear – statues of slave merchants should not still be standing in our cities. However, no-one should be tearing down statues through some kind of vigilante action.

We therefore need a clear process for assessing and removing these statues, in conversation with local communities.

The government must urgently provide clear guidance to local councils that encourages them to engage with local residents on this issue. Most people were never asked for their views at the time, so I believe that must happen now.

Acting Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey tweeted:

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26 Comments

  • John Marriott 9th Jun '20 - 6:43pm

    I see they are after that Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford now. What’s next? That Churchill statue at Westminster? Oh, and while we’re about it, anyone fancy having a go at any Gladstone statues there might be around? Pulling down statues, like clapping for the NHS could easily be viewed as cheap gestures. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that neither events should not take place. However, there are other ways, like practising what you preach as far as discrimination is concerned and paying higher taxes as far as the NHS is concerned.

  • We now face the prospect of activists removing every Victorian statue in the land if it fails to meet their approval. This is extreme political vandalism at its worst.

    History is important and physical objects from the past help to make things real and promote interest. Our past contains evil for which we should be ashamed as well as great things to make us proud. Our attention should be drawn to these realities because we need to learn from them. Erasing the past is self defeating, leading to ignorance and indifference. It is rather like the BBC editing a script to make it politically correct. The result is something bland and uninteresting with no purpose or learning opportunity.

  • When I saw the statue being dragged down my first reaction was elation. It immediately reminded me of the time when Saddam Hussain’s statue was toppled – we all cheered that. OK, so it was an act of civil disobedience, but the symbolism is so strong that it overcomes any sense that this was criminal damage.
    I was very impressed with the thoughtful remarks by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol and the first black elected Mayor in Europe. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-52972841/uk-anti-racism-protests-patel-statue-comments-show-lack-of-understanding

  • George Kendall 9th Jun '20 - 7:41pm

    First of all, this was a failure of Bristol local democracy. They couldn’t agree to a solution, and so no solution was implemented. I can understand the offence that statue caused black people, and they should not have had to endure that offence.

    However, the rule of law is very important. If the law is broken for causes we agree with, then we are setting a precedent for it to be broken for other causes.

    For example, in the coming years, there may be a bitter disagreement on border offices, either between Northern Ireland and Eire, or between Northern Ireland and the mainland. If those is convinced they are right feel they now have the right to defy the law, we may regret this precedent.

  • Gladstone ? Well the plaque erected in 1909 to his father, Sir John Gladstone, by the Leith Liberal Club could well do with being removed. It’s at the corner of Great Junction Street and King Street.

    When the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed, Sir John Gladstone was active in obtaining compensation for slave owners. He received £106,769 (modern equivalent approx £100 million) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. Gladstone’s payment was the largest of all compensation payments made by the Slave Compensation Commission.

    Interesting to note a Freedom of Information Act 2000 reply, “Slavery Abolition Act : “In 1833, Britain used 40% of its national budget to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire”.

    William Ewart G.’s share more than enough to keep Hawarden Castle in good trim no matter how many trees he chopped down. Nice work if you can get it for a PM famous for ‘counting the candle ends’ and preaching retrenchment.

    There’s a useful database on the U.C.L. website : Legacies of British Slave-ownership – UCLwww.ucl.ac.uk › lbs › project › details : The records of the Slave Compensation Commission, set up to manage the … of information about the enslaved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

  • Is there a monarch, head of state or senior politician who wasn’t a bad person going by today’s standards? Richard the Lionheart, Henry 8th, Edward 1st, George 2nd, Oliver Cronwell etc, all these statues need tipping into the sea surely. What about Elizabeth 1st – the slave trade started in her reign. Herbert Asquith was the Liberal PM when the leaders of the Easter uprising were executed, perhaps British citizens with Irish connections would like to see his statue in the river? Ghandi’s dislike of black people and Mohammad Ali’s opposition to mix marriage were well recorded, perhaps their statues should be thrown into the sea? What about statues of religious leaders who would have though abortion and gay relationships a sin? Give it a break. Today most people hate the though of slavery and discrimination, but for thousands of years it was all acceptable. Don’t go down this route – there are no votes in it. People were horrified at the killing of Mr Floyd, but unfortunately due to the looting, murders and attacks on policemen/women it’s quickly being forgotten.

  • Cecil Rhodes ? Quote : “I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. I contend that every acre added to our territory means the birth of more of the English race who otherwise would not be brought into existence.”

    According to Kipling, in the UK Rhodes was a supporter of the Liberal Party.

  • Layla Moran

    “My personal view is clear – statues of slave merchants should not still be standing in our cities”

    What about the statues of the monarchs and politicians who made it legal for those slave merchants to trade?

  • What we seem to be forgetting here is that the Colston statue had become a significant symbol in Bristol, representing the dark history of that city as one of the main hubs of the slave trade. It wasn’t simply his personal history – he carried the weight of the guilt of Bristol.

  • Jon

    His father made a fortune through slavery and Gladstone fought tooth and nail for his family to be compensated when slavery was abolished. When the money was in the families bank account ( a massive sum) he may well have decided it was a “by far the foulest crime”. Colston may have been sorry for his part in slavery in his later years, but as with Gladstone the damage was already done.

  • David Evershed 10th Jun '20 - 12:57am

    The University of Liverpool has agreed to rename one of its halls of residence after a group of students called on it to remove former Prime Minister William Gladstone’s name due to “his views on slavery”.

    Does Gladstone have a statue nearby we can get a mob together to tear down?

  • Am really surprised to find straw in the wind arguments to keep statues of these aristocratic profiteers up being trotted out here. The ‘what next’ and ‘but he gave lots of money to us’ are por-outs and gmdig leaves.

    Simply, statues are out up to glorify something or someone. It’s a bit more than just celebrating a hero of the age, because it’s made to last. Personally I find the bulk of statuary in the U.K. pretty dull and depressing – very little artistic merit, mostly older men from one or two schools in various power-poses. Zzzzz. For many, slavery would not be their only crime – those who opposed relied for Ireland in the potato famine or ‘cleared’ Scotland (today that would be called genocide of course). The rest are hangers-on, by-blows or courtesans or whores of various royals. Oh and then the brave generals of empire who rarely seem to have died on a battle field. So, the focus may be slavery but the distaste for their deeds is much wider.

    Anyway, glorifying them seems not a viable option, and the (far) right is fussing that ‘our’ history is being erased so it seems you can do one of three things – nothing, remove them to a park or museum or put new plaques up explaining more truthfully who they were and what they did. I’d hope that we choose to take them away when appropriate and put up more relevant monuments to people who actually matter today. The far right can visit them in a museum or pro and feel teary and sad for them if they want – frankly I doubt that they knew who they were before now anyway though.

  • @ Jon, I suggest you read my comment with more attention to detail.

    Of course Hawarden came from the Gwynne family before he married into it – and then moved into it.

  • Tell me, just how much of a leap is it from tearing down statues to burning books ? Mark Twain must be a good candidate. And why stop at racists. How about wife beaters, sexual perverts (however defined) exploiters of the poor. Can’t see many statues surviving, except perhaps Edith Cavell’s in St Martin’s Place. This is not my vision of a liberal, tolerant society, this is a society at war with itself.

  • @CJ Williams.
    I’ve already responded on another thread to the quote from J M Keynes, but as you’ve also put the same quote here I guess I must respond here as well.

    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.

  • Surely the statues should mostly be preserved in situ — but somewhat defaced by a notice on the front of the pedestal, stating that there is much opposition to their remaining, but pointing out that the villains were once the heroes of the people, and inviting every reader today to consider how much our values have changed, and how much more perhaps they ought to . . . .

  • Paul Murray 10th Jun '20 - 1:02pm

    In Frances Lloyd George’s diary for 1934 she records her husband as saying “We insisted on reserving the right to bomb …”. You know the quote.

    Do we now forcibly close the Lloyd George museum and destroy the prints of that TV show?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Jun '20 - 1:14pm

    very good posting, comments, as well.

    As a history and politics graduate and culture and education professional, I see both sides As a Liberal I see them , more so, both of those sides, and another and it is that other view that must prevail.That is, that every case and thus statue, is individual, no one size fits all really needs to prevail.

    We should remove some, not others.

    It got absurd when it was thought correct, to get rid of Nelson’s column, because he was, an imperialist who did not campaign against slavery.

    Nelson actually for his role, was almost a liberal, he was as egalitarian as could be, kind and fair to crew, as shown in his promotion of black African members, and only as a result of modern views can he be seen as reactionary, or by disassociating him from his role.

    History is that, his, or her story. On the latter, as someone who has the same birthday of the great Elizabeth 1, no way should we see her as other than a really positive monarch, compared to others, there were fewer executed in her reign of nearly half a century, than one year of Phillip of Spain!

  • John Littler 13th Jun '20 - 3:37pm

    The violent manner of the Colston monument was unfortunate, in rewarding violence, but it is as good a time as any to consider who we now wish to have put on pedestals. Of course people were angry in view of events.

    I believe Colston Hall ( I have been to gigs there) is having it’s name changed. I bet there was not one person in a thousand going there who knew who he was. No doubt the change of name will confuse workmen, couriers and concert attenders for years

    Old colonialists are hardly the ideal person to represent the best in our present society and while I would not have them melted down or trashed, they would be better offered to museums to be able to display and explain their significance.

    With the far right coming out to protect imperial monuments and Farage being sacked from LBC for his comments on the matter, as well as a swathe of councils and other countries removing monuments to that era, it does seem as if the world has been kicked into a little more progressive direction with the hard right losing an aspect that underpins their philosophy. After years of progress for the far right and populists, this can only be good news for us

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