I’m sure it’s no surprise to readers that less than 2 months into this year, and with no end in sight to questionable pandemic policies, the country is dealing with yet another irritation. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is seeking re-election, has followed through on his promise to create a ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’ to review London’s historic landmarks, place names and statues.
On top of that, Historic England felt the need to undertake an audit of rural communities, and accused entire villages, farms and schools of benefiting from the slave trade. Both Khan’s Commission and Historic England’s activism are of course taxpayer funded, with the latter organisation’s total budget coming to £89 million annually.
The good news is that, ever so slowly, the fightback against this kind of cultural vandalism is gathering pace. The ‘Save our Statues’ social media pages now have tens of thousands of followers, and they have played a significant role in raising awareness of petitions, planning applications and consultations relating to these issues. For example, they recently provided helpful links detailing Manchester’s proposed statue review, and how the public can get involved to save their heritage.
The most promising development though comes from Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, who has announced legislation that would give him, and his successors, vetoes over the removal of monuments and statues. It is believed he will do this by requiring councils to seek full planning permission for any changes to such sites, meaning he would have the authority to directly intervene in all such cases. The government is also enshrining into a law a ‘retain and explain’ rule, which will make it essentially illegal for Britain’s history to be torn down apart from in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Meanwhile, at Canterbury Cathedral, the local clergy have successfully brushed off Justin Welby’s attempts to have statues at the historic building removed permanently. Instead, plaques will be added explaining the context of their existence. Now, I’m not a fan of politically correct plaques by any stretch of the imagination, but plaques are a lot better than bulldozers for the time being. It is, quite frankly, remarkable that the most senior Archbishop of the Anglican Church would seek to deface his own Cathedrals, but then again, we are living in the strangest of times.
The overall lesson of all of this, though, is that pushback does work at least to some degree. The best example of this is Exeter City Council’s attempt to remove the statue of Victorian war hero Sir Redvers Buller. The public consultation showed that 77% of people wanted it to remain, and as a result of that and the new legislation I mentioned above, the Council has dramatically backed down from its plans. Ironically, as a result of the publicity surrounding the case, the statue is probably now more popular than it was before.
None of this of course will deter the far-left activists of Sadiq Khan’s new Commission, nor the politically correct academics at Historic England, whose political crusade against Britain’s heritage seems unabated and will continue in the months and years ahead.
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