Saturday, 8 January 2022

The Colston Four: The People, Not The Populists, by David Lindsay

In acquitting the Colston Four, the jury at Bristol Crown upheld the rule of law. It accepted that the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue had been a prevention of crime since the statue itself had been a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, and since that statue had been an indecent display contrary to Section 1 of the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981. Cold, hard law. Counsel compared it to a statue of Adolf Hitler, and the jury agreed.

A jury verdict does not set a precedent, and no jury is ever going to acquit anyone on the same grounds if they were to have removed a statue of, say, Winston Churchill. Churchill has deservedly always had his critics, but if there were people who would suggest that his representation was criminally alarming, distressing and indecent, making it comparable to a representation of Hitler, then they would be most unlikely to convince at least 10 out of 12 randomly assembled members of the public.

Colston died in 1721. The statue went up in 1895, not by public subscription. Colston Hall had gone up in 1867. Colston Tower was not even designed until 1961, and not completed until 1973. And so on. The schools, the streets, the buns, the dinners, the church services, “Colston Day” on the anniversary of the mere unveiling of a statue: all fake, and clearly never taken to heart by the local population at large, 10 out of 12 of whom were persuaded that that statue was a public obscenity that there was, if anything, a civic duty to remove.

This has nothing to do with identity politics. The slave trade funded enclosure. There has always been One Struggle. In any case, what colour are the Colston Four? And although we shall never know, what do we assume to have been the broad ethnic composition of the jury? Bristol will no longer be the 84 per cent white that it was at the 2011 census, but it is undoubtedly still a predominantly white city, as the 2021 census returns will confirm.

Schools may have taught that the only role that Britain had ever had in the slave trade had been to end it, and hardly surprisingly if they had been named after Edward Colston. But the channels of working-class self-education have always carried the fuller story of this as of so much else, in the way that Catholics and Nonconformists have always passed it on until they and it could no longer be ignored. 

Tearing down a statue is not a denial or even an erasure of history. Like putting up a statue, it is history. To erect a statue, in this case 174 years after its subject’s death and mostly at the expense of his heirs, is a political decision as surely as it is a political decision to demolish a statue. Each is a judgement according to the standards of its time, although it can never be said too often that the slave trade was always massively controversial in this country, to the point of direct action against it at every stage of its existence.

Among the other arguments that were accepted by the jury was that the Colston Four had in fact greatly increased the value of Colston’s statue, which had just been one of those two-a-penny statutes of some long-dead bloke until they had defaced it and torn it down, thereby transforming it into a prized museum piece. Suella Braverman is referring this case to the Court of Appeal, but what is it going to say? That a statue of a slave trader was not a breach of public order and an indecent display? That the removal of such was not a prevention of crime? That the statue had been worth more before? What, exactly? In fact, all that the Court of Appeal could say would be that the law required clarification. But it is perfectly clear as it is.

These acquittals are the verdict of the citizenry of Bristol on the imposed cult of Colston, but this trial could have been held anywhere in the country and the result would have been the same. Presented with the argument that a statue of a slave trader was a public obscenity that there was, if anything, a civic duty to remove, then at least 10 out of any 12 randomly assembled members of the public would have agreed. “How would you like it here?”, the brief would have asked.

Braverman and her ilk demand that the Four be held accountable, but how much more accountable can you be than to have stood trial in the Crown Court? The real cause of their soreness is that their AltRight tribute act is demonstrably not in any way the Voice of the People. It is not populist, because it is not popular. The combined forces of the populist Right, two of them very well-publicised, failed to take five per cent of the vote at North Shropshire, which had merrily elected Owen Paterson for decades.

The Conservatives’ potential losses are not to Richard Tice or to Laurence Fox, but to the Liberal Democrats, as has already happened twice in this Parliament. To offset those losses, their potential gains are of seats that voted for Jeremy Corbyn both times, as has already happened at least once, with another result due to be decided in court.

Also in court, 10 out of 12 good persons and true have acquitted the Colston Four, as any such 10 or more out of 12 would have done in any city, town or village in the land. Not perversely, but because Colston’s statue was a breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, and an indecent display under Section 1 of the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, such that pulling it down constituted a prevention of crime, and in fact greatly increased its value as an item. The People have spoken. Whether the “populists” like it or not.

Friday, 7 January 2022

The Monarchy Is Losing Its Core Supporters, by David Lindsay

The Platinum Jubilee approaches, yet Peter Hitchens writes that, “I have just stopped supporting the monarchy. I can’t do it any more. I am not a republican, or anything silly like that. I would like a proper monarchy. But the House of Windsor’s total mass conversion to Green orthodoxy has destroyed the case for this particular Royal Family. The whole point of the Crown is that it does not take sides in politics.” But quite apart from what other political opinions he could possibly have expected West London toffs to hold, the political neutrality of the monarchy is like the impartiality of the BBC. When, exactly, has there ever been any such thing?

The monarchy keeps sweet a lot of people who need to be kept sweet. But I am entirely at a loss as to why it has that effect on them. Either the Queen or her equally revered father has signed off on every nationalisation, every aspect of the Welfare State, every retreat from Empire, every loosening of Commonwealth ties, every social liberalisation, every constitutional change, and every EU treaty. If they could not have done otherwise, then why bother having a monarchy? What is it for? I support public ownership and the Welfare State in principle, even if the practice has often fallen short. The same may be said of decolonisation, as a matter of historical interest. I find some social liberalisations and some constitutional changes a cause for joy, and others a cause for horror. I abhor the EU, and the weakening of the Commonwealth. But this is not about me.

Is it the job of a monarch, if not to acquire territory and subjects, then at least to hold them? If so, then George VI was by far the worst ever British monarch, and quite possibly the worst monarch that the world has ever seen. And is it the job of a British monarch to maintain a Protestant society and culture in the United Kingdom? If so, then no predecessor has ever begun to approach the abject failure of Elizabeth II, a failure so complete that no successor will ever be able to equal it.

For all her undoubted personal piety, I am utterly baffled by the cult of the present Queen among Evangelical Protestants and among those who cleave to a more-or-less 1950s vision of Anglicanism, Presbyterianism or Methodism. What has either the monarchy or the Queen ever done for them? During the present reign, Britain has become history’s most secular country, and the White British have become history’s most secular ethnic group, a trend that has been even more marked among those with Protestant backgrounds than it has been among us Catholics.

This has implications for the Windrush debate, and with eight Commonwealth Realms in or on the Caribbean, a fat lot of good being the Queen’s loyal subject has done anyone there; Barbados, proportionately the most Anglican country in the world, has just become a republic. It also has implications for aspects of the debate around Brexit. If you wanted to preserve and restore a Christian culture in this country, then you would welcome very large numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean, from Africa, and from Eastern Europe.

On balance, I would not abolish the monarchy. It would no more be President Hitchens than President Corbyn. It would be a choice between the next Bullingdon Club member in line and someone who had casually given a trifling £50,000 to the most recently successful candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party. No one else would even make it onto the ballot paper, and I would not want either of those as my Head of State.

There would have to be a nomination process. Candidates would certainly require nomination by one tenth of the House of Commons, 65 MPs, and very probably by one fifth of that House, 130 MPs. Even in the first instance, in the wildly unlikely event of more than two candidates, then the House would whittle them down to the two who would then be presented to the electorate. Almost certainly, only two parties are ever going to have 65 MPs. Certainly, only two are ever going to have 130. In practice, they would probably arrange to alternate the Presidency between them.

Nor would I want to abolish the Royal Prerogative. Rather, I want it to be exercised by a Prime Minister who aspired to strengthen families and communities through economic equality and international peace. But the monarchy, and with it the exercise of the Royal Prerogative by persons who most certainly did not share those aspirations, does not depend on the support of people like me. It depends on the support of people who, as long as the monarchy and especially the present Queen were simply there, were prepared to overlook the fact that hardly anything that they really wanted ever happened, while all sorts of things that they did not want did happen, no matter who was in government.

Add to that the fact that the Order of the Garter is entirely in the gift of the monarch. There is no Ministerial involvement. The Queen alone has chosen to confer it on Tony Blair. Moreover, whatever Prince Andrew may or may not have done, he undeniably chose to move in the circles of Jeffrey Epstein, of Robert Maxwell’s daughter, of Peter Mandelson, and of the Clintons. It is the Anglo-American liberal elite, the right wings of the Labour and Democratic Parties, that are the Royal Family’s sort of people, even if they would never stoop to voting for those parties.

Culturally, no one is more Tory than a liberal Tory; politically, no one is more liberal. The people on whose support the monarchy depended have chosen to ignore the fact that that was what their heroes must have been, and openly were. But if Hitchens’s column and the reaction to Blair’s Garter are anything go by, then we are living through the end of all of that.