Commentary on “On the Quayside”

I am really grateful to one of the followers of my blog for his comments, which I have posted below in italics. My response follows in standard type. It is good to be able to air our views on the comments section of any blog, but I thought that it is interesting to share the opinions, which are offered in good faith and the spirit of open dialogue.

“On the Quayside”

Colston in the dock

“Democratic” means failed

People have spoken


CLP 10/06/2020

Comment from Blog Reader:

There is little doubt that this should have been done years ago; Edward Colston was a nasty piece of work. But there is a dangerous precedent when violence and mob rule is allowed to overrule the laws of the land that we all have to follow. Whilst I have no problem with the removal of Colston’s statue, we have to be careful that we don’t try to judge all of our historical figures by today’s standards, and perhaps a better place for the statue, following removal, would have been in a museum where people could have been educated and understood his evil, what he was like and how someone in his position became revered by society. If we destroy our history completely we may struggle to learn the lessons it can teach us. I feel that there should have been a proper debate and he should have been exposed for what he was, rather than the disturbing scenes witnessed by a population, many of whom are already scared to walk outside their doors. This was an opportunity to show that Britain is a fair and just society, and can sort out its disputes through reasoned debates, which could have been held at the great university just down the road from where the statue was torn down. As Martin Luther King said, you cannot defeat racism through violence, it requires education. Instead, this felt like shades of anarchy, where he who shouts loudest gets his way.

My reply:

Thank you for reading my post and your comments. Tricky isn’t it?

I will start with the Bristol incident. The process of democracy established in Bristol, had been followed to no avail. A determined group of people had enough voice and influence within the council offices to block all previous attempts to remove the statue, which could have been readily transported to the city museum dedicated to Bristol and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. These people then proceeded to water down the proposed wording of a plague that would have at least explained the source of this man’s wealth that he used to patronise the city. This delay and use of procedures to obstruct popular change is a common practise in Britain today. It is not inclusive and is not egalitarian, it a demonstration of power by those in power.

I would not describe what happened to the statue as anything other than a proper conclusion to a failure of democratic process. Through this action the people have demonstrated that the matter had not been dealt with properly. The senior police officer, who chose not to intervene, was correct to stand back. He acknowledged the feelings of the group, had identified the emotions focused on the statue’s continued presence and let the crowd get on with a symbolic, but actually harmless act.

This was not an act of destroying history, but an act of history in itself, (as had been said elsewhere). Had the statute been re-sited as previously debated endlessly, despite the acknowledged broad acceptance of the man’s profiteering in human misery, then the action would not have been taken. 

What is important to recognise is that democracy and policing only ever works when it has the backing of the people. The democratic processes in Bristol were clearly inadequate in resolving an issue that was at first a simple discussion about moving an archaic statute. All the people who took part in that demonstration were making clear through actions, that speak louder than words, that the time to move the discussion on had been reached.

The museum, Bristol and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade will do a great job with the bronze by putting it into an historical context when it has been fished out of the dock. They will also have to now explain why that act of removal was carried out as it was. That is important.

It is very easy to deploy the term “mob rule” when trying to explain the behaviour of a group of people, but everyone of those people would be able to explain why they took part in that action. It was a considered act, not anarchy. 

I am afraid that I do not believe that Britain is a fair and just society. We have a government led by a Prime Minister that is practised in lying. The report into the Russian interference with the EU Referendum has not been published. The Conservative Party is bank-rolled in part by just 5 hedge-fund managers who gave it £18 million and several other city figures who, since 2010, have given £130 million to fund the party.

The Conservatives have an 80 seat majority in the House of Commons based on 43.6% of the vote. This is based on the first past the post system that denies fair representation of the majority of views of the population, whose votes are worthless if they live in a “safe” constituency, whether Conservative or Labour. We have an electoral dictatorship.

We do not get sensible, adult conversation in the House of Commons when all the MPs shout and jeer and have Tory MPs who applaud and cheer when a proposal to give NHS nursing staff a 2.5% pay rise after years of pay freezes is voted down by them.

We do not get legislation nor action addressing issues like homelessness, unaffordable rents, security of tenure for renters, youth unemployment, student fees and debts, let alone action about the discrimination against people of colour in their interactions with the police, (see the % of fines disproportionately dished out to the BAME population during this Lockdown), prison sentencing (see how many black men get imprisoned for offences similar to white offenders who get off with suspended sentences and fines), and as for the lack of funding to support victims of domestic violence, inaction over stalking offences and sexual offences, (see the Tory MP for Christchurch who by using arcane Parliamentary procedures, blocked the attempt to make “up-skirting” illegal), or the failure of the authorities to deal with the Hillsborough deaths for years. This is not a fair society and justice is not seen to be done.

We live in a country where access to power is down to who you know (being a private school boy or OxBridge helps) and how much cash you have; for me this is not just or fair. Money is one form of power that is as damaging as actions of any one off crowd that disturbs the peace of one evening.

When people have no money, no contacts, but only each other and feel disempowered and see that Dominic Cummings is backed up at the highest level for behaving in a way that they have been told repeatedly is wrong, what would you have them do?

I do not think tipping the statue into the dock was an unreasonable act of protest. I am not concerned that this will lead to anarchy. It won’t do so because the people who benefit most from a fair and just society are the poorest members of society. What upsets people is that the laws are made by a wealthy minority and seem to be only applicable to the majority, not the wealthy minority who have power over what laws to legislate and enact. 

As Malcolm X said, “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”

With climate change and economic inequalities and unfairness built into the “Free Market” ideology, people are waking up to the realities of how things are structured and the inequity and cruelty of the current societal arrangements. Time for serious changes.

Chris Perry

10th June, 2020