Denbigh’s H.M Stanley statue vote shows Britain ‘unmoved’ by progressive activists says Trevor Phillips
Denbigh’s vote on the H.M Stanley statue has shown that Britain is “not much moved” by the kind of progressive activism that dominates discourse in the United States, Trevor Phillips has said.
Writing in the Times, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that people “disliked being told what to think by self-styled progressives”.
It was announced on Wednesday that Denbigh had overwhelmingly voted to keep the statue of H.M Stanley, despite over 7,000 signing an online petition to have it removed.
471, or 80%, voted for the statue to stay, with 171, or 20%, voting for it to be removed. Turnout was only 8.8% of the town’s 6,725 residents.
“Those who say that unlike Americans we Brits are not much moved by these issues are probably right,” Trevor Phillips said. “It is hard to imagine an election being swung, as it may be tomorrow in Virginia, by an abstruse dispute as to whether critical race theory should hold sway in schools.
“But when asked to stir themselves, most people in this country are quite clear that they dislike being told what to think about the past by self-styled progressives.
“In a vote organised by the local council in Denbigh, north Wales, on whether to retain or remove a statue of the imperialist Henry Morton Stanley (he of “Dr Livingstone, I presume” fame), just 600 residents voted, and four out of five wanted the thing let alone.
“Similarly, an activist campaign to remove statues of prominent figures who, like almost every butcher, baker and candlestick maker in London, Bristol and Liverpool profited from the slave trade, discovered that while most voters want to know more about these figures, including their misdeeds, they are lukewarm about tossing them into the Thames.”
He added that the problem for activists was “their underlying belief that if we can stop talking about evil, it will wither and die”.
“You don’t have to believe in original sin to accept that civilised societies are engaged in a perpetual struggle against the darkness in every human being,” he said.
“Pretending that we have triumphed over wickedness because we no longer debate it is in fact the prelude to the victory of evil, as it continues its insidious work in silence.”
The decade-old statue H.M Stanley, created by artist Nick Elphick, was already the target of protests. Artist Wanda Zyborska has held a performance where the statue is covered up in a rubber sheath, to protest against what she claims is its continued ‘toxic’ effect.
But the statue came under renewed scrutiny following the Black Lives Matter protests. H.M Stanley’s association with European imperialism, particularly the Belgian King Leopold II, led to objections during a period when the Black Lives Matters movement led national protests.
King Leopold II committed acts of appalling inhumanity against the population of the Congo Free State – now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, his supporters say Stanley was not working for the Belgian despot when the atrocities occurred and he has been unfairly tainted.
A long-time opponent of the controversial statue, Barbara Manley, said the 19th-century explorer’s crimes against humanity and support slavery meant his statue should be removed completely.
“The people of Denbigh may just look at the statue and regard HMS as the local lad who made good,” Barbara Manley said in June of last year.
“But the whole message of the Black Lives Matter movement is, please look at our history and question and reflect on what has happened in the past.
“The statue came into existence because of a European Rural Development Grant. It was hoped that it would encourage tourism to the town and maybe it will now, but whom will it attract?”
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