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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "George Orwell"

Flick Drummond: Putting new diverse statues near to those of old slavers. And other ways of sharing our journey.

Flick Drummond is MP for Meon Valley.

In 1984, George Orwell wrote about how the regime constantly destroyed or falsified records, rewrote books and renamed streets and statues to enable history to be stopped with the aim that “nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right”.

I fear Sadiq Khan hasn’t read the book – otherwise he would not have named his own attempt at cultural vandalism in the name of progress the very Orwellian-sounding ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’.

Khan has made it clear, in classic Doublespeak, that he will not be making any decisions himself about whether statues or road names in the capital offend, or if they should be removed – i.e: erased – except with the heavy hint the slavers will soon be gone.

Of course, life doesn’t completely imitate art. Such initiatives as a mayor wanting to enforce his world view on a two thousand year old city because he feels it’s not inclusive can seem perfectly reasonable – especially with the laudable aims of the Black Lives Matter campaign in the background.

That there are statues of men across London who today would be considered criminals is absolutely true. That there are statues of good men who in the past were considered criminals is also true. That there are not enough statues of women, the disabled or black people is bang on the nail.

In that respect, I agree with Khan. It would be good to have more statues of women and of BAME members because that’s a better representation of London’s culture and, ahem, history. A statue celebrating the Windrush generation and their enormous contribution to Britain, for example, would be good.

But what about these terrible (by our standards) dead men’s statues now in the firing line? John Cass at London’s Metropolitan University, a certain Thomas Guy of Guy’s Hospital fame and William Beckford at London Guildhall. Most have links to the country’s slave trade. Beckford owned slaves in Jamaica when slavery was legal.

Now, I just stated a fact there. That these two merchants owned slaves before Britain abolished the trade in 1807 and abolished slavery itself in 1834.

But I felt myself hover over the keyboard and think: “Do I need to say that? It might cause offence. No-one wants to hear these men acted within the laws of the day.” But I’ve left it in, because we all need to acknowledge that, in a perfect world, slavery should never have been legal – except  rhtit was, and that’s the reason why Khan’s announcement he intends to embark on historical airbrushing – Ministry of Truth style – is a self-defeating nonsense.

If we go back to Orwell’s passage, he makes a point it seems Khan and quite few others cannot or perhaps, more accurately, do not want to see: that the biggest danger in removing statues of now reprehensible dead men is the loss of our ability to understand our past, and crucially, not repeat it. We simply can’t pick and choose our history.

Up in Edinburgh, there’s a campaign to pull down a statue of one Henry Dundas, who delayed the abolition of slavery in Scotland. I fear if his statue is removed, this tangible (and free) reference point to his view; how he came to it and how, ultimately, he was defeated, will be harder to explain or impossible, because it will either be in a museum or destroyed.

Now, does it really matter when the end product is that people will not be offended by this man’s 200-year-old wrong-headed view because they don’t have to see him anymore? Well, it does.

I can’t believe that anyone would think enslaving black Africans was a good thing but, if our now-unacceptable reference points are removed, where will be the continuing debate? What will be our guide, if all that is now wrong is gone or hidden away? We will live, as Orwell feared, only in the present. The past will be some murky fog.

We need to put plaques on the plinths of all these slavers explaining what they did, both good and bad. The founder of Guy’s Hospital did a good thing all those years ago. It has saved countless lives, black and white. His life is not good or bad. It was good and bad. We should resist with all our might making it a binary debate. His world view is not our world view. His statue, once a celebration, is now a warning. Leave it where it is so we can all understand.

But we must be careful where this takes us.  Do we mention on George Orwell’s statue at BBC Broadcasting House that his ancestors were slave owners?

All this will require bravery, not virtue signalling, about our past, Mr Mayor. If we look to confront it together as a multi-cultural society with all the educational materials, including statues of slavers and imperialists, we can muster to make a case for a better country.

I would erect other statues close to these old slavers to explain the counter story. Wouldn’t that show (oh, the irony) London’s rich diversity and our continuing quest to mark our history? I would run education classes explaining who these people were and how, three hundred years ago, these men did not even consider black people to be human – they were just commodities to be bought and used.

That’s something we must recognise because it’s a fact. I’m sure many had a clear conscience about it too and I know it makes all of us, at least, uneasy. But there’s a good news story here: we have moved on.

So have courage, Mayor Khan, to continue history in our capital, not through erasing it via a commission, but through new statues, through new names on new roads; through a recognition of the past and the role it must play in our future understanding and reconciliation of what has always been our shared history.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Neil O’Brien: Stormzy, “niggas”, “bitches” – and scholarships. Do we really want to fund racial groups?

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

When I was a teenager I smuggled a package into my parents home.I hid it in the back of a cupboard, and gradually consumed the contents when I was sure that no one was looking. But it wasn’t a bag of drugs.  It was a copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, borrowed from Huddersfield public library.

I hid it because I would have been acutely embarrassed to be caught not just reading, but with clear evidence of having visited a library. Let me scratch the record at this point.  This column is not about to descend into an awful hard luck story about how I lived in a hole in the road, ate gravel as a treat and so on.

In fact, I went to an averagely performing comprehensive school in an averagely prosperous town. But even from this average background, I could feel the gravitational pull of the powerful anti-education culture which screws up the chances of so many working class kids.

It wasn’t just that trying hard was uncool and library visits embarassing.  Expectations were low. My careers teacher at school (also the remedial teacher) asked how many GCSEs I thought I’d get a C in.  When I said all of them, he implied I was cocky.

I don’t know where this culture came from.  Maybe it’s a mutant version of the Victorian public school cult of effortless achievement.  Maybe as Mike Emmerich says, it’s something to do with the low-skill nature of Britain’s early industrialisation, or a leftover of a time when unskilled men could walk straight into a decent job in a factory.

What I do know is that the anti-education culture held back people I knew: particularly white working class boys (and black) whom it gripped most strongly.

And I do mean culture, not money or class. Poorer Indian pupils on free school meals are as likely to pass their English and Maths GCSEs as black pupils who are not.  (Only nine per cent of white boys on free school meals go.)

Poorer Black and Asian girls who are eligible for Free School Meals are more likely to go to university than white and black boys who are not.

Culture and aspiration really matter, and there were two important rows about them last week. Strangely, both involved the rapper Stormzy, who was asked to do a Bible reading on BBC 1 on Christmas day.

The first started when a leading Headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, criticised Stormzy’s lyrics for being racist, sexist and glamorising violence. She talked about the negative effects this had on inner city pupils and suggested some more positive black role models.

Twitter-land erupted in rage. One tweeted: “This woman shouldn’t be allowed around children”. Another: “How can a “headmistress” be so uneducated?” One left wing academic asked: “So you want to ban Shakespeare?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite his constant use of the n-word and frequent references to women as “bitches”, Stormzy has become something of a go-to figure when establishment organisations reach for “relevance”.

Earlier this year the charity “Youth Music” extolled “the benefits of students exchanging Mozart for Stormzy as part of a re-imagined music curriculum”. Indeed, why have Mozart when you can have gems like:

“We a bunch of bad niggas (bad niggas)

So is Jennifer with them bad bitches (bad bitches)/

Like we pour up man, we got cash nigga/

Like I get money, fuck what you have nigga.”

Stormzy is just one person.  But young black (and white) men are being fed a toxic cocktail of such messages from multiple sources, telling them they need to prove themselves with violence, that normal work is for losers, and normalising disrespect for women. Birbalsingh is surely right to want different role models, and to say that twenty years ago this stuff wouldn’t have been considered normal.  The reaction against any criticism of it is scary.

And there’s something really creepy about the idea that there are particular groups for whom “higher” culture isn’t appropriate, who should instead be served up something more “relevant” to them instead.It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The second row was sort of a mirror image.

It was about trying to raise aspirations – through scholarships for particular ethnic groups. It was revealed that Dulwich College in London and Winchester College in Hampshire had declined a bequest totalling more than £1 million to support the fees of white working class boys from Bryan Thwaites, a prominent scientist and academic who himself attended both schools on scholarships.

Sir Bryan defended his proposed grant by citing none other than… Stormzy, who established a Cambridge University scholarship scheme solely for black British students earlier this year. Through the Stormzy Scholarships, black students can get up to a £18,000 grant.

Such programmes are increasingly widespread: Oxford recently announced new Arlan Hamilton scholarships for Black undergraduates.  UCL has scholarships for black and minority ethnic (BME) postgraduate research students. The Bank of England also has scholarships for African Caribbean students.

Let me be clear: Stormzy and others are trying to do a good thing.  I’m glad he is spending his money on encouraging black kids to apply to Cambridge. There is still a lot of racism out there and generally black people are worse off in lots of ways than white.

But there are some massive questions here. Commenting on the case, Trevor Phillips noted that there would be nothing illegal about scholarships for poor white pupils:

“This is not what we intended when we drafted the equality laws. As one of the authors of the [Equality] Act, and having encountered this situation before, I can see that the schools’ lawyers read the Act as though it were a law constructed purely to favour people of colour. It is not; it is designed to ensure equality, and in this specific case, the disadvantaged, under-represented group happens to be white.”

But do we want to go down a route of ringfenced funding for racial groups, be they black or white? Collecting statistics on people’s self-identified racial background is one thing.  Having ringfenced funding for one racial group is quite another, and leads into a minefield.

Last year, 44 per cent of Black African background pupils got five good GCSEs, but only 40 per cent of those from a Pakistani background.  On what basis should the latter be refused a scholarship only open to someone with slightly different skin colour? What proportion of your grandparents have to be of a particular ethnicity to count as “mixed race” and be eligible for a scholarship?

Apartheid South Africa had cruel racist laws to assign people to racial groups on the basis of things like “hair colour”, “facial features” and “eating and drinking habits”.  Could future court cases turn on such creepy arguments?

In the US, “affirmative action” has gone much further and has indeed led to court cases and legislation to control it. Issues have included discrimination against Asians who have then sued, problems with higher drop-out rates among favoured groups, arguments that it ends up helping richer members of favoured groups over poorer members of non-favoured, and arguments that it undermines members of favoured groups who would have succeeded anyway without the affirmative action.

Most leading UK universities rightly do quite a lot to “aim off” for students’ backgrounds. If you get top grades despite attending a school where few do so, you are more likely to get let in.  They look in detail at individuals’ backgrounds.

I think this fundamentally different to quotas or ringfenced grants: looking through people’s current disadvantages to assess their future potential as individuals is different to treating people as members of groups. Above all, if we want more people from some disadvantaged groups to be able to go to university, the main thing we need to do is to raise their achievement at school, which is why we need to put rocket boosters under our school reforms.

In the 2020s we should get more interested in the culture facing young people and who gets held up as a role model.  We must avoid sliding into US style quota-ism. We must do more to help people climb the ladder, but not be afraid to try and change parts of our culture that keep them down.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com