Sadiq Khan has set up a commission full of left-wing activists to readdress street names, statues and memorials in London. The Government has seen this as a clear threat to Britain’s heritage and has responded.
Housing minister Christopher Pincher has demanded Khan to disband the commission in a letter.
The Full letter read: Dear Sadiq Khan,
I am writing to you to express my concern about City Hall’s approach to the preservation of statues and historic monuments in London. Given these matters have attracted national scrutiny and controversy, I think it is important to reiterate the Government’s position and planned changes in legislation for local authorities.
In a statement to the House of Commons on 18 January, the Housing Secretary outlined a change to national planning policy on the protection of historic statues, plaques, memorials and monuments. This was accompanied by guidance on how the ‘call in’ criteria will be interpreted, and he signalled that planning regulations will shortly be amended to bring non-listed works into the planning system.
He said that: ‘this Government believes it is always right to examine Britain’s history, but the removal of statues does harm rather than good. Our aim should be to use heritage to educate people about all aspects of Britain’s past’.
On 30 January, my Department also published proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework which will incorporate this change to planning policy into the Framework, to ensure greater clarity for planners.
Such a policy position reflects that taken by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, which is the lead department for heritage. This was outlined by DCMS Ministers in Parliament on 25 September 2020.
Ministers explained: ‘This country has a long and well-established tradition of commemorating its national and local dignitaries with statues… the back story of some of those individuals and their place in history is ridden with moral complexity. Statues and other historical objects were created or obtained by generations with different perspectives and different understandings of right and wrong… the Government want organisations to retain and explain, not remove, our heritage.’
Historic England has provided advice on how local authorities should make decisions on so-called ‘contested heritage.’
As they assert: “Our stance on historic statues and sites which have become contested is to retain and explain them; to provide thoughtful, long lasting and powerful reinterpretation that responds to their contested history and tells the full story.”
These principles similarly apply not just to statues, but other aspects of our heritage, including street names.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party has consistently supported the removal of such statues and memorials in recent months. In June 2020, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed the removal of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, saying “that statue should have been taken down a long, long time ago… That statue should have been brought down properly.”
The Local Government Association Labour Group has also called on all Labour councils to push to remove such statues and memorials.
They have said: “LGA Labour have consulted with all Labour council leaders, and there is overwhelming agreement from all Labour councils that they will listen to and work with their local communities to review the appropriateness of local monuments and statues on public land and council property.” Steve Reed MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary, also appears to endorse this “demolish and deny” approach.
Worryingly, it appears that council tax is being raised to pay for Labour town halls’ plans to tear down statues and wipe out historic street names. It has been reported that the ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’, which you established last summer, will cost Londoners over £250,000.
Putting some of London’s most important pieces of history into the hands of 15 activists, the majority of whom are not historians is a regrettable decision. On top of the enormous costs, some very troubling statements by your panellists, such as praising the “guerrilla style” removal of statues, have been made public. These will not command public confidence or support. As London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has said, this commission will neither heal divisions nor promote inclusivity.
I strongly encourage you to disband this commission without delay and put a stop to efforts to strip London of its history. It is in the city’s own interests – and that of future generations – that heritage and tradition is given robust protection and not airbrushed away. I believe you have a duty to provide that protection.
Christopher Pincher MP
Minister of State for Housing