In response to the toppling of Colston’s monument in Bristol, our Government have just announced that they will protect the ‘national heritage’ of monuments with Communities secretary Robert Jenrick saying that these generations-old monuments “should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob” and that “Local people should have the chance to be consulted whether a monument should stand or not.
This last statement is in line with the process described by Mayor Marvin Rees whereby a committee was to be set up to evaluate all Bristol’s monuments and their symbology and establishing a Bristol wide consultation process, however what the Communities secretary seems to have done is install the right of veto to the home secretary effectively removing the rights of locals to determine how their past and consequently their future is to be portrayed.
Jenrick also said: “We cannot, and should not, now try to edit or censor our past” and “It is our duty to preserve our culture and heritage for future generations” which is to completely subvert the role of heritage and our understanding of ourselves. History is entirely editable and is constantly renewed so if we are to be honest with our future, we must address our past in the context of what we know now and not memorialise the indefensible.
Jenrick now seems to suggest that our heritage should be controlled by an English government; one whose record of 'getting things done' falls short of protecting the poor, the NHS, the Arts, the homeless and workers’ rights and seems more intent on achieving trade treaties with countries whose records on human rights violations are even worse than of those whose memorials are being removed. What hope is there that these privileged few can see us as we see ourselves let alone understand how others see us.
Bristol’s Colston’s monument was forcibly removed only after Bristol City Council ignored decades of pressure for them to acknowledge that honouring Bristol's disgraceful mercantile past was problematic but when the normal democratic routes fail, there comes a time when you just have to do what's right: This was a long time coming and hopefully this change in legislation will not stop us from stepping in where others fail.