Square's route to democracy

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The Independent Online
THE PUBLIC is to be asked what should occupy the empty plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square. A group set up by Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and the Arts, to consider the public's suggestions will be chaired by Sir John Mortimer, a playwright and Labour Party supporter.

The vacant plinth may become the focus of the campaign to erect a public memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales, but Piers Morgan, editor of The Mirror, which is campaigning for such a memorial, said that a Royal park would be a more convenient site because of the traffic congestion that may result from a memorial in Trafalgar Square.

When the square was laid out in the 1840s, two plinths were erected on the north side that were supposed to take a group of bronze statues designed by Charles Barry. However, the plan would have taken Trafalgar Square over budget and the plinths were left empty.

The plinth in the north-east corner of the square is occupied by a statue of George IV - originally designed to sit on top of Marble Arch. Under a 150-year-old law the secretary of state, in this case Chris Smith, has to give permission for the siting of a new statue in London.

Mr Smith said yesterday: "The plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square has been empty for too long. The time is now right to consider a solution. Trafalgar Square is an international tourist destination and a national focus for celebration and demonstration. That is why I want the widest possible selection of views."

Suggestions for the plinth have included memorials to George Orwell, Gandhi, William Wilberforce and William Shakespeare, while figures from the Second World War have also proved popular choices. Winston Churchill and Alan Turing, the inventor of the Enigma code breaking machine, have attracted nominations; and the Speaker of the Commons, Betty Boothroyd, has suggested that it should house a tribute to the women of the war.