THE war of the statues is a gift for Boris Johnson and that’s a shame. Culture wars favour the right rather than the left as it’s more their saloon-bar habitat.
Johnson stirring up division over statues and Black Lives Matter demos provides a perfect distraction from the wider issue of racism in our society – and from the ‘world-beating’ pig’s ear his government seems to be making of the Covid-19 crisis.
In a series of Trump-like tweets, the prime minister boomed that the protests “had been hijacked by extremists intent on violence”.
He also tweet-blathered: “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations. They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”
The dunking of Edward Colston into the Bristol docks clearly rankled – along with the voluntary removal of other such statues. Yet these statues themselves lie about history. The statue of Colston was – as mentioned here before – erected in 1895, more than 170 years after Colston’s death and more than 60 years after slavery was abolished in Britain.
That statue was put up by Victorian businessmen who wanted Colston to be remember as a philanthropist rather than as a slaver: it was quite literally a bit of whitewash to cover up the embarrassing truth.
Johnson is at it again this morning, back in his old pontificating ground of the Daily Telegraph, writing that: “We can’t Photoshop our history.” A typical Johnsonian image that means little: history has always been told through filters, the facts moved in and out of focus to suit the teller.
You will have enjoyed hearing Johnson robustly defend his views in that head-to-head interview with Andrew Neil; or you might have done if he wasn’t such a cowardly politician, pumping stuff out on Twitter or in print but never agreeing to an interview.
Yesterday the Mail on Sunday entered the culture wars with a photos of a marchers linked to the headline: “What HAS become of the country we love?”
A lack of self-awareness so staggering that Twitter almost collapsed under the weight of people sharing montages of hateful Mail front pages demonising migrants.
Elsewhere in yesterday’s edition, the Mail on Sunday launched a ludicrous campaign under the headline: “Save Sir Winston, Boris.”
And it beggars belief that the next line read: “It beggars belief but Left-wingers are now demanding Churchill’s statue be torn down.”
No they’re not – all that’s happening is a debate about how and in what context statues should be displayed.
Debating how we address the past is interesting and productive but should not distract us from the present.
Let’s end with a positive image, one that appeared over the weekend and is featured on the front of some newspapers this morning.
Used most prominently by Metro, this shows Black Lives Matter activist Patrick Hutchinson carrying an injured protester from the opposing side.
Hutchinson is a picture of strength, arms bulging as he lifts the protester to safety. The man he rescued, said to be a far-right protester, lifts a hand to his injured head as rests across Hutchinson’s broad shoulder.
Interviewed on Channel 4 News, Hutchinson said he “didn’t think twice” about what he did. “I just scooped him up and put him on my shoulders and started marching towards the police… I could actually feel strikes and hits as I was carrying him.”
Who needs statues to the past when you have a monument to the moment such as Patrick Hutchinson?
The photo was taken by Dylan Martinez of Reuters – always important to mention the photographer.