The prime minister has been accused of “stoking fear and division” ahead of a weekend of anti-racist demonstrations and far-right counter-protests across a country still reeling from last weekend’s iconoclastic events in Bristol.
That Boris Johnson’s highly contentious tweets – in which he called it “absurd” and “shameful” that the national monument to Winston Churchill “should today be at risk by violent protestors” – have been so quickly followed by inflammatory calls from his home secretary to “set Churchill free” raises many questions.
Not least as to whether the country’s identity crisis over race is being exploited as an opportunity to distract from the both the government’s disastrous management of the pandemic and the urgent issues raised by Black Lives Matter movement?
Statues to tainted ‘heroes’
Keeping the debate focused on statues to tainted ‘heroes’ limits the space in which other important questions can be asked.
Questions such as, is it absurd and shameful that the recommendations of the Public Health England review into why BAME communities have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 was not published by the government?
Is it shameful that the government withheld the key contribution made to the review by Prof Kevin Fenton, a black man?
Or is it absurd that following a leak to the media, the government claimed it was “always their intention” to publish the recommendations next week?
Is it absurd and shameful that people living in deprived areas of the UK are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than those living in more affluent parts, with black men four times more likely to die?
Is it absurd and shameful that frontline key workers had such problems with PPE? Or that Britain was promised a world-beating test-and-trace system by June 1?
Or, is the latest revelation that Johnson ‘scrapped the Cabinet pandemic committee six months before the coronavirus hit the UK, absurd and shameful?
Or is it better to look elsewhere for a distraction?
Churchill’s grandson ‘repulsed’ by fascists standing guard to protect memorial
“The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny”, begins Johnson’s series of eight tweets posted on Friday morning.
“It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.”
Johnson’s comments came as it emerged that far-right activists have vowed to protect controversial statues which in turn has resulted in Churchill’s own grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames saying it was “absolutely repulsive” that fascist groups are threatening “to stand guard” over the memorial to his grandfather.
Mayor is right to protect monuments, says Soames
The monument was defaced during last week’s anti-racist protests by people, who Soames said, had hijacked the Black Lives Matter demonstration, with anarchists and far-left activists responsible for the “unspeakable and cowardly” actions.
London mayor Sadiq Khan ordered the Churchill statue and other monuments to be boarded up for protection ahead of this weekend’s protests – with Soames, a former Tory MP telling the Telegraph that the mayor was right to follow police advice to shield memorials.
However, Soames’ response has differed greatly to that expressed by home secretary Priti Patel who, in an interview published today by the Daily Mail called for the statue to be unboxed immediately.
“We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe,” said Patel, showing no regard to the police advice given to the mayor, or imminent arrival of fascists and racists in London to “defend” statues from being toppled or defaced.
Or, seemingly, to the consequences such an action could lead to given the warning of Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick who said that the police “have information that people are intent on coming to cause violence and confrontation.”
‘PM is taking yet another leaf straight out of Trump’s playbook’
Which would make the home secretary’s call to “free Churchill” seem even more inflammatory, irresponsible and reckless – before you remember whose government you are dealing with.
“When Boris Johnson was elected last year, he promised he wanted to unite our country,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas. “Instead he is taking yet another leaf straight out of Trump’s playbook, and deliberately whipping up his base, to divide and polarise our communities.”
It’s an opinion shared by Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP and home affairs spokesperson, who said: “The Black Lives Matter protests following the horrific killing of George Floyd by a police officer have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The prime minister is stoking division and fear in our communities by suggesting they have been hijacked by extremists.”
BLM protest draws thousands to Trafalgar Square
Last night thousands of Black Lives Matter protestors gathered again in Trafalgar Square, defying the rain and the government’s lockdown rules to call for social justice and peacefully protest against police violence.
Meanwhile Black Lives Matter London (BLM LDN) confirmed that today’s (Saturday) protest scheduled to take place at 1pm in Hyde Park has been cancelled due to the threat of violence posed by right-wing extremists.
Police have imposed strict “conditions” on the protests with the Evening Standard reporting that Scotland Yard announced measures on Friday to avoid violent scenes such as those seen last week, including a 5pm cut-off time for events.