Labour leader decries toppling of memorial to slaver, while Nadia Whittome, Dawn Butler, Marvin Rees and David Lammy honour it
Keir Starmer again appears to have sided with the oppressor over the oppressed. In an interview with radio station LBC, he told listeners that ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters were wrong to pull down a statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, saying the monument “shouldn’t come down in that way” and condemning what he called “lawlessness”:
Starmer’s response is completely at odds with that of black Labour MP Nadia Whittome and black Labour mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees.
Whittome tweeted that she celebrated “these acts of resistance” and said that the toppling of the statue was a call to “tear down systemic racism and the slave owner statues that symbolise it” – and said that it highlighted the need for a government that would always side with those wanting to end oppression:
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who should know better than any politician what the statue meant in the city, called for understanding of the “affront to humanity” the statue represented and, like Whittome, called for the incident to be a catalyst for change:
Thank you to everyone who took part peacefully and respected the need to protect their communities as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
I know the removal of the Colston Statue will divide opinion, as the statue itself has done for many years.
However it’s important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity and make the legacy of today about the future of our city, tackling racism and inequality.
I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”Bristol mayor Marvin Rees
Rees also stated that the placards currently around the base of the statue will be preserved and put on display as part of a historic moment.
Labour MP Dawn Butler said that seeing the statue fall enabled her to ‘exhale’:
Even Starmer’s centrist ally David Lammy agreed publicly with the destruction of the statue this morning.
Colston’s ‘affront to humanity’ was heartrendingly demonstrated in a 2018 art installation that depicted a slave-ship deck in front of the statue, with people laid cramped together, and pointed out that slavery has not ended, even in the UK:
But even that artwork did not do justice to the horror of the kind of slave transport that made Colston rich, which is revealed by a contemporary drawing of a slave-ship layout:
Around 12.5 million people were carried off to slavery in such vessels, with almost two million of them dying during the voyage because of the conditions on the ships, their bodies dumped unceremoniously into the ocean.
Colston’s ships – he was deputy governor of the British empire’s main slaving company – were even worse. During his management, almost a quarter of the slaves shipped away from their homeland on the ‘Royal African Company’s vessels died on the way to slavery.
And slavery is not merely a shameful part of the history of this nation. Slavers still profit from ruined lives, in the UK and elsewhere.
Whittome, Rees and Lammy are right. Starmer is wrong. Labour must always stand with and for the oppressed and never the oppressor. Once again he has failed to oppose on behalf of those who need it and has been shown how to act by others in the movement who should be able to rely on him to lead.
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