Search

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt: ‘More often than not, I will be against bringing statues down’

PUBLISHED: 09:22 19 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:28 19 June 2020

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Archant

In his latest column, Ipswich MP Tom Hunt writes about whether statues should be pulled down in the wake of debates about the symbols of our past.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PAUL GEATERIpswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Throughout history statues have fallen.

The de-Nazification process in Germany after the Second World War saw the tearing down of thousands of relics of Nazi terror.

And in living memory, we have seen the destruction of Vladimir Lenin’s statue in Kiev during the 2013 protests in Ukraine and the tearing down of statues of ousted Middle East leaders, like Colonel Gaddafi.

Debate also now rages across the Atlantic about confederate statues and others, with California recently deciding to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from their Capitol building.

A worker cleans graffiti from the plinth of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill at Parliament Square in London, following a Black Lives Matter protest. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA WireA worker cleans graffiti from the plinth of the statue of Sir Winston Churchill at Parliament Square in London, following a Black Lives Matter protest. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

This is a debate which has now come to the UK, with the toppling of slave-trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol earlier this month.

But whatever has happened or is happening abroad, even in this globalised age, we can’t get away from the fact that a debate over our statues will fundamentally be one about our nation and our nation’s history.

And I don’t think we are at heart a nation which is comfortable with tearing down the symbols of our past through the spontaneous action of the sort we have seen recently.

Unlike many other countries, we have not had a history so greatly characterised by revolution or dictatorship.

By contrast, our story is much more one of gradual change and reform.

While in some ways this does make it harder to draw the line now between people we consider to have been ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s also a sign of the success we have had in this country at building and improving on the past without great upheaval and the washing away of the good with the bad.

This does mean statues of cruel figures like Edward Colston, who was heavily involved in the disgusting slave trade, are still around.

And I personally find Edward Colston’s involvement transportation of thousands of African men, women and children repulsive. But we must recognise that people’s perception of statues themselves aren’t necessarily always the same. Figures like Colston are not heroic but it cannot be argued that Colston isn’t central to Bristol’s story.

I’m a Catholic and of part-Irish descent, and I often walk past the statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the House of Commons, a man who as Lord Protector led a brutal campaign against Catholics in Ireland, which resulted in a terrible famine, killing thousands, and the taking thousands of Irish Catholics as indentured labourers.

But whatever his actions that we wouldn’t consider acceptable now, we can’t forget that he lived during a different time and that it’s undisputable he played a huge role in our nation’s history. In my view, much more would be lost than gained, not least what we can learn from him about the present, if his statue was removed and he was pushed outside our national memory.

It’s for all these reasons that I’m completely against the summary decision taken by some to take the matter into their own hands and tear down our country’s statues which really belong to us all.

If there is a strong sense among the public that a statue should no longer stand, then there should be a thorough and democratic debate process in place for this to be pursued.

You may also want to watch:

But more often than not I will be against bringing statues down because I believe the significance of our statues is often more important than whether we judge the people represented to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ now.

What we shouldn’t do is follow the example of Bristol mayor, Martin Rees, who seems to have embraced the lawlessness that has taken place with Colston’s statue being toppled by a small minority who took matters into their own hands.

No-one was better placed than Rees to take democratic action beforehand and how he has acted has excluded many who would have wanted to have a say before the statue was removed.

Avon and Somerset Police must also take responsibility for how they stood back and allowed the statue to be toppled. Their excuse that police intervention would have caused further disorder is ridiculous.

The vandalisation of Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square and the desecration of our most cherished memorials like the Cenotaph has underlined for the vast majority of the public why the fate of our statues cannot be left to a small minority of vandals.

These disgraceful actions, which are ignorant of Churchill’s role in leading the fight against fascism and which dishonour those from across the world and of all backgrounds who died so that we might be free, completely undermine the cause the vandals claim to serve. And their criminal behaviour should not be tolerated.

I was one of 125 Conservative MPs who wrote to the home secretary calling for a Desecration of War Memorials Bill to be put before Parliament.

This Bill would give our war memorials specific protection in law which reflects their deep significance and allows our courts to hand out more robust punishments to those found guilty.

And I am pleased the government is now considering plans which would see those who damage our war memorials face up to 10 years in prison.

We mustn’t follow the lead of Sadiq Khan, who seems to have surrendered to the small mob by boarding up Churchill’s statue rather than ensuring it is suitably protected by police officers and that those attempting to deface it are dealt with firmly.

The mayor of London is ultimately responsible for policing in our capital and this should be his primary focus, not setting up a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to act as a high-minded arbiter of which London statues can and can’t stay in place.

This type of virtue-signalling and the censorious tendency of the liberal metropolitan mindset has not been limited just to Sadiq Khan over recent weeks.

Senior executives at the BBC have decided on our behalf that certain elements of our popular culture should also be boarded up and hidden away with the removal of past episodes of Little Britain from its iPlayer platform recently, mainly because of criticism of characters that David Walliams and Matt Lucas donned copious amounts of skin-darkening make up to play.

What the BBC has missed, and why Little Britain was one of my favourite comedy programmes growing up, is that virtually no one was spared the comedy duo’s ridicule. Young, old, black, white - everyone was the butt of joke at some point.

And that the audience isn’t laughing because certain characters are black or white but because the characters are hilarious. This form of self-depreciating humour is actually a great leveller and laughing together at ourselves brings down barriers, not erects them.

But the BBC’s decision suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with us for continuing to enjoy Little Britain and that our behaviour must change. It’s quite chilling that a state broadcaster, which tax and licence fee-payers are obliged to fund has the censor’s pen over comedic and artistic expression.

A country which can’t laugh at itself is barely a country worth living in at all. And just like we aren’t comfortable as a country leaving the fate of our historic statues to a small mob, neither should we be comfortable leaving our national sense of humour to a small group of state-funded executives.

None of this takes away for the tragic death of George Floyd and the strength of feeling we share against racism and injustice. But we shouldn’t let his death erupt into a culture war in this country which divides us, and where our statues and cultural expressions, like Little Britain, become quick victims without due democratic process and reflection.


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the East Anglian Daily Times. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Latest from the East Anglian Daily Times

A Suffolk safari organiser is back on the trail after lockdown. Philip Charles returned from six years working as a bear guide and researcher in British Columbia in Canada to set up Spirit of Suffolk in his home county. But the newly-formed business took a temporary hit when the coronavirus crisis struck. As well as safaris, Phil also runs photography workshops, and produces prints and home-made short books. He is a lecturer at Suffolk New College, teaching wildlife and conservation-based modules on the Suffolk Rural campus in Otley. Through his business, he aims to build a conservation-based economy connecting visitors with Suffolk’s stunning countryside both digitally and physically through safaris and lectures. “I spend most of my time on safari in farmland habitat on the Shotley and Deben peninsulas,” he says. “This guiding season for Spirit of Suffolk started early March and I had several safari bookings as well as two photography workshops planned throughout March and April.” Philip was just one safari into the season – with one urban fox tour under his belt – with the business really taking off when lockdown measures were introduced on March 23, which meant he had to ditch his planned events. Lockdown hit him hard on a personal level too, he admits. “I always thought I would be able to head out to the countryside still, alone, and with caution. But as lockdown measures were introduced I realised this was not to be the case. “On a personal level this was deeply troubling as time spent in nature forms who I am as a person in both actions and spirit. “From a business perspective initially it felt shattering as I could not operate any of the core elements of the business, and to have started the season so spectacularly well with an amazing first safari and superb urban fox tour I really felt bad for the guests that had trips booked and were now not able to take them. “As a wildlife photographer but living in central Ipswich I also felt limited in what I could do photography-wise.” But he picked himself up and started working on his website and social media strategies. It was a “joy” to provide a vital connection with nature to people stuck at home, he said. “Early on in the lockdown I started a project called ‘On the Doorstep’ in which I would spend a little time each day stood on my doorstep and photograph the comings and goings of people.” The project now forms part of a cultural snapshot of Ipswich in 2020 collated by Suffolk Archives. He also used the downtime to create short books. The two titles – Suffolk Wildlife - A Photo Journey, and Spirit Bear - A True Story of Isolation and Survival – have been “very popular”, selling both in the UK and abroad. They even received an accolade from veteran environmentalist and wildlife broadcaster Sir David Attenborough who described them as “delightful”. He has two more planned – the first of which is Bears and Hares, which is set to be followed by a collection of photo stories from the doorstep project. As lockdown eased in early August he was able to resume his safaris, initially on a two-week trial basis. The pilot proved very successful and as a result he was able to begin booking events again. “Although we are nearing the quieter season I continue to take people out who are keen on enjoying the beauty of Suffolk and its wonderful wildlife and I am personally excited for the beauty and joys of autumn,” he says. “People often purchase the safaris as a gift for someone else and this continues to be popular, as a birthday present or Christmas present that can be redeemed at any point in the future.” From October, he is also planning to resume his one-day photography workshops. “I have always loved showing people the wonders of nature, whether that be a grizzly, a barn owl, killer whales or an urban fox. I think the lockdown period offered a different appreciation for the things around us and I am ever so excited to be with people again and to be showing them all the wonderful wildlife of my favourite spots in Suffolk.” He has had to adapt the tours to ensure safety, but the changes are subtle and don’t detract from the main goal - which is seeing nature, he says. “I now encourage the guest to bring along their own drink and snacks and to also bring their own pair of binoculars. We do wear face coverings while in the vehicle and with the windows open to ensure ventilation. Such changes have been well received by the safari guests and we continue to have some great wildlife viewing.” He’ll be “forever grateful” to his customers and guests for their support and understanding during the pandemic. “Recovery all depends on the current status of local restrictions and the virus itself. I am hoping that a vaccine can be in place as soon as possible. As a fledgling business I have felt a hit, although the sales of short books has helped.” But he remains “positive and optimistic”, he says. “The only way is up,” he says. His hope is that Spirit of Suffolk will become a well-known brand. “I have long term goals of buying woodland for conservation and wildlife viewing and also establishing a small lodge where I can accommodate guests for taking multi-day safaris and tours. “For now I am happy to take things slowly and cautiously, testing the waters in certain areas as I continue to grow the brand and products that I provide. “It is exciting. I am so deeply passionate about what I do that I know it will continue to be a success.” Suffolk’s wildlife in spotlight as safaris get back on track