The Conservative culture minister has told the institutions trusted with preserving Britain’s cultural heritage not to let themselves be “bullied” by “left-wing campaigns”, as convenors of museums and other spaces come under increasing pressure from Black Lives Matter-inspired activists to unperson historical figures.
Britain’s statues, street names, and memorials most recently became targets for damage and destruction by cultural Marxist protesters during and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd last year in the United States.
Coupled with the wanton vandalism, many administrators of the United Kingdom’s local governments have capitulated to the pressure, commissioning audits of the names of streets, buildings, and other furnishings of public spaces in case they were named after historical figures who may have been in any way connected to slavery, colonialism, empire, or were otherwise accused of racism.
Amidst the fervour to erase Britain’s history, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned museums and other institutions entrusted with preserving all shades of the country’s records not to be “pushed around” by left-wing activists, according to The Times.
Speaking during the History Matters conference organised by the Policy Exchange think tank, Mr Dowden observed that the phenomenon of pressuring institutions was nothing new and had been going on “for years”, adding that some organisations had even experienced “threats of defunding”.
“One of the things that prompted me to come into this debate in the first place was talking to some of the institutions who felt like they were being bullied, particularly by left-wing campaigns,” Mr Dowden said.
Warning: contains video footage of a Green councillor putting on an American accent and pretending to be Rosa Parks to persuade other local politicians to vote for reparations (yes, really) https://t.co/UxujhFZMSG
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 4, 2021
Dowden said: “I think the bigger risk now comes from being pushed around by unrepresentative campaign groups, principally from the left, who put bullying pressure on the institutions to rapidly change their approach, to remove our history, to remove statues and so on in a very short-termist way, not taking a rigorous historical approach and that is a danger that needs to be guarded against because it can take generations to build history and heritage and just a few short-term decisions to remove it, and remove it for good.”
Dowden gave a sharp warning to museums and other bodies not to “allow yourself to be pushed around by the zeitgeist, take a longer-term view, make sure you do things in a rigorous way, and understand that your principal duty is to preserve and conserve our heritage”.
In June, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan tasked the Orwellian-named Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to review the city’s landmarks. The board caused controversy after one of its members, Toyin Agbetu, was forced to resign over allegations of antisemitism.
Mayor Khan appointed Agbetu to the Commission despite the British-Nigerian activist having attempted to approach Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 during a commemoration ceremony marking Britain’s abolition of the slave trade, where he shouted at the monarch, claimed “the British are the Nazis”, and threatened to “punch out” a black security guard, before being escorted from Westminster Abbey.
Asked how he would respond if Khan’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm called for the removal of statues of Winston Churchill or Horatio Nelson, Mr Dowden said: “I might even go for one of those preposterous politicians’ sayings, that I would happily chain myself to Nelson to stop him being removed.”
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to the vandalism of Churchill’s statue was initially mealy-mouthed — notably when he claimed that the wartime prime minister “sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today” — his government eventually sought a more robust approach to legally protect statues from removal by left-wing municipal governments.
BLM-Inspired Review Targets Statues of Queen Victoria, Rabbie Burns, Nelson, and More in Scottish Capital https://t.co/hMw1oSXyjx
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 2, 2021
In October, the Conservative government announced it was giving Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick a veto over local councils and “Marxist militants” from attempting to remove statues or monuments. The power was seen in action last month when Jenrick blocked the removal of the statue celebrating the life of a British war hero General Sir Redvers Buller.
Political commentator Calvin Robinson told Breitbart London at the time: “It’s fantastic to see a conservative policy from this Conservative government. Protecting our statues is of the utmost importance. It’s our job as conservatives to do just that, conserve our past, not just for us, but for future generations.”
However, the protections have not stopped local politicians from creating their own blacklists of buildings and statues. Edinburgh Council’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group has undertaken a BLM-inspired review of the statues, street names, and buildings in the Scottish capital for “historic racial injustice”, for example.
Meanwhile, the council of Bristol — the south-western English city in which BLM protesters tore down the statue of Christian philanthropist Edward Colston over his ties to the slave trade and threw it in the harbour in June 2020 — this week supported a motion to pay reparations to “atone” for the city’s part in slavery.
Who is going to pay whom?! https://t.co/mHyKbAg8vw
— Calvin Robinson (@calvinrobinson) March 3, 2021