Save Our Statues digital founder, Robert Poll explains how the campaign got underway and why the culture war is real.
Woke campaigners are desperate to deny it because they prefer to fight in secret, to continue the hugely successful “long march” through the institutions that has led them to dominate our universities and museums. So now, with quite incredible sleight of hand, they are spinning a narrative that the government – sleepily stirring from its eight-month slumber – is somehow to blame.
The truth, however, is a matter of record. Back in June, it was the Labour Party that announced a review of statues and street names across all of its 130 local authorities. Labour administrations in London and Wales swiftly followed suit. That it’s happening at all is a disgrace. That it’s happening now, consuming precious resources at a time of national emergency, is a scandal.
Save Our Statues
In response, I started the @_SaveOurStatues Twitter account to speak out when few public voices were. A few weeks later, I met London Assembly member Peter Whittle, who was also establishing a campaign group, and we decided to collaborate. The account now has 21,000 followers and people can also show their support via saveourstatues.org.uk.
I talk of “the woke” rather than “the left” as there are huge numbers on the traditional left who are horrified at what their party is complicit in. Like Brexit, this is not a right vs left struggle. That old divide is increasingly obsolete. We also unite a broad church of opinion, from those who are proud of our history, to those who just don’t want to see it torn down. I’ve received many messages of support from people in tears at what is happening, who feel powerless and voiceless. Providing this voice is the raison d’etre of Save Our Statues.
Our aim has always been to support due process and the rule of law, and not to let the destructors get away with things unchallenged. To show that removing our history will be a long and arduous task and so stop the purge from gaining momentum. So far, we have publicised over 40 different petitions and public consultations. When Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospitals applied to remove the statues of their founders, we raised 1,200 objections and the proposals were ultimately withdrawn.
Some progress has been made in protecting our statues, but new battle fronts loom large. Plaques and place names are now the soft targets in their sights. In London, Havelock Road is now Guru Nanak Road and a park named for Prince Albert is now the “O.R. Tambo Recreation Ground”. The battle of the statues may not yet be over, but the battle of the signs has definitely begun.
Last month’s proposal by Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick to reinforce the planning framework is very welcome. As a solution, however, “Retain and Explain” brings its own problems, as only the “retain” element is supported by any due process. The “explain” part is a free for all.
“Contextualisation” is often presented as a compromise. But handing over editorial control of Britain’s history is exactly what they want. We also have to ask who are we compromising with and why? Calls for change are being driven by tiny groups of extremists, while the wider public is ignored. Consultations in Exeter, Leeds and Carmarthenshire have shown a consistent level of demand for plaques of between 2-10%. Yet, in all three cases, they’re adding them.
And who is deciding who writes them? Again, it’s activists. In Edinburgh, “human rights activist” Sir Geoff Palmer, fresh from inscribing his personal view of history on the Melville Monument, has now been appointed to chair a city-wide audit. And it’s the same story in London, with the Mayor appointing fifteen activists to act as judge and jury over our capital’s heritage. We need to have checks and balances to ensure a level of expertise, balance and objectivity. Instead, we are facing a raft of Star Chambers and kangaroo courts.
Advocates claim they are adding “more history.” But filtering history through the single, reductive lens of slavery, devoid of context and nuance, isn’t more history, it’s less. It’s an attempt to tar all of Britain’s long, complex past with one broad brush. If we want to know more, we have smartphones at our fingertips with an endless wealth of resource to help us form our own independent opinions. It is not the council’s job to tell us how to feel about history.
The culture war is real, and Save Our Statues will keep on fighting.