Toppling statues is the easy part

Black lives matter, says Claire Fox in The Municipal Journal. But will black lives today be improved if local government becomes preoccupied by a war against inanimate objects and historical wrongs.

One remarkable reaction to the brutal killing of George Floyd in the US has been the wave of UK-wide demonstrations that sprang up in localities which rarely – if ever – see political street protests. However, after this initial show of solidarity, there now seems to be a danger that this heartfelt instinct to fight racial injustice is becoming subsumed by divisive trends. Through the contentious rows over historic statues, councils are now at the heart of the UK’s new culture war.

But is this really responding to popular demand? It feels more complicated. Councils have been poring over an activists’ website Topple the Racists to create municipal audits of historic memorials statues, street, pub and buildings’ names, deemed unacceptable.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was quick off the mark to set up a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm – an openly unelected, top-down body. Glasgow City Council even boasts it was discussing the issue ahead of any public debate.

On the ground – and maybe it’s a lockdown thing – suddenly petitions and street protests are being treated as though a democratic mandate. When the Canal and River Trust removed the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay, it explained it was recognising ‘the wishes of the local community’. Really? This move followed a petition launched by Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Ehtasham Haque demanding it was taken down.

Read the full article here.