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How do we think about taking down controversial statues in the UK? Show more Show less
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In June 2020 protestors circulated a hit list of controversial UK statues to be taken down. These included Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Robert Baden-Powell. Campaigners say these statues must be ripped down because they contribute to racialised systemic violence. In turn, this trickles down into every facet of public life and subordinates ethnic minorities. On the other side, groups made up of mostly far right activists say this is deeply offensive. They see this lobby as a violent mob that have been undeservedly handed a mandate to whitewash UK history. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

We have every right to take the statues down Show more Show less

This group believes that tearing down statues is an important method at redressing systemic racial inequality. Proponents include Black Lives Matter, and left wing, British commentators such as Namitha Aravind.
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The controversial statues debate shows how Britain's democratic channels have failed us

Formal channels of protest have failed. Tearing down statues is forcing those in power to listen to the needs of those at the bottom.
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The Argument

During the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, the statue of Edward Colston had been toppled and thrown into the Bristol Harbour. Ministers quickly responded by condemning the behaviour as criminal, suggesting that more appropriate legal mechanisms may have been employed. Since the 1990s awareness about Edward Colston’s past of making his fortune through slave trading has caused significant controversy. There have been numerous petitions with many signatories and campaigns seeking to remove the statue in Bristol for twenty years, as well as to have other statues such as those of Robert Milligan in East London, and Cecil Rhodes in Oxford removed. Legitimate mechanisms have been adopted, exhausted and have failed. The failings in these democratic processes have caused people to become frustrated at the lack of agreement, progress, and engagement, leading to people taking the opportunity at hand to achieve what they had been petitioning for throughout an exceedingly long time. It was not until after Edward Colston's statue was toppled, that swift reviews took place, leading to the removal of Robert Milligan’s statue in Tower Hamlets. This was unlikely to have been attained without the public having taken matters into their own hands. [1]

Counter arguments

There are more than 800 public statues around the UK which mark moments of history and convey the values that society held at the time that these were built. Although one segment of the populate seek removal of these on the basis that these statues promote racist, sexist, homophobic values, another part of the population considers these statues to be valued artefacts which we can learn from. Democratic channels achieve a balance between these views. In Poole, there is a statue of Lord Robert Baden-Powell who is associated with racism, supporting Hitler, and holding homophobic views. The statue, under police advice was to be removed for its protection following the toppling of the Edward Colston statue.[2] A petition against its permanent removal gained traction with over 10,000 signatories. Local councils therefore must engage with the populate's multiple conflicting views to consider what actions to take with monuments that some see as problematic, and others see as a valuable historic monument, or even a learning point from history. [3]Democratic channels have not failed as they aim to build consensus amongst conflicting perspectives. [4]



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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020 at 09:18 UTC

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