Robert Jenrick has vowed to protect Britain’s heritage with a new law restricting local authorities’ powers to pull down treasured statues and monuments.
Writing in the Telegraph, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary condemns “woke worthies” who seek to eradicate British history by lobbying their councils to have statues removed or doing it themselves, illegally.
“Latterly there has been an attempt to impose a single, often negative narrative [about British culture] which not so much recalls our national story, as seeks to erase part of it,” Jenrick writes “This has been done at the hand of the flash mob, or by the decree of a “cultural committee” of town hall militants and woke worthies.”
The rising Tory star goes on to highlight the inconsistency in the rule of law in the UK when it comes to cultural artefacts lining the country’s villages, towns and cities. Unfortunately, “due process has been “overridden” when it comes to famous statues that upset militant activists. “Local people should have the chance to be consulted whether a monument should stand or not. What has stood for generations should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob.”
Jenrick points a finger at Labour under Keir Starmer. The Labour leader wants the public to know he has little in common with Jeremy Corbyn, but much of the activism associated with the previous leader is still rampant.
“It’s happening under Labour councils and mayors across the country now,” writes Jenrick, adding, “not content with ripping down heritage, Labour in London has raised the prospect of removing tombs of those who are now seen as ‘offenders’ – literally digging up the dead.”
Attacks on cherished monuments became a hot topic in 2020. In June, a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol turned ugly when demonstrators defaced the statue of Edward Colston, ripped it from its moorings and dumped it in the harbour. Only in December were the perpetrators charged.
Chaotic BLM protests in London prompted Sadiq Khan to board up the Westminster statue of Churchill after both it and the nearby Cenotaph were sprayed with graffiti.
The battle over Britain’s monuments has rumbled on. The ‘Rhodes must fall’ campaign at Oxford University regained momentum after it seemed the matter of the statue of historic figure Cecil Rhodes seemed to be laid to rest. A new Commission was set up to assess the statue’s future, a report is due later this month.
Now Jenrick has decided to introduce a statue statute to preserve Britain’s heritage. The draft law will be published on Monday.
“I am changing the law to protect historic monuments and ensure we do not repeat the errors of previous generations. Proper process will now be required,” promises Jenrick in his piece. “Any decisions to remove these heritage assets will require planning permission and councils will need to do so in accordance with their constitution, after consultation with the local community.
“Where that does not happen, I will not hesitate to use my powers as Secretary of State in relation to applications and appeals involving historic monuments where such action is necessary to reflect the government’s planning policies. Our view will be best explained and set out in law, that such monuments are almost always contextualised, not taken and hidden away.”
Given how strongly in favour of progressive campaigns many local authorities across the UK are, Jenrick may find himself constantly getting dragged into cultural battles.