What is the point of statues anymore? Not just Colston, but all statues should go – Liberal Article
Edward Colston’s statue is gone. And I’m glad it’s gone. But there’s more work for Britain to do regarding other statues.
As a Bristolian, I was pleased to see the people of my city tear down a statue whose existence they had long protested. A Bristol Post poll in 2014 noted that 44% of the city wanted the statue to go. This number only increased as the movement accelerated rapidly over the next half-decade. For example, just before he was brought down, a petition garnering 11,000 signatures called for Colston’s removal. Apathy and debate were no longer acceptable. Public democracy was going to win.
However, I’m not here to argue why Colston should have been removed. This has been debated extensively already. I’m here to say that not just Colston, but all statues should be taken down, and moved out of the public gaze.
There is a crucial observation that almost every commentator has missed about the protests. Whilst on his short journey to the harbourside, Colston would’ve met the statue of Edmund Burke along the way. Casually glanced over by Bristolians, Burke’s statue still remains attached to his pedestal. However, as Burke watched his fellow 18th-century plutocrat sink into the water, he must have broken into a sweat. For surely, he must have known that he is next.
For now, Burke is, if not an admired, then at least an acceptable figure. The spirit of our times, the Zeitgeist, has not swept him away yet. Initially, this is understandable. Burke, unlike Colston, did a fair amount more than other Parliamentarians in the 1700s to work towards the abolition of slavery. He was a strong advocate for religious freedom in Ireland. He virulently attacked corrupt heads of the British Empire. Additionally, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the American Revolution. Burke seems rather respectable for a man of his times.
Yet, as the 18th century reached its closing decades, Burke’s politics became much viler. His ultra-conservative attitudes towards the French Revolution betrayed his deep dislike of the popular masses. It is shocking how people have forgotten the way he branded the peasants of France as a ‘swinish multitude’. Burke defended the aristocracy and its property at all costs. As protests worldwide emphasise the value of the people over property, Burke’s statue is walking, or rolling on, thin ice.
Clearly, what Burke represents now will not be what he represents in the future. As the times change, so will popular interpretations of Burke. In fact, popular interpretations of all statues will change.
It seems impossible to keep track of how quickly the spirit of our time travels. Our interpretations of the world even in 2010 vastly differ from those of today. We could continuously dismantle and erect statues. However, these new statues will be dismantled again in another generation, with their new interpretations. Let us save the cost at least!
Made of resistant metals and stone, statues do not respect this change. Statues, by their very composition, are meant to commemorate something for eternity. They provide an infallible interpretation of the past. They enshrine the values of a specific society and project them into the future. This is what made the Colston statue so hideous in 2020. It represented something no one believed in anymore. Statues of the 19th century do not represent us any more than statues built in 2020 would represent the people of 2050.
Statues are a relic of a past where everyday conditions changed at a significantly slower rate, most of the time. British statues, with their origins in religious commemoration, have been exceeded by our worldly, constantly industrialising, modern-day reality. Statues are irrelevant now. We should learn from Colston, and immediately remove all public statues, keeping them in museums as symbols of the pasts they represent.
Colston has had his day and has been rightfully removed. But other statues may also have their day once their infallibility loses its shine. Let us now remove them and keep them for historical learning, lest they should meet Colston’s fate.
Written by Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Point of Information
Postmodern art will be our doom – a Conservative Response
When you Google postmodern architecture, what do you see? Do you see large mansions with columns, adorned in wall inscriptions, impressive statues, or beautifully decorated high ceilings? No. You see tall Orwellian apartment buildings, looming over cities like unsettling monsters.
Why do we make an effort to visit other European countries? We want to see the milestones of their past might and beauty. We gaze at the Notre-Dame and we long for its aesthetics to come back. We’re drawn to these monuments of the past as they tell the story we may have forgotten.
We cannot judge the past by today’s values, otherwise, there would be nothing to save. In Bristol, after the crude removal of Colston’s statue, another installation showed up. It was a contemptuous caricature of a working-class man. Is this where this is all going?
To address the poll mentioned by Frank, I wanted to use contrasting evidence from a YouGov poll. Here the sample size was 4300 people. This is opposed to the slightly outdated poll from 2014 which had a sample size of a mere 1100. Based on the aforementioned poll, only 13% of those surveyed approved of removing the statue and the way it has been done.
There is absolutely no excuse to engage in vandalism. There are proper channels to address the issue. And I understand that Colston’s statue was a source of debate for a long time now. However, this is the reason we have democracy, and it should be respected.
Written by Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka
Discussions of statues distract from the real issue – a Labour Response
Colston’s statue only suffered a short trip to the bottom of Bristolian waters. However, discussion on Britain’s troubled relationship with its past continues to roll on. Frank’s article makes a distinctive and direct argument to tackle at least one facet of this issue.
By their very nature, statues enjoy a raised profile in our collective understanding of history. Like the people they represent, they can be divisive and difficult to deal with.
However, we have to recognise that some issues are past partisan politics. The cruelty of the slave trade. The colonial structures which caused such misery. The continued racial injustices felt by BAME British people every day.
All these must be condemned unanimously. So, I was immensely happy to see Colston toppled. Some figures should never be put on a pedestal.
I’m even more glad to see communities start comprehensive reviews to root out other offending articles left in public places. Whether that ends with the removal of all statues and similar relics is not for me to say.
What I can tell you is that our relationship with the past is not fixed. It never has been, and never should be. We can, and we must judge the past by today’s standards. How else can we recognise the progress we have made?
A reckoning with the legacies of long-dead figures is overwhelmingly a force for good. But dealing with history cannot be allowed to overshadow the dangers BAME British people face today. It is only by tackling these issues that today can become a past we will be proud of.
By Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders