On The Quayside

Colston in the dock

“Democratic” means failed

People have spoken


CLP 10/06/2020


  1. 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.

    1. Dear Cyncoed,

      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 awareness of 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 of 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 peole 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.

      1. Thank you so much for your reasoned argument and I genuinely appreciate the time and effort you put into it. For myself I see many of the points you put forward as evidence of an imbalanced society on grounds of education, finance and opportunity; i.e class, rather than race, and on those grounds I would complete agree with you.
        I said that it was an opportunity to ‘show’ we have a fair and just society because for all its faults I believe that we, unlike many societies, have recourse to reject the elected government. The fact that we don’t says more about the gullibility of the people and their reliance on a clearly biased media, than about the fairness of the system itself. I am a socialist with a liberal heart, but never a Tory, so I completely agree that the political system needs correcting, and voted for such, but would challenge on four points;
        1/ Violence affects everyone in this country, especially the vulnerable. Perhaps the young can accept it as an acceptable bump on the road to progress, but one man’s ‘symbolic and harmless act’ is another’s recurring nightmare and to the elderly and vulnerable it can have long reaching psychological effects. Violence can only be condoned when every other means of protest has been exhausted. Britain has maintained itself as a democracy while many others have failed, and if the protesters had organised themselves properly with the same dedication they chose last weekend, they easily could have engineered a debate in the commons through the Petition Parliament scheme, by simply creating a petition that asks for a change to the law or to government policy. After 10,000 signatures, petitions get a response from the government. After 100,000 signatures, petitions are considered for debate in Parliament. That would have been an act of history! The problem is that people don’t want to go through the proper channels. What we got was symptomatic of the why-wait credit card society we live in. I certainly don’t accept Marvin, the less than marvellous mayor of Bristol’s argument that he couldn’t have brought the matter up in the previous 4 years because he was black. He needs to get some balls from Dianne Abbot! I’m not her biggest fan, but at least she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Where were the young politicians with a voice!
        2/ What we saw was a knee jerk reaction to events in America. I cannot believe the Bristol incident would have happened last weekend if George Floyd had not been murdered by a racist police officer, an event which happened in another country. So if my daughter and her young baby, or yours is knocked over by an over zealous protester in Bristol, where my daughter works, if a policeman is injured in London, which saw demonstrations that spilled over into violence, these events are justified because racism is endemic in a police force of another country or there was a statue of an evil man, which had stood for hundreds of years. I see these an erroneous arguments. Violence in this instance is unjustifiable and wrong. The protesters should be brought to justice and asked to explain their actions before the courts.
        3/ The reason the Conservatives were given a free pass at the last election was the complete dominance of the far left movement ‘Momentum’ over the Labour Party making it unelectable. Momentum is what happens when the idealists break free of the realists and forget that we don’t live in a perfect world. You can’t tax the hell out of the rich, they can afford better accountants than HMRC, most of whom used to work for the government! I despise with a passion the architect of Brexit ‘Boris’ , a decision I believe that will haunt this country for years to come, and would dearly have voted labour at the last election, but I could not vote for a party that endorsed completely off the cuff unrealistic spending plans and refused to properly refute racist (anti-Semitic) views, even though my personal sympathies lie more with the Palestinian view than the Israeli one. There is no doubt that there is inherent racism in the Conservative party too, but it is not as blatant as that found in the Labour Party, prior to 2019. Hopefully now that situation can be dealt with properly by Kier Starmer.
        4/ The issue should not be about the proportion of black people arrested, but the causes of why black people are more likely to be arrested. I am convinced that equal opportunities in education would correct much of this imbalance provided that educational establishments were given the proper financial support and authority to enforce discipline. The strongest family unit in this country is the Asian family unit because there is an innate culture of discipline and I don’t think that there’s any coincidence that it’s also the most successful. I have taught many children of East African origin and they are amongst the most hardworking and dedicated people I know. But our education system fails them, because we focus so much on giving children what they want rather than what they need.
        The real shame is that politically, I’m guessing that we’re both sitting on the same side of the fence. But I abhor violence, and cannot condone the actions of what I still regard as mob rule, having seen the pictures. I spent time growing up on one of the roughest housing estates in London, and when you assert that every one of those people knew that actions speak louder than words, I actually agree, because I know that there is always a criminal element that will look for such opportunities to piggy back such displays of public disaffection with authority, which is why I am so resolute that the circumstances must be irrefutable before such action can be given affirmation by the general population. When you condone violence, in any shape or form, it’s a hairs breadth away from condoning the break up of law and order, the very building bricks of our society itself. That’s why we have to be so careful.
        As I said at the beginning, I respect your views, but I feel that, perhaps this time, we need to agree to disagree. Yours, Paul

      2. Hi Paul, Maybe we could discuss this over a beer one day? I also appreciate your arguments. I believe it is always worth knocking on the door, but sometimes, it has to be knocked in. Totally agree about the points you have made about violence towards people and the police. Malcolm X also said “We will not be violent to people who are not violent to us.” Which is not a threat, but a statement that says treat people with respect and they will treat you with respect. This was how I hope the children I taught saw it too. With best wishes, Chris

      3. Despite the escalation of confrontations around statues today, which has not gone un-noticed, I do still support the removal of the Colston statue. It is now a matter of how discussions develop around the other disputed memorials of disrepute. This is the opportunity to engage in sensible argument and consider how we address the imperial past of the country. It has opened the debate up – which has to be a good thing.

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