Toppling the Colston statue saved the council a hefty removal fee – protesters should send them an invoice

After a few more decades of meetings and petitions, it would have been removed by a hired building firm anyway


Mark Steel
Thursday 11 June 2020 20:25 BST
Plaque dedicated to slaves taken from their homes replaces Colston statue

Whatever you think about these statues, it’s inspiring that, at last, we’re having an informed debate about history.

Each morning, someone calmly calls a radio phone-in to say, “I’m DISGUSTED, this is our HISTORY and we should all know about people like Edward Colston, and now, because of these thug protestors, we do all know about him. No hang on, that’s not right, what I mean is, I am DISGUSTED because this mob has insulted someone who always made me proud to be British, who I’d never heard of before.”

They have a point, because we’re judging people in the past by today’s standards, and that’s not fair. We should forgive Colston, because he lived at a time when everyone in the world owned stately homes they’d bought with wealth made from trading hundreds of thousands of slaves. It’s just what people did in those days.

We should accept that in the 17th century, slave traders like Colston kidnapped half of West Africa and transported them in the hull of a boat in chains, because back then, the politically correct brigade wasn’t around to complain that they found it “offensive”.

Statues preserve our history. It doesn’t matter whether you thought someone was good or bad, if they were historical, they should be allowed on a statue.

Someone out there may already be in the midst of preparing a giant statue of a drop of coronavirus-infested spit, for example. Because whatever you think of it, the disease has had a profound effect on the world this year, and deserves to be remembered. The entrance to one of our leading hospitals would be an ideal place to show it off.

In any case, statues are familiar and lasting landmarks, part of the fabric of our town centres. So there’s no need for black people to grumble they feel uncomfortable because the man commemorated in the middle of their street would have sold their ancestors to a tobacco farmer on the other side of the world, and kept their children as their legal property. Monuments like those make town squares look pretty, so that’s the main thing.

In the same way, if you get robbed at knifepoint, the best way to get over the feelings of insecurity and worry that follow the attack is for the police to catch the thief, and then build a statue of them in the shopping centre and name the theatre and a road by the docks after them.

One issue that is often raised by defenders of the statue is whatever else Colston did, he donated a lot of money to Bristol.

This was probably a great comfort to the tens of thousands that perished on his ships, to know they weren’t dying in vain, because a portion of the money made from their sale would go towards the gates round the floral section in the park.

There should be a price list, so we can trade awkward behaviour with donations. For example, if you harpoon a dolphin for a bet, you have to provide a new see-saw in the recreation ground to be considered a fine chap. Blowing up a children’s home is excused if you build a leisure centre, and for treating an entire continent as subhuman, you have to fork out for an art gallery, a suspension bridge and a viaduct.

Maybe Colston’s statue should be replaced with one of Jimmy Savile. He’s a historical figure and gave piles of money to charity so it would be only fair.

One presenter on Fox News explained: “The protestors want to take down statues of anyone who wasn’t pure.” Put like that it does seem harsh, and maybe we are too quick to judge.

Some of us have fiddled an extra fiver on travel expenses or stayed on the bus into zone 5 when our Travelcard is only valid for zone 4. And some of us have earnt enough to buy a castle and hunting grounds by kidnapping hundreds of thousands of people and forcing them to pick cotton. None of us is completely pure.

Then comes the issue of how this statue was removed. Proper politicians told us it should have been done the proper way, with appeals to the council and petitions, the way it was being done, properly, over the last 20 years.

If you plan to bring it down with ropes and chuck it into the water, that’s never going to work. Because the way to do something properly is not to do it. Doing it spoils things.

In the same way, the correct way to do the washing-up isn’t to wash the plates, it’s to discuss with the neighbours whether the washing-up should be done at all and listening to people who say the washing-up should be left piled up as a monument because it represents an important meal. Then, after 20 years, you can announce a consultation as to why everyone is eating straight out of the saucepan, which will be reported in November.

This must be why Priti Patel insists bringing down the statue is completely “unacceptable”.

But if the statue would have been taken down eventually, after only a few more decades of council meetings and petitions, the council would have had to pay a building firm to winch it down and take it off in a truck, whereas the protestors did it for free and saved them money.

So I’m sure before long, as a minister in the party of business, Patel will agree that rather than face prosecution, the protestors should send the council an invoice for the removal work, and be paid for a job done swiftly and efficiently as a model of modern enterprise.

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