'People are now too smart to fall for Tory culture wars...'
- Credit: PA
Exactly 10 years ago, I entered death’s waiting room. Treatment for leukaemia over the previous six months had knocked the disease out stone cold, but the treatment had also destroyed my bone marrow.
I was dependent on blood transfusions every week just to survive. Which is when, thankfully, a suitable bone marrow donor was found for me through the wonderful Anthony Nolan charity.
In March 2012, this was piped in to my veins and I was restored to the expectation of a full life span.
This process took place in Bristol and, during many breaks between treatments, I was free to wander the city. For obvious reasons, I became fond of it, its people, and its history.
There was one glaring anomaly, though – the name of Edward Colston on schools, alms-houses, a concert hall, and, now notoriously, a dandified statue of him.
On one side of this edifice was a plaque which read “"Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city AD 1895".
Please note the date, 1895. This was not a statue erected during the years of slavery; it was put up six decades after Abolition. Even then, Bristol had a fair size black population, and almost from the day it was unveiled, there were thoughtful protests.
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I had a particular knowledge about the history of slavery, because I’d written and directed a BBC documentary about the first sugar slaves in Barbados. In contrast with the story we are usually told, for the first 20 years of C17th slavery there, most of the slaves were white - called indentured servants, but in effect transported never to return.
Moreover, these people were condemned to this fate by local magistrates rooting out “dissident elements” in Scotland, Ireland and, perhaps to our amazement around here, the south west of England. Say a wrong word, fall under the beady eye of an all-powerful landowner, and the supine magistrate would have you transported without a second thought.
I have always felt we need to understand the fate that befell our white ancestors in the years before the dreadful expansion of the slave trade into the atrocities against black west Africans stolen to the Caribbean and the USA. It’s why I made the documentary – perhaps if we understood that there but for the grace of god went even more of our own, we might empathise more with the black agonies.
Because of this I had long been aware of the debate around Colston’s statue, how it was always nearly going to be removed, or at least have its plaque rewritten, and was aware too of the forces of conservatism in the city who did not wish to see this. Nothing happened.
This is why the protesters took the statue off its plinth and threw it into the docks. If I might draw a comparison, imagine if after “Sir” Jimmy Savile’s crimes had emerged the various statues and plaques to him had simply been left in place for another century while a decision as to how to react was dithered over.
The Colston protesters have been found not guilty by a jury of their peers, and out trot the peddlers of the “culture war” narrative.
Suella Braverman, our Attorney General, wants this referred to the Court of Appeal. Other tough little Essex Tories wring their hands that the decision is a licence to commit criminal damage. They keep popping up on GB News repeating this, even when criminal barristers have repeatedly confirmed that this is a lie, and that Braverman has no grounds for an appeal. It is all smoke and mirrors.
I wrote about this last week, the danger of right-wing distraction politics to evade scrutiny of the government’s failures. It’s a key page in the Tory playbook.
I just think that the British people are too smart to fall for this anymore.