This article is not about the killing of George Floyd, at least not directly. What happened to George Floyd, and what happens to countless others in the United States, year on year, is horrible. Those protesting for the jailing of the officers who killed him are justified in doing so. The militarization of the police force, the United States being by far one of the worst offenders, is something that anybody who calls themselves a conservative should reject categorically – there is a time for no-nonsense enforcement of the law, but this country and most others would be best served by traditional community policing, the likes of which this country once had.
No, this article is about the recent wave of demonstrations in the UK, the catalyst for which may have been an act of police brutality some 4,000 miles away, but the underpinning aims and ideology of which are now very different, and very disturbing. A protest ostensibly about the killing of Floyd or, on a more charitable interpretation, about a perceived racial bias in Britain’s policing system, has led to the pulling down of a statue in Bristol, an attempt to burn the Union Flag on the Cenotaph in London, vandalism of a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, and suggestions that countless other statues be pulled down, including one of Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.
But what, you may sensibly ask, has all of that got to do with George Floyd? Nothing.
It has everything to do with a new, violent phase of an ongoing cultural war, in which every celebration, hero, monument, symbol, or veneration of our country’s history is attacked and torn down. According to those calling for the pulling down of statues, history which does not fit a very specific agenda of ‘struggle and liberation’, one hardly suited to Britain’s historic climate of reformism and relative stability, cannot be allowed to stand. It is an assault on the right of Britons, young and old alike, to be surrounded by their history, the history which is and will always be the basis of our modern society. History doesn’t just belong in museums, it belongs in our street names, in our popular fiction, and yes, in our statues. If we do not understand our history, we cannot even begin to hope to understand our present. The monuments that generations before us saw fit to put up are not ours to tear down on some notion of a new moral standard, which is, conveniently, only applied to those that the wreckers happen to dislike. Mahatma Gandhi’s views on black people are unlikely to result in vandalism of his statue in Parliament Square – his struggle against British rule in India happens to fit that ‘struggle and liberation’ narrative.
The worst thing we can do, then, is give in to this attempt to corrupt history. Protests and vandalism must not be allowed to work. And yes, I include within that those who say that while the tearing down of a statue is wrong, the taking down of that same statue under pressure is perfectly acceptable. The changing of history in order to suit ideology, whether violent or quiet, has the same outcome. Yet, this is the line offered by the vast majority of the Conservative Party that has deigned to comment. Even Boris Johnson, a man who so often declares performative war on political correctness, has deferred to police on whether or not they choose to allow our history to be defiled. The message being sent to those who would change our history is that if they chant loud and long enough, it can be done.
This is not to say that we should put historical figures beyond reproach. We should discuss them, and, if we find them to have been a negative influence, we need not put them front and centre. That said, we should not apologize for them, should not make excuses for them, and should not, under any circumstances, contemplate allowing ourselves to be bullied into scrubbing them from the record. Personally, I do not believe that Oliver Cromwell deserves any position of praise or veneration. However, he was influential, important, and earned his chapter in this country’s history by sheer force of deed. I would not dare tear down his house in Ely, nor his statue in Parliament Square. It is not my right to do so. My whims do not dictate the history of this country, and nor do the whims of anybody else, and if the Conservative Party is not willing to do its duty, and defend (“conserve”, the clue is in the name) the physical embodiment of that history, there is little hope for either.