Recently, the local government of the city of Grantham in Lincolnshire, UK, spent 300,000 on a statue of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first woman Prime Minister. (Twitter)
"Oh Bachchoo, Bachchoo tell me true
Does God welcome all human prayer?
And if he does, what does he do?
--The evidence is he doesn’t care!"
From Classic Nasik, by Bachchoo
When Michelangelo was asked how he went about carving the statue of David, he is reported to have said "well ah gets ‘old of a large slab of marble and then ah gets me chisel and ‘ammer and ah chips away all de bits dat don’t look like David".
Well, OK, he didn’t exactly say that, I made it up, but he might, or could have!
Statistics show that one and a quarter million people visit and view the statue each year. They are perhaps there to gaze upon the art of perfection -- of the human form. Maybe some of them have some interest in or allegiance to the Biblically historical figure of David, who fought against the giant Goliath and won.
It may be that all or most of the visitors to the statue are there in obeisance to the power of the story, in which the seemingly weaker good overpowers the heavily armed evil.
All statues commemorate some such real, legendary or imagined virtue.
Recently, the local government of the city of Grantham in Lincolnshire, UK, spent £300,000 on a statue of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. Hours after it was installed it was pelted with eggs. The reason was that Lady Thatcher was a lower middle-class revolutionary. She primarily represented that class and its animosity to basic wage workers and as a Tory she, as a matter of course, embraced capitalism, even of a global kind. She was not very popular with the working classes.
I earned my living as a teacher at the beginning of her ministership in government, as Britain’s secretary of state for education, when she abolished the provision of free milk in primary schools to poor children. We demonstrated with the slogan "Margaret Thatcher -- milk snatcher!" It was a cry of disappointed antagonism, but didn’t get the poor kids to have their daily half pint of guaranteed nourishment for growth.
She was unpopular in many other ways and when the statue was installed in Grantham, 13,000 people volunteered on a website to turn up and throw eggs at it. Rumour has it that several street stalls selling rotten eggs sprang up in the locality.
At the height of support for the Black Lives Matter movement the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-18th century slave-owning philanthropist of Bristol, was taken off its pedestal, carried by a crowd and thrown into the River Avon. The four people who were actually responsible for handling the statue were prosecuted by the police for it, but were later acquitted by a jury.
Gentle reader, imagine the fury, the outrage, the despair and exaggerated reaction of the right-wing press Douglas Murray, journalist and right-wing complainant (I’ve featured him in previous columns) even said in his book that this toppling of statues was like a rewriting of history. His apocalyptic despair said it was the end of Western history and, by implication, civilisation.
History is not transmitted through the presence of statues. There are things called books written by people called "historians": there are archives and documents of record.
Of course, Douglas may have a point. Perhaps this "Wokery", as they call it, has gone too far. I mean, let’s say, last week, had I on my travels alighted at a railway station of a city which has been renamed "Personchester". I’d be confused. And then on the way back to Londonna, if I passed through Birmingsoyabean…? Oh, this assault on the statues of language! Where will it all end? Will poor Queen Elizabeth II during her Platinum Jubilee have to be redesignated as "Royalperson" Elizabeth?
Yes, yes gentle reader, I may have a gone a bit too far to prove the point that "wokery" is an adoption that won’t alter Western civilisation. A fresh, principled, factual insight into history, especially of the colonial period, may alter to a degree our perception of it.
My friend Tariq Ali (I declare an interest by claiming our friendship) has written a book called Churchill, His Times and His Crimes. It challenges the idea that Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, should be universally revered. There is a cult of Churchill in Britain and the nationalist tendencies of the UK are entitled to it. After all, in other countries there were figures who openly and ideologically sided with fascism and militarily with Hitler who are revered as icons by some in their countries.
I can with confidence only say that there won’t be a statue of Churchill erected in any Indian city, though there is a very dignified and emotion-provoking statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Tavistock Square in London.
Perhaps it is time that we surpass the categories of "left" and "right" in politics. Ask yourself what the fate of a statue of Vladimir Putin in Moscow or St Petersburg is likely to be? Do the latest Prime Ministers of India merit statues?
There is, I suggest, a new world order of opinion. There are The Erectors who put up statues. Then there are the Egg Throwers who disagree with the person being worthy of a statue. And then there is the third category -- The Take-Downers and Drowners.
These are the categories that will define and divide humanity in the future. I haven’t decided to which of these three I belong.