We should learn from the historical value of our statues, rather than lose them to mob rule
Police surround the Churchill statue in Parliament Square, London during a BLM demonstration, June 2020 | PA Images
There is a reason every statue was put up in the first place – we should consider that before we start undemocratically tearing them down
Some people might argue that we have more pressing things to worry about, particularly during this coronavirus pandemic, than statues. Well that certainly wasn’t the view of a very large number of people over the last few months. In a way, it was good to focus our attention on why we have statues in public places. It isn’t just to provide perches for birds to rest on or for people to lean against. A statue is there because the life and work of that particular individual should not be forgotten.
There are many reasons why it is decided that someone deserves a statue. It could be that they have made some hugely significant contribution to national life or indeed to world order itself. They may have invented something, constructed a building or saved lives – the list is endless. The point is that at the time there was a process that had to be followed for the statue to be erected – this is a prerequisite of living in a democracy.
Statues normally have an inscription giving brief information about the individual or individuals concerned. It is unquestionably a huge honour for any person or event to warrant a statue, but I say again they are not just erected without going through a process enshrined in law. Every generation will have its own heroes, but the values of any society should be timeless. We shouldn’t reinvent history, but instead we should learn from history.
Perhaps the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown meant that as people were going for their daily walks, they took more notice of statues for whatever reason. The scenes of groups of people either pulling down statues or vandalising them were unedifying to say the least. In a democracy, just as there is a process to go through to erect a statue there should equally be a process to take one down. Mob rule, which is how the scenes came across to many people, was something I thought I would never see in this country.
The destruction and violation of monuments should not be swept under the carpet and those responsible for it should be held to account. I was absolutely sickened, for instance, when the statue of Winston Churchill, without whose leadership our country and indeed the world would have not overcome the aggressors in the Second World War, was desecrated. If people today object to certain statues, then they should argue their case through the appropriate authorities recognising that there will be a cost to the public purse to remove the statue. It might be far better to have an addition to the plaque explaining more about the life of the individual and how they created their wealth.
I do have a little bit of experience myself in securing a statue for display in a public place – that of the Raoul Wallenberg monument outside the Western Marble Arch Synagogue. Raoul was an extraordinary Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of as many as a hundred thousand Jews in Hungary during the Second World War through Schutz-Passes, the protective passports. I am delighted to say it was unveiled by her Majesty the Queen in 1997 together with the President of Israel.
Furthermore, in conjunction with Dame Vera Lynn’s family, I am planning to have a statue of the late Dame Vera commissioned and erected. Famously known as the Forces’ Sweetheart, Dame Vera boosted morale of our troops who fought in the Second World War and in particular those who served in the Far East. While Dame Vera lived to see Victory in Europe Day, she unfortunately died in June of this year at the remarkable age of 103. I believe that our nation is united in its desire for a public statue of our national treasure which Dame Vera certainly is.
Long may we continue to erect statues to remind us of our past, reflect on our present and ponder on our future.
Sir David Amess is Conservative MP for Southend West. His adjournment debate on Public Statues is scheduled for 25 September