London's boarded up statues show Sadiq Khan has lost control of the capital's streets
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Sadiq Khan is playing an irresponsible and dangerous game by establishing a new commission to tear down London's landmarks. The Mayor expects this to be an easy virtue-signalling PR win - but his decision has created division and inflamed tensions in the capital.
In a remarkable admission of failure, Khan has ordered that key statues and monuments be covered up, including The Cenotaph, Winston Churchill, and Nelson Mandela. It's depressing that the only way we can protect the monuments to those who defeated fascism, protected our freedoms and ended apartheid in South Africa is to board them up.
How did we get here as a country? Winston Churchill has regularly topped polls to be called the greatest Briton in history. Only a few short weeks ago, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day and remembered the heroes who fought. And until now, there has been little debate about statues across the country.
A loud mob has decreed that Britain should no longer commemorate historical figures whose past views do not conform to today's values. They have so far gone unchallenged and as a consequence we have already begun sliding down the slippery slope which could topple vast swathes of British history.
Labour councillors have called for a mural of Churchill in Croydon to be removed, the founder of the Scouts Robert Baden-Powell will be temporarily removed, and some campaigners are even calling for statues of Admiral Nelson to be toppled.
There is a democratic debate to be had in local communities about statues and how we best remember our past - but we must be clear that toppling statues does nothing to resolve today's problems and only hides yesterday's mistakes.
The mob that illegally tore the statue of Edward Colston down in Bristol and the decision to remove Robert Milligan’s statue from the London Docklands does nothing to undo the slave-trading past of these areas. Instead, ironically, we risk forgetting the flawed individuals who built Britain and the ugly parts of our history.
Sadiq Khan's new virtue-signalling Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will make City Hall the arbiter of history in London. This should make us all deeply uncomfortable - no politician should take it upon themselves to become judge, jury, and executioner of a country’s history.
In a liberal democracy, history should be debated and discussed, but never hidden or erased. Whether we like it or not, there are many very good, some bad, and a few ugly elements in Britain's past, and it's a complicated picture is filled with imperfect heroes. The notion that historical figures should be judged by today's standards will eliminate every British hero that this country holds dear.
Will Sadiq Khan topple Churchill for his support for the British Empire? Will Admiral Nelson fall for living in a time when slavery existed? Will Sir Francis Drake, Oliver Cromwell, King James II, Lord Kitchener and William Gladstone be erased and their contributions to British history forgotten because they were flawed characters?
And where do we draw the line? Should Gandhi's statue be removed because he believed Indians were racially superior to Africans? Will Karl Marx's tomb be destroyed because of his deeply held anti-Semitism? And should Egypt's Pyramids and Rome's Colosseum fall because they were built by slaves and those civilisations profited from that abhorrent trade?
We are a proud nation with a long history and we shouldn't hide our mistakes or dwell on them - they define who we are and have led us to be one of the most progressive countries in the world today. Instead of divisive debate on Britain's past, we must focus on today's challenges.
And that's why Sadiq Khan was wrong to jump on this latest virtue-signalling bandwagon. His decision to tear down statues in London will have encouraged left-wing mobs to topple statues themselves and far-right groups to take to the streets to protect them.
It's Khan’s job to keep London safe and prevent violence and vandalism on the capital's streets. His divisive decision to tear down statues will have made the Metropolitan Police's job even harder in the upcoming demonstrations.
Instead of posturing in this way, the Mayor should take a long hard look at his record of failure which has left communities behind in London. After four years at the helm of City Hall, it's time he took his fair share of responsibility for the challenges and inequalities that exist in London.
On his watch, violent crime soared to record levels and murder reached an 11-year high, only 12,000 affordable homes have been completed, and 22 major transport upgrades that could regenerate communities have been delayed or cancelled.
The sad truth is that London is saddled with a Mayor who is not especially interested in the core functions of his role. There is no virtue he won’t signal, no passing bandwagon he won’t jump on and no gallery he won’t play to in his never-ending attempt to ingratiate himself with the latest trend on Twitter.
If Khan was serious about tackling inequality and improving lives in London, he would stop indulging in this divisive distraction and would instead finally focus on delivering the homes, jobs, and transport upgrades that communities across the capital need to thrive.
Article by Gareth Bacon MP first published by The Telegraph.