Who would Black Lives Matter erect a statue to?

The row over Colston’s plinth reveals the self-regard and historical illiteracy of some campaigners.

Michael Crowley

Topics Politics UK

The toppled statue of Edward Colston was this week temporarily replaced by a statue of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protester. Artist Marc Quinn fixed the black resin statue of protester Jen Reid to the plinth in the early hours of Monday morning. Twenty-four hours later the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, announced it had been removed, so that the people of Bristol could decide, democratically, what should take Colston’s place. Many will have seen the toppling of Colston and his replacement by Reid as fitting, as an enlightened re-arrangement of street furniture. But take a look at the wider context here, particularly the historical one, and alternative possibilities present themselves.

Following the toppling of Colston, demonstrators in London subsequently vandalised the statues of Churchill and Gandhi in Parliament Square, sparking a debate on whether the wartime leader’s statue should also be removed. London mayor Sadiq Khan has promised a review of the capital’s statues; the coalition ‘Stop Trump’ has produced an interactive map of 60 UK statues that ‘celebrate the racists’. In Poole, the council was stopped only by local residents from removing Scout leader Robert Baden-Powell from the seafront. The iconoclasts have set their sights wide. Media interviews with some allegedly involved in tearing down Colston’s statue revealed that they had no idea who he was. When an activist was asked by Channel 4’s Cathy Newman if the statue of Churchill ‘should be there’, her guest replied ‘some say that he’s a racist, some that say he’s a hero, I haven’t personally met him…’. There is a bandwagon rolling who knows where.

That Colston was temporarily replaced with a statue of someone from Black Lives Matter reflects the self-regard of this movement. The battle over statues is the latest chapter in cancel culture – where people seek to annul what rubs them up the wrong way, and to dictate what the rest of us should and shouldn’t read, view or listen to. And yet these activists are unsure of what or who they prefer. This is partly because the criterion is ever moving, and partly because a lot of the culture cops are culturally and historically subliterate.

This isn’t only a contest over individual monuments, but over public spaces and how we engage with history. For the campaigners, history is oppressive and they are its victims. For decades now, public bodies have treated us as potential victims of one kind or another, with forewarnings and helplines placed after soap-opera episodes. There is also a generational element to this. Young people have been invited on to interview panels to recruit their teachers, and are otherwise over-entitled by a cult of the young. Each new generation believes itself to be king – what’s new is the adults have now willingly handed over the crown to the current crop; and what they feel, they believe to be real.

The argument against certain statues, of Cecil Rhodes or Edward Colston, isn’t just that they are offensive, but that their continued existence oppresses people today – that statues hold people and social progress back, because they are a conscious celebration of racism and imperialism. But this again is historically illiterate. In major cities across Europe, 1848 to 1914 was an industrious period of statue building, with 78 installed in Paris, 59 in Berlin and 61 in London. European powers were cementing a sense of national identity and empire. By the time they had finished, Britain was on the cusp of achieving suffrage, if not social revolution, and class power was beginning to shift irreversibly. All without a statue of Eleanor Marx or Tom Mann. Across the Soviet Union, Stalinists raised figures of party officials on street corners, but they left the people cold. After the edifice collapsed, many were carted off to eerily comic statue parks, as in Budapest.

Statues are not that important; they tell us what some with influence believed was worth memorialising at a particular time. They are a window to others’ concerns, or lack of concerns. I’ve always been bemused by the statues of Bomber Harris and General Haig, the architects of the fire-bombing of Dresden and the Somme offensive. But it has never occurred to me to expect them to be removed. They are a reminder of how cheaply the lives of ordinary people are held by the establishment, particularly in times of war. Allowing monuments to stand isn’t legitimising anything. They are merely part of the fabric of the past woven into today.

In the wake of Colston’s toppling a petition was circulating in Bristol, urging the authorities to erect a statue of Paul Stephenson, who led a bus boycott in the city in 1963, after the Bristol Omnibus Company refused to employ black drivers or conductors. There also could have been an argument for Stephenson to be placed opposite Colston in the square, looking right back at him. Colston was memorialised because he was a huge benefactor to Bristol, through the proceeds of the slave trade. The two statues together would tell a more poignant and enlightening story.

We need to understand our past, not just morally judge it. History cannot harm us, but if we turn our backs on it, it has a habit of sneaking up on us, and then we run the risk of going through it all again.

Michael Crowley is an author and dramatist. Visit his website here.

Picture by: Getty.

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cliff resnick

24th July 2020 at 9:45 pm

The contradiction of the whole over reaction of this movement would be the logical choice of subject that expressive the basis of this social discontent, and that would obviously have to be the man himself George Floyd. How very apposite

Bastard Man

23rd July 2020 at 10:17 pm




Gordon O Gopher

19th July 2020 at 8:27 pm

I see multi-multi-millionaire Lewis Hamilton is criticising F1 and his fellow racers for not doing enough to tackle racism.

I think what he actually means is they’re not going along with the BS symbolism like taking to the knee and fists in the air that he is.

Perhaps because they see blatantly obvious contradiction of pretending to care about social injustice while earning tens of millions of pounds, living in tax haven and massively contributing to climate change.

You’re a great driver and a sportsman that Britain can be proud of. STFU and stick to driving.

farkennel smith

19th July 2020 at 7:48 am

I don`t see the problem with that black shiela saying she hadn`t met Churchill.I haven`t met him either,we drink at different pubs.

Gordon O Gopher

19th July 2020 at 11:05 pm

The question was whether he deserves a statue – not whether she’d met him. In fact generally the whole point of a statue is that you’re never going to meet them.

Only egotistical tossers are alive and have statues. Oh, and Anthony Gormley . Although he might be an egotistical tosser as well. I don’t know, I haven’t met him.

Ness Immersion

18th July 2020 at 11:38 pm

How about a statue houring the men of the West African Patrol.
After all they did so much to prevent slavery prospering and I’m sure all the BLM crowd would like to honour men who did so much for so long

Major Bonkers

18th July 2020 at 3:05 am

I’d like to suggest a statue of the great Donald Trump.

In the alternative, John Cabot, who was sent by King Henry VII and discovered Newfoundland. There is already a statue, but it looks like an Action Man melted in a fire.

In the alternative, here’s a list of famous people from Bristol – famous, at least, if you read ‘The Sun’. How about Cathy Barry – ‘one of the UK’s most famous pornstars’?


Gordon O Gopher

19th July 2020 at 11:08 pm

Massive Attack definitely. Some would say one of them is on that list twice.

Jack Sprat

17th July 2020 at 9:33 pm

I still think there should be a statue of Tippu Tipp ready for B h month.

James Knight

17th July 2020 at 7:15 pm

If it had stayed up it would no doubt have become a magnet for vandals. That is the trouble with BLM activists: the iconoclasts have their own religion with their own icons that are supposed to be sacred.

Already the slogan “BLM” painted on the road has been vandalised.

nick hunt

17th July 2020 at 5:58 pm

So statues of Bomber Harris and General Haig are ‘a reminder of how cheaply the lives of ordinary people are held by the establishment, particularly in times of war’? How sickening to slander the character and motivation of individuals the author has never met, and who were responsible for saving a nation from mortal enemies. Millions of ordinary Brits owe their lives and freedoms to such warriors, and rightly honour them. But I notice this author never mentions their pain as our national heritage is smeared and smashed by ignorant th-gs. Isn’t that a good example of how uncaring elitists hold ordinary lives so ‘cheaply’?

Mike Jackson

17th July 2020 at 10:49 pm

Harris was a controversial figure at the time. Debate about the efficacy or otherwise of saturation bombing continued through the war and has reared its head on a regular basis ever since.

He is certainly not someone that I would have voted a statue for but I may well be in a minority. If the majority consider him a war hero and instrumental in the defeat of Nazism and believe a statue is appropriate then so be it.

If/when people want it removed because nobody any longer understands the reasons for erecting it then likewise so be it. We shouldn’t be removing it because a small clique has suddenly decided that there are other aspects of the man’s character or his life that they disapprove of or that makes them feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable about the life of someone you never knew and is anyway dead sounds like borderline mental illness to me.

Philip Humphrey

18th July 2020 at 12:02 am

I don’t doubt the reservations some have about Harris, but he did a job that someone had to do. And for a lot of the war night area bombing was the only way, without an effective long range escort fighter precision bombing of military targets or factories was much too costly – as the US Air force found out the hard way in 1943. The bombing tied up huge German resources that could have otherwise gone to the Russian front and the North African Desert. I think we should have statues to people who did the “dirty work” of winning wars (and got a lot of approbation and little thanks for it). If nothing else because winning a war, even a just war, is a dirty business and it will stain many who do what is needed that the rest of us might enjoy liberty.

Andrew Mawdsley

18th July 2020 at 11:13 am

Couldn’t agree more Nick. Bomber Harris did what he had to do in order to truncate a conflict that would have seen the deaths of millions more people had it been allowed to continue.

He should be celebrated and held up as an example of a genuinely stoical Brit who did what he had to do, despite knowing that he may receive opprobrium for it.

nick hunt

17th July 2020 at 5:42 pm

So statues of Bomber Harris and General Haig are ‘a reminder of how cheaply the lives of ordinary people are held by the establishment, particularly in times of war’? How sickening to slander the character and motivation of people the author has never met, and who were responsible for saving a nation from mortal enemies. Millions of ordinary Brits owe their lives and freedoms to such warriors, and rightly honour them. But I notice this author never mentions their pain as our common heritage is smeared and smashed by ignorant thugs. Isn’t that a good example of how to hold ordinary lives so ‘cheaply’?

nick hunt

17th July 2020 at 5:34 pm

“The governments of provinces announced that cultural heritage no longer enjoyed official protection. The idealistic youth of China—primed by the victim narrative of socialism, educated by institutions controlled by the CCP, devoted to Chairman Mao, enabled by his fiat, and inspired by the revolutionary fervor of their comrades—unleashed perhaps the most destructive campaign of iconoclasm ever. Buddhist and Confucian temples were razed, scrolls and books burned, statues smashed, paintings destroyed. The noble dead were dug from the earth, publicly hacked to pieces and the fragments burned. All feudal names were changed. Yongyi Song writes, “By the end of the Cultural Revolution, 4,922 of the 6,843 officially designated ‘places of cultural or historical interest’ in Beijing had been destroyed.” At Qufu Temple the grave and temple of Confucius was desecrated and 6,618 registered cultural artifacts (including paintings, books, stone stele and 2,000 graves) liquidated.”



17th July 2020 at 5:30 pm

A waste of time, sooner or later it will to be destroyed. When the sun explodes at the latest.

Jo Shaw

17th July 2020 at 4:39 pm

“Who would Black Lives Matter erect a statue to?”

Doesn’t matter. Just make sure that it is secured with the minimum number of bolts because they’ll want someone different next week.

Gordon O Gopher

17th July 2020 at 1:07 pm

Heard Marvin Rees on the radio. He seemed like a very sensible chap, no hysterics just down to earth and straight talking. So probably not him.


17th July 2020 at 11:47 am

I think a statue of Blackbeard (he was a Bristolian ) would be good and if they could find an actual present day pirate to create it even better.

Walter Mitty

17th July 2020 at 10:58 am

If at this point one still cannot see that this movement isn’t exactly what it claims to be then there is a big problem. I imagine most of the public can see this but the media, corporations, academia etc. are all in so the ordinary person is almost powerless to push back against it.

The only logical reason to put this statue up was to cause division, they knew it was illegal and it would be taken down so they could try to distort the situation in their favour. It looks like it hasn’t gotten the traction they hoped it would despite the best efforts of C4 to boost it for them.

Mor Vir

17th July 2020 at 10:13 am

Ms. Hottie has been cancelled for questioning BLM narratives. Let us be honest – this society is about as free as I S.

> Miss Swimsuit UK, 23, is stripped of her title after she posted ‘All Lives Matter’ in Facebook post and questioned whether George Floyd was innocent – DM

Gordon O Gopher

18th July 2020 at 12:55 am

I googled that. The first search result was “How To Enter – Miss Swimsuit UK”. I clicked on it but it was quite disappointing.

Mor Vir

17th July 2020 at 10:06 am

Who would BLM raise statues to? We now have the answer – themselves.

I suppose that is the logical outcome of a process in which one sets oneself up as the ultimate moral arbiter of the public space and declares oneself righteous in the act of condemning others – how can there be judgement without the pure eye of the judge? And is that not what the topplings were always about, the imposition on the public of a more righteous character for emulation – who better than the pure protesters themselves? The statues to the statue-topplers.

Statues tend to be in some sense statues to oneself – be it of another who in some way resembles oneself, in character, goal, belief, supposed virtue, desired achievement. Statues to oneself – is there not something proud, exposed, ridiculous about that? They tend to represent power in some sense and as such they are offensive to every free person – they impose some standard, some perspective, some role as dominant, accepted, virtuous, expected. They represent the imposition of the external, the other, the established in the social realm over oneself and against one’s own freedom to judge and to act as one sees fit. Statues are expressions of will to power, domination. Roman.

There is something weird about statues, that we would make solid, inanimate replicas of chosen individuals and establish them immovably in the public space – fake humans. ‘Hello, Mr. Statue, how are you today? Did you see the movie last night?’ Weird and silly.

I would happily get rid of all statues to people, maybe just keep the abstract statues. F statues.

Jerry Owen

17th July 2020 at 9:51 am

‘The two statues together would tell a more enlightening story’. I don’t think so.
One statue was of the times, the other a protest against a specific local issue.
The statue of the BLM protester was depicted with a Malcolm X style beret and a short leather glove and she was giving a black power salute.
I managed to listen to her interview for the thankfully short few minutes it lasted. She actually said she supports ‘black power’.
My take is that BLM want to replace a ‘racist’ white statue for a racist black statue.
Great logic from the left as ever.

Gareth Edward KING

17th July 2020 at 9:25 am

If nothing else, what this debacle has shown is the utter disaster that is the British educational system in current form especially with regard to the teaching of History and English. Peter Hitchens described its decline in his ‘The Abolition of Britain’. I’ve had the misfortune of covering for absent History teachers and its embarrasing. It’s not just that of which Year 7s don’t know (well, they are kids), but it’s the empathy through which the subject is taught. The classes need historical facts not propaganda. They also need to be taught the love of reading for its own sake. Internet material cannot replace reading on one’s own (yes, it’s a solitary activity!), in the quiet and with no distractions. Internet can only be a compliment, and the fact that it has replaced reading, well, the results are there for all to see. Whilst teaching in a FE college in 1994, I recall being reprimanded for expecting my (almost wholly) black students to write in correct English.

Jerry Owen

17th July 2020 at 10:09 am

Good news Gareth. You wouldn’t be reprimanded now in 2020 because no one has to write in correct English, as long as teacher gets the general drift it’s all .. Cool innit!

Brandy Cluster

17th July 2020 at 8:38 am

Oh, Serena Williams!!

Michel Houllebeq

17th July 2020 at 7:46 am

So not one person has mentioned my experience of being called a “white pusshihole” by blacks in bristol, in this anti woke ublication. better get back to watching the bbc steven lawence murder 20 years ago while there are murders every day in london mainly black on black (if your in the way you’re fucked)

James Conner

17th July 2020 at 7:20 am

Statues of Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott should be erected in prominent places in London to remind people how close our parliamentary system can get to allowing clueless idiots to hold positions of power.

Brandy Cluster

17th July 2020 at 8:39 am

Yes, the kind of politicians who have Commodore 64 processing skills!!!

a watson

17th July 2020 at 8:48 am


In Negative

17th July 2020 at 9:19 am

And maybe a little Boris to prove the point?

Jerry Owen

17th July 2020 at 9:53 am

Statues of them in stocks could be cool.

Dominic Straiton

17th July 2020 at 6:26 am

How about Che. He fought for freedom and murdered gays for fun. Lenin perhaps, creator of the Holodomor. Ernst Thalmann founder of antifa, whos main target was the Social Democratic party rather than the Nazis, in Germany in the 1930s. No change there. Maybe they’re to white. To white supremacist. How about Henry Christophe. He killed all the Frenchis on Haiti, freed the slaves and created the wonderful society still going strong to this day in the Americas. Id go for Zulu king Shaka. He created a huge Empire from a very small kingdom with a warrior people (much like the British one). Didnt abolish slavery though which is a bit of a down mark (I was going to say black mark,but that would be unconscious bias).

Dominic Straiton

17th July 2020 at 6:34 am

After thought. I would suggest Martin Luther King but with all that character rather than colour of skin racism he’s about to get cancelled so it will probably be someone who advocates “direct action” to effect change like all the others.

etidretni noinipo

17th July 2020 at 10:12 am

Surely Idi Amin would be the ideal candidate for “this” type of statue. As the sole post-war leader to have planned a statue of Hitler (thankfully something he was somehow persuaded against following through with), he’d be the gift that keeps on giving.

L Strange

17th July 2020 at 4:39 am

Yesterday, I read of a US university that was seriously considering renaming one of their buildings that was named for a former professor who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1923…….. because he did nothing to advance or champion women in STEM.

Just when you think it’s reached peak stupid ……

Michel Houllebeq

17th July 2020 at 2:20 am

Bristol was somewhere I was called a “white pussie” by the Black Somalian community whilst it also has a very large liberal white upper class privately educated population – perfect demographics for this bullshit.

Vivian Darkbloom

17th July 2020 at 2:06 am

I would like to see a statue of Alan Wren erected on the Colston plinth. I think his magnificent contribution to the British beer industry should be recognised.

a watson

17th July 2020 at 7:00 am

I’m sure we could find a space for a statue of Sadiq Khan in Parliament Square – him and his PR team would love that.

Vivian Darkbloom

17th July 2020 at 6:46 pm

I like it when Sadiq puts on his “compassionate and caring” face. It seems that’s all the modern politician needs nowadays. All exterior and no interior. For goodness sakes why do we even need a London mayor? We got along fine for hundreds of years without one. Still, I suppose Sadiq has earned his place in the sun as an exemplar of uselessness.

I still reckon Alan Wren deserves the empty Colton podium. Have you read his comments? He’s one of the greatest loons to appear on these pages (and I include myself in that company!). Straight out the pub and onto the comments. Legend!

Alan Wren

17th July 2020 at 1:09 am

This article is truly dire.

My auntie is a fairly normal English, white, small C pensioner.

She finds the depiction of Hitler in the Amazon series “Preacher’ deeply troubling as she objects to all mentions of him in popular culture.

It is quite clear from my conversations with her over the years that she is quite content that there are no statues of Hitler in Cornwall or Devon.

No journalist or pundit has ever trolled my auntie by asking “So who would you like to see a statue of then, if not Hitler”.

Alan Wren

17th July 2020 at 1:09 am

* small C Conservative pensioner.


17th July 2020 at 2:58 pm

Your Auntie is of diminutive stature? Unless there are members of your family whose surname was Hitler why would there be statues of the Austrian Hitler in England? Hitler has been given the position of being the uniquely evil person of the 20th century. It is impossible to consider him in an historical context and you would be prosecuted if you tried. This was useful as it obscured the other evil people of the last century whose philosophy still continues to be revered to this day.

James Knight

17th July 2020 at 8:05 pm

Auschwitz is still there. And there were discussions on spending millions to restore the crumbling Nuremberg stadium. I have to say I am disappointed that German architecture is not as long lasting as you might have thought.

Kevin Turner

17th July 2020 at 12:54 am

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” (L.P. Hartley).

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