The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a new ‘commission to review and improve diversity’ across London’s public realm to ‘ensure the capital’s landmarks suitably reflect London’s achievements and diversity’. Would anyone outside current activist circles like to hazard a guess at what this actually means?
The Mayor of London’s London Assembly website states:
The Commission….will focus on increasing representation among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, women, the LGBTQ+ community and disability groups.
Ok. No problem with that. London is a massively diverse city. Let’s highlight a range of achievements and communities. That will be on current issues and looking forward, right?
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with more than 300 languages spoken every day, yet statues, plaques and street names largely reflect Victorian Britain – as highlighted by recent Black Lives Matter protests….
Er, right. That could just be because our British history includes a lot of Victorian philanthropists, engineers, public servants, business men and so on…couldn’t it? And what is wrong with commemorating these folks and their achievements? It is, after all, due to the achievements of our forebears that our country is what it is today – built on how these people made it. Is it wrong to commemorate them and their works?
Apparently so, if they don’t come up to scratch with today’s elite thinkers – i.e. activists in the historical grievance industry.
The Mayor is committed to ensuring that the capital’s history is celebrated and commemorated in the most appropriate way.
If that does not strike fear into the heart of all reasonable people, I don’t know what will. Who exactly gets to decide what is the ‘most appropriate way’? And ‘most appropriate’ for whom? Thought Police, anyone?
What next? A commission to decide what is the most appropriate way to bring up your children? (Oh hang on, we’ve just about already got that with our schools having to teach the new Relationships and Sex education policy).
The most appropriate way to run your life and household (tick for Extinction Rebellion’s Three Demands Bill and its ‘Citizen’s Assembly’)?
The most appropriate way to worship God (tick – alone in your own home if a member of the Church of England)?
Sadiq Khan has previously pledged his support for a number of new memorials in the capital, including for Stephen Lawrence, the Windrush generation, a National Slavery Museum or Memorial, and a National Sikh War Memorial. Ok. Most of us can probably see the value of these. So is this the sort of thing that the new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm is going to be applied to?
The Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm will review the landmarks that currently makes up London’s public realm, further the discussion into what legacies should be celebrated, and make a series of recommendations aimed at establishing best practice and standards.
What legacies should be celebrated? Best practice and standards? For whom and from whose perspective?
It will be wide in scope and consider murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials.
There we go. Now we’re getting to it. This is looking like another Countering Colston programme as seen in Bristol. Part of ‘decolonising’ Bristol involves, apparently, changing street names and the names of buildings. That is, if these names offend someone today.
It is worth considering that one of the principle methods of past empire-building powers in colonising a new territory, both in physical and psychological terms, has always involved applying new names to places, buildings and festivals and removing reminders of the past that do not fit with the new ‘reality’. The Romans did it across their empire. The British did it in theirs. As did the Belgians, Spanish, Portuguese and so on. If you take over existing names and change them to new, officially ‘approved’ names, you get to control the agenda in both space and mind.
Hence pagan Saturnalia became Christmas; the Jewish Passover became Easter (after Eostre, a Germanic goddess of Spring); pagan Samhain became the All Souls festival or Hallowe’en and Lughnasadh became Lammas (or loaf-mass) Day (the beginning of harvest). Towns were renamed. Roads were named after the ruling groups and individuals in them.
Bearing this in mind, what are we to make of some of the changes that are likely to, or could, result from Sadiq Khan’s new commission? Anything named after a Victorian (or older) male is now likely to be fair game – he was bound to have been involved in the slave trade. Likewise, probably anything about Queen Victoria (colonial-racist head of state). Brunel (probably oppressed his workers). Lewis Carroll (likely pervert). Florence Nightingale (white and not Mary Seacole). Charlotte Bronte (vicar’s daughter so a probably a bigot). Thomas Cook (his travel company probably exploited local labour). Sir Titus Salt (Bradford mill-owner who oppressed his workers by refusing to have alcohol sold in the brand new village he built for them). And so on. No doubt Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Charles Darwin will all get a free pass, due to their anti-religion credentials.
Come to think of it, most Victorian and earlier philanthropists were inspired by their Christian faith to do what they did. So if we modern-day Christians were so minded, we could probably complain that our religious heritage is being down-graded. But will we? And would we be heard? Will the BBC take us seriously? I doubt it.
What we are seeing here is a new form of elitism: minority-interest elitism. That sort of elitism is fine apparently. The elitism of the minority over the majority. If a minority of people in our entire society don’t like something, even something historical, then that thing can, if not should, be removed so as not to upset them. Is this right? Can we rewrite the past?
If our forebears in Britain had not existed and carried out their various works, then the UK would not be the open and welcoming place it is today. Why do millions all around the world want to come here? If this country is so racist and unwelcoming, why do these millions of folks all want to make a beeline towards it?
If people are so incensed by racism in history, why not go and shout in countries that didn’t want to abolish the slave trade? Britain led the way in that, in case we forget. Why not go and protest in the African countries whose forebears sold fellow-blacks into slavery for their own profit? No? Why not? The statue of Colston was pulled down last week and thrown into Bristol harbour as a protest, supposedly, against slavery. But the Boston University historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood have estimated that 90 percent of those shipped out of Africa as slaves were actually enslaved by Africans and then sold on. Without this mutually beneficial relationship between black and white traders, slaves could not have been taken away on such a scale. And all this was recognised at the time and during the subsequent slave period in the US.
Did any of the Colston statue vandals involved stop to consider that? No. It doesn’t fit the narrative, does it?
Will non-BAME voices be heard by Mayor Khan’s Commission if they disagree with anything it proposes? What about all the white working class folks of London who love their place names, street names, building names and so on? Their right to freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention, which protects, among other things, our “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”. This is a defensive right, which prohibits the government from interfering with our ability to express ourselves freely. How is that going to fit in with this new commission?
The Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm seems to be a body set up to make the streets of London into something that some people think it ought to be. I suspect that most British people are fairly happy with how their capital city already is and has been for hundreds of years. Nobody is denying there are problems, but this is the same in all cities. Nobody is saying don’t improve things. But attempting to rewrite history by cutting out all the bits that a minority have taken a dislike to is not the way to do it. In a democratic country, the majority have the final say. Yes, minority interests and rights have an important place within that, but we cannot have a society in which one group thinks it can block out the old or new bits it does not like and impose those thoughts on the rest. That’s totalitarianism, not equal rights.
I’ve mentioned this before, but here it is again. The imposition of Orwell’s Newspeak on British society:
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of [diversity], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.
As Orwell said [with my amendments]:
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of [diversity], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of [diversity] — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a [diversity promoter] could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. ……To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.’
By all means, let’s fight real racism. Let’s try to ensure that there is equal recognition of achievement across all of our communities. But don’t let’s get bogged down in rewriting the past or redesigning our landscape because a minority don’t like the way it is and has been for hundreds of years. We’re supposed to be learning to live together. And attempting to wipe out parts of the majority past in the UK is not the way to do it.