130 councils across Britain are to launch review of statues linked to slave trade

A review of statues linked to colonialism and the slave trade was announced by town halls last night.

All 130 Labour councils said they would examine the ‘appropriateness’ of the monuments in the wake of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday announced his own review, which will include murals, street art, street names, statues and other memorials.

The remnants of the 17th century slave trader Edward Colston statue in Bristol which was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters and thrown into Bristol harbour

The remnants of the 17th century slave trader Edward Colston statue in Bristol which was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters and thrown into Bristol harbour 

Manchester followed suit and Huw Thomas, leader of Cardiff Council, backed the removal of a statue of Sir Thomas Picton, a slave holder and military leader. 

He described the monument to the former governor of Trinidad as an ‘affront’ to black people.

Edinburgh council leader Adam McVey said he would feel ‘no sense of loss’ if a statue to Henry Dundas, who delayed the abolition of slavery, was removed.

Plymouth council said a public square named after slave trader Sir John Hawkins would be renamed and the University of Liverpool will re-designate a hall of residence dedicated to William Gladstone.

The 19th century prime minister’s father, the merchant John Gladstone, was one of the biggest slaveholders in the West Indies, owning more than 2,500 at the time of the abolition of slavery.

Imperial College’s De La Beche geology society said it would change its name in line with its values of equality and inclusivity. Henry De La Beche was a geologist and palaeontologist with a legacy as a slave owner.

Police officers look on as a statue of Robert Milligan near Canary Wharf is seen covered with a blanket and a placard reading 'Black Lives Matter' ahead of its removal

Police officers look on as a statue of Robert Milligan near Canary Wharf is seen covered with a blanket and a placard reading 'Black Lives Matter' ahead of its removal

Workers use a crane to take down a statue of slave owner Milligan at West India Quay, east London as Labour councils across England and Wales will begin reviewing monuments

Workers use a crane to take down a statue of slave owner Milligan at West India Quay, east London as Labour councils across England and Wales will begin reviewing monuments

The decisions led to warnings from MPs and academics against trying to airbrush history. 

Ben Bradley, Conservative MP for Mansfield, said: ‘On a country built on empire we won’t have an awful lot of heritage left if you start to tear down everything that might have been associated with racism, slavery or violence. Our history teaches us important lessons, and we cannot change it, however uncomfortable it may be.

‘You might start with statues of slave traders, but it’s not long before you reach our old kings and queens, or you find that other people we revere were not squeaky clean. What monuments will we have left? ‘Who decides who is good or bad? This is a slippery slope.’

Fellow Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke said: ‘We should be very careful when we try to erase pieces of history because through history we learn and history itself has shown when lessons of the past are forgotten they tend to get repeated.

‘At the end of the day it is a matter for the local planning authority, but my view is if these things spark conversation, you are keeping history alive and not allowing these things to be forgotten. There are lessons to be learnt even today from history.’

Demonstrators wear face masks as they protest for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, holding placards reading 'Rhodes Must Fall' and 'Black Lives Matter'

Demonstrators wear face masks as they protest for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, holding placards reading 'Rhodes Must Fall' and 'Black Lives Matter'

Demonstrators gather outside University of Oxford's Oriel College during a protest by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in Oxford on Tuesday, following the death of George Floyd

Demonstrators gather outside University of Oxford's Oriel College during a protest by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in Oxford on Tuesday, following the death of George Floyd

The statue of British imperialist Rhodes on the facade of the Oriel College is seen ahead of a protest by the 'Rhodes Must Fall' campaign calling for the removal of the monument

The statue of British imperialist Rhodes on the facade of the Oriel College is seen ahead of a protest by the 'Rhodes Must Fall' campaign calling for the removal of the monument

A third Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, tweeted last night: ‘Our history is complex, as is inevitably the case for any nation state of at least 1,200 years. Rewriting parts of that history, or seeking to erase them because they are painful, or trying to impose today’s morality on people from a different era, does not bring enlightenment.’

Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor, told the BBC: ‘If you start removing statue or street names to do with slavery, in 50 years’ time you will forget the history of slavery. Maybe some racists might be quite happy for you to take them down because you’re taking down your history.’

Announcing a wide-ranging review, Mr Khan said London had to face up to the ‘uncomfortable truth’ that part of history is linked to the kidnap, transportation and killing of thousands of people.

Hundreds of landmarks will be reviewed by a new commission, which Mr Khan said should see the removal of controversial statues. The mayor said it was partly inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that led to the statue of 17th century slave trader Colston being toppled. He said he did not condone the attacks on the police or the destruction of public property seen at protest events.

Labour leaders at the Local Government Association said: ‘We have consulted with all Labour council leaders, and there is overwhelming agreement from all Labour councils that they will listen to and work with their local communities to review the appropriateness of local monuments and statues on public land and council property.’

One petition is calling on Manchester City Council to remove the statue of prime minister Robert Peel from Piccadilly Gardens.


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