Frustration with democratic process led to Colston statue’s removal, Nandy says

The forced removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was the result of years of frustration and inaction with the democratic process, a senior Labour MP has said.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Wednesday, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said people decided to take action over the memorial because they felt their voices on racial issues were not being heard.

She said: “Why was that statue removed in the way that it was removed?

“Because for 20 years, protesters and campaigners had used every democratic lever at their disposal, petitions, meetings, protests, trying to get elected politicians to act, and they couldn’t reach a consensus and they couldn’t get anything done.”

“Now this is reflective of what has happened to people of colour in this country and across the world for a very long time. We’ve had seven reviews into racial discrimination in this country in the last three years alone, and very few of those recommendations have been acted on.

“That is why people are so frustrated, and that’s the question we should be asking ourselves, is why is it so difficult for so many people to actually be heard and to pull the democratic leaders to get the democratic change that they need?”

Black Lives Matter protests
Black Lives Matter protests

Also on the show was Ms Nandy’s colleague Dawn Butler, who said she disagreed with their party leader Sir Keir Starmer’s comments to LBC Radio earlier in the week that it was “completely wrong” for protesters to rip down the Colston statue – though it should have been removed long ago.

Ms Butler said: “I think the activists in Bristol have been fighting for many years, probably over a decade to get the statue removed, and to get the statue put into a museum, and that didn’t happen. And essentially they made it happen, and so I don’t think that they were completely wrong.

“It’s absolutely right and correct that we review the statues that glorify slavers. People who raped women and children, people who murdered them by throwing them overboard.

“It’s absolutely right that that is reviewed and those statues are removed.”

As pressure continues to mount on authorities to remove contentious monuments, Labour-led councils across England and Wales have agreed to work with their local communities to look at the “appropriateness” of certain monuments and statues on public land and council property.

And London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also announced a new commission to review the capital’s landmarks.

According the Liverpool Echo newspaper, the University of Liverpool has agreed to re-title a halls of residence after students demanded it remove former prime minister William Gladstone’s name due to his views on slavery.

Meanwhile, a website called “topple the racists” has compiled a list of around 60 statues and other memorials across the UK it argues should be taken down, because they “celebrate slavery and racism”.

Among the website’s targets is a statue of Thomas Guy outside the London hospital he founded and is named after him, because he made his fortune from a company that sold slaves.

A spokesperson for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said it would work with Mr Khan’s commission to “consider the right way forward”, adding that it is “fully committed to playing our part in ending racism, discrimination and inequality”.

As a potential solution, Dr Jessica Moody, a lecturer in public history at the University of Bristol, has said there is an option for some statues to be placed in museums where the context of their controversy can be set out.

She said: “Some of the statues currently under debate could certainly go into a museum where this history and context, the use and abuse of the past, can be more fully explored, so long as this was done in an appropriate manner with consultation – and which records the nature of their removal as an important part of the history of the communities around them.”

Certain Scottish memorials have also been thrown under the spotlight amid the Black Lives Matter movement, with anti-racism charity Stand Up to Racism saying that more needs to be done to educate Scotland on its history with the slave trade.

With Edinburgh City Council in talks to place a plaque on the St Andrews Square statue of Henry Dundas, who opposed the abolition of slavery, charity spokesman Steve West said that plaques alone do not go far enough.

“Statues are there to commemorate so-called great people,” he said.

“So the fact there is a statue there gives a message that he was some sort of great person, so I think it would be far better if the statue was taken down.

“It is important that when people think about the Industrial Revolution and the great things that were invented as part of that, they realise where a lot of the funds came from. It is very important that people realise the history of the slave trade.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the use of police stop-and-search powers, amid claims they are disproportionately used against black people.

During a series of exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson insisted he understood the “strong and legitimate” feelings of anti-racism protesters but he insisted it was essential to keep the streets safe and to “back our police”.

“What has been happening in London with knife crime has been completely unacceptable,” he said.

“I do believe that stop and search, amongst many other things, can be a very important utensil in fighting knife crime.

“It does work. It worked for us when I was running London and it must work now. It is not the whole answer but it is part of the mix.”