Boris Johnson published an article in the Telegraph about the importance of defending the statues of the United Kingdom. He was defending his reasoning for why the likes of Churchill and Co. should stay up. Whilst part of his argumentation holds truth, upon closer inspection, much of it comes tumbling down.
One point made in response to those who say Churchill should be removed, is that if you took down the statues of every person who ever made a racist comment, there would likely be no statues left in the UK. To this end, I agree with Johnson that: ‘Britain is a product of a vast conglomerate of ideas and beliefs, not all of which look good in the light of today’.
I agree that statues of Churchill and Nelson should not be taken down, on the basis that in some cases their opinions did change and they are after all figures who played key roles in our history. Does that mean I agree with racists who stood in front of the cenotaph attacking police and doing Nazi salutes? Of course not.
Do I support the removal of statues of slave traders Edward Colston and Robert Milligan? Yes. Despite their philanthropy, we should not be celebrating those who traded in slaves in twenty-first century Britain. Those statues should have gone long ago. They should have been placed in museums, and plaques fixed where they formerly stood to inform the public that they were once there.
Returning to Johnson. His emphasis is on the importance of not editing our history: ‘We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past [like a] public […] figure […] trying to make themselves look better by editing their own Wikipedia page’.
This point would hold weight had his Chief Advisor Dominic Cummings not edited his own blog to make it look like he had predicted Covid-19. Once again it looks like there is one rule for the Conservatives, and another for those opposing them.
‘We need to tackle the substance of the problem, not the symbols’
Symbols are installed in order to draw attention to the substance of the issues their subjects faced. Churchill’s statue draws attention to his story, to the substance of what he achieved. Toppling and graffitiing a statue, arguably, symbolically draws attention to the substance of its painter’s story. If that is Black Lives Matter, then that is Black Lives Matter. You need the symbol to draw attention to the substance.
Boris closes the article on an emotional note. His treatise to his hero. He describes the statue wars as a distraction and that: ‘This new vogue of politically correct iconoclasm is [… ] dispiriting, and unfair, and often ahistorical’.
The key words here are not ahistorical but ‘dispiriting’ and ‘unfair’. Boris is implicitly saying that the BLM protesters are unnecessarily rocking the boat; that they are creating a fracas where there is no need for one.
But unfair? Since when did a prime minister get so petty as to accuse something of being unfair? Unfair to those figurines which are literally just bronze, steel and stone? Or unfair to him? It’s unclear. But for a man who believes that this is all just a distraction, he seems to care an awful lot about the defence of one particular statue.
And this is what in the end is the undoing of Boris — his obsession with Churchill. A crush which he just can’t seem to let go of. Emulating and idolising him has made this prime minister biased and blind.
One gets the impression that Boris would prefer that the statue of his superhero led Britain’s crusade against the virus rather than he himself — a figurehead stuck in the past.