Why we should move all statues into a sculpture park and use blue plaques instead

Statues are nothing more than a stone supplement to the preposterous honours system – and they should be removed.

A dear departed friend of mine who once lived there pointed out, as we went through on the train, that Newark is known to many locals as “the amusing anagram town”. For some reason this springs to mind every time the town’s MP, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, inveigles his way into the public eye.

In a fast race, Jenrick is bidding to be the most shameless member of an unedifying government. After surviving the imbroglio of unlawfully permitting Richard Desmond’s Westferry property development in east London, Jenrick has this week been doing the work of Newark again. The £3.6bn Towns Fund, which is distributed through Jenrick’s department, was created to benefit around 100 “left-behind” towns across England. Newark, which was ranked 270th in terms of priority according to the National Audit Office, has received the maximum grant of £25m. I do not begrudge the good people of Newark the money, but their MP is a loyal votary for a government that cares nothing for process so long as the outcome is desirable. This is the culture-war spirit and it was no surprise to see Jenrick turning up on the front line.

Every week anonymous government sources fire a salvo of nonsense in the culture war to pliant newspapers. Most recently, the anonymous briefer tried to litigate the past with the allegation that “statues of Britain’s heroes from Sir Francis Drake to Admiral Nelson are under threat from Marxist militants, working hand in glove with Labour councillors”. This was then followed by the announcement that, under forthcoming changes to planning guidance, ministers will be granted a veto over the removal of statues, plaques and memorials. The final say will rest with Jenrick.

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The argument about statues is about the location of power. If Andy Burnham, the Cock of the North, wants to pull down Oliver Heywood and James Fraser, a forgotten philanthropist and bishop respectively, from their plinths in Albert Square in Manchester and replace them with Harold Evans and Johnny Marr, why should he not have the authority to do so? The slight hint of cultural vandalism in that thought raises the second, and more interesting, way in which statues embody power. As the historian David Olusoga has said, statues are about adoration. A statue is a reward for historic service. It is an indication of what a given society thought to be meritorious, at a given moment in time.

Statues are themselves historical artefacts that were important exhibits in the invention of tradition that took off in the second half of the 19th century. Most of the statues to which people take exception were erected between 1889 and 1919. The erection of a statue is itself a verdict on history, not just a neutral note. That is why we erected a statue to Millicent Fawcett in London’s Parliament Square in 2018. It is because we approve of her, not only because she was …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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