Yesterday Sadiq Khan appeared to invent an entirely new role for himself. High Commander of the Thought Police, one might call him, or King of Cancellation, after he appointed himself moral arbiter of what landmarks should grace the capital.
Forget improving the Northern Line, Khan is into higher matters; the offensiveness of statues, plaques and street names in London, which he says “largely reflect Victorian Britain”. To further his ambitions, he has created the “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm” that will be considering “which legacies are being celebrated”.
What is this “Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm”? The name itself has an Orwellian edge. And what does he mean by “Public Realm”? The United Kingdom is a realm, but Sadiq Khan is not the Mayor of the United Kingdom. Who are going to be its members, many will wonder, particularly given its obvious agenda – to erase any monument that fails tests of political correctness as prescribed by progressives.
Khan’s announcement came soon after the Black Lives Matter protests during which Churchill’s statue was defaced in Parliament Square with the word “racist”, and a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader, was thrown into the river in Bristol. The commission seems established for the sole purpose of blessing the radical agenda that Khan has seen forged on the streets.
Everybody recoils at the horrific murder of George Floyd. What happened in the US was one of the most disturbing events of recent times. There’s still much our society needs to do to fight racism, and that includes examining the past and statues like Colston’s. Slavery was a shameful episode in this country’s history. That is all a given.
The descent into anarchy we have seen over the last few days is troubling, however. A new poll by YouGov suggests that only 13 per cent of the public approve the way the statue was hauled down. Thirty-three per cent do not approve of the removal of the Colston statue at all. Although it’s worth pointing out that 40 per cent of agree the statue should have been removed but not the way it was done. The public are plainly open to there being a constructive debate on this issue, just not on terms dictated by Khan or vigilantes – who hijacked the protests.
It increasingly feels as though this iconoclasm is being used as a means through which the Radical Left can assert itself. Having had years of failure at the ballot box, the Twitter-led minority is now exploiting the Government’s distraction with Covid-19 to exert power, with Khan leading the way.
The Mayor, especially, is astute about pushing his agenda, claiming that he wants to remove statues and street names with links to slavery. By saying this, he seeks to render any opposition to his campaign mute (“so you think slave owners should have statues?!”), but that will not be the end of it.
How many male statues would come down on the grounds of misogyny, for example? Or for other reasons. Statues of Robert Peel are now being targeted. Halls of residence named after Gladstone in Liverpool University are to be re-named. Any discussion of moral relativism, an important feature of examining the past, has been abandoned. We are now to see everything through the sensibilities of 2020.
The only slightly reassuring news around Khan’s revisionist project is that he doesn’t actually seem to have a mandate; erecting, let alone removing, statues in London is a minefield, involving planning permission, clearance from authorities such as the London Squares Preservation Act 1931 (among others), landlord’s consent and Westminister’s Public Advisory Panel, as well as councils’ consent. So it’s going to be a convoluted process – that he ultimately has limited control over. Which brings us to two important points on this announcement.
The first is that it’s partly about woke peacocking. Khan can’t resist virtue signalling, not only so he can avoid having to talk about areas on which he has an appalling record, such as knife crime, but also because he considers London the living embodiment of a Guardian column. He constantly takes his cues from liberals on how to govern, hence why he removed adverts of bikini-clad women on the tube in 2016, after they were deemed “body shaming”. It was a taste of his censorious instincts, which we are seeing now – as he promises to re-write London’s history.
The second, previously mentioned factor, is that London is the capital of the UK. Many of the landmarks are not only local ones, they are national, too, a good example of which being the statue of Churchill. What right does Khan or his committee think they have to say what is morally suitable for the rest of the country? Have they learned nothing from the election?
The UK should be worried; over the last few days we’ve seen a dramatic escalation of cancel culture in our midst. The logical consequences of “cleaning up” London’s history – aside from destroying London’s tourism – is that the parameters become even greater for what’s offensive. It will be books and newspapers under assault next. It’s not so hard to imagine The Daily Mail being banned from the tube.
Clearly one reason the Government has been quiet on statues is that MPs are exhausted sorting out the Covid-19 crisis. But this has created a vacuum in which the Left can thrive, which is only going to get much worse if they do not intervene.
Understandably, ministers do not want to get involved in the culture wars, as any slip of the tongue can cost jobs. But look at what’s happening to the country; someone has to make a stand for what’s fair, which nine out of ten times isn’t capitulating to liberal demands.
With their huge majority last year, courage is what voters expected of the Government. For all our sakes, they must say something while they still can.