Written by Classical Liberal
The Edward Colston statue in Bristol was toppled amid growing tensions about Britain’s colonial past sparked by the global outcry following the death of George Floyd in the USA in May 2020. These tensions prompted BLM protestors to launch the Topple the Racists campaign in June 2020. Since then, they have called for dozens of statues of historical figures to be torn down, including statues of Thomas Guy at Guy’s Hospital and at St Thomas’ Hospital. Both hospitals are part of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust.
The statues of Guy and Clayton first came under fire in June 2020, and the Trust boarded up both until they could decide what to do with them permanently.
Guy’s Hospital’s charitable Foundation recently announced that it would move a statue of its founder, Thomas Guy, to a less prominent position because of his links to Britain’s slave trade. The Foundation said that the gesture was proposed to ‘address the legacies’ of slavery and to make the hospital ‘more welcoming to everyone’. This gesture is all very nice and politically correct.
But, surely, hospitals should be in the business of showing that they are ‘welcome to everyone’ by providing all of their patients with first-class medical care, not wasting their time and money on interpreting historical figures and events that happened over 300 years ago. That’s what museums, schools, and universities do! Indeed, I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of patients at Guy’s Hospital couldn’t care less who founded it, as long as they receive first-class treatment there.
It will be interesting to see if their offer to move the statue of Guy to a less prominent location will be enough to appease the social justice warriors. I very much doubt that it will. They will sense that they have the Foundation on the back foot and keep pressing until the Guy statue is completely removed, if not destroyed.
Bookseller Guy made his fortune as a significant shareholder in British slave-trafficking firm the South Sea Company. He sold his shares for £250,000 – about £400 million in today’s prices – and founded the world-renowned Guy’s Hospital in 1721. We cannot change the past. Of course, we can learn from it and not repeat past mistakes. Guy did make a lot of money from slavery. Guy’s history cannot be changed or denied. But many people of colour also benefitted from the slave trade. And, this can also not be altered or denied. So, it is far too simplistic to claim that all white people benefitted from slavery and all people of colour suffered under slavery.
Of course, this straightforward narrative suits the cultural Marxists who are cynically using the BLM movement to push their agenda. And, we would be foolish to think that the cultural Marxists will ever let historical accuracy get in the way of their destructive crusade. And, what about redemption? Guy may have made his fortune from something so inhumane as slavery. But he used that money to found a hospital, which is undoubtedly a worthy cause.
A separate statue of hospital benefactor Clayton, who also had links to Britain’s colonial past as part of the Royal African Company, which shipped African slaves to the Americas, will remain in place as it was decided the position was less prominent.
The Foundation also announced that both statues would be displayed with accompanying plaques detailing their ties to the slave trade. This seems to be a fair and pragmatic suggestion that tries to balance respect for the past with accepting today’s values. However, one wonders how distorted by political correctness these accompanying plaques will be.
Critics have rightfully accused the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation of ‘cultural vandalism’. And, what does BLM achieve by bullying organisations into moving or removing statues of historical figures linked with slavery or colonialism in the now distant past? They may feel empowered by knowing that they can bully the majority into giving into their pointless demands. But, this does nothing to improve people’s lives suffering from lack of opportunity in the UK today. Indeed, there are much better ways to help improve people’s lives than fixating on statues of historical figures.
Critics have also rightfully accused the Foundation of ignoring public opinion about whether the statues should stay or go. Robert Poll, who runs the Save Our Statues campaign, said that the Foundation had ‘ignored the public’ by deciding to move the Guy statue after 75% of respondents to an online questionnaire part of the consultation said that the statue should stay. 75% is an overwhelming majority.
Of course, the consultation’s authors brushed this aside, saying that Save Our Statues supporters dominated the responses and skewed the results. This is typical cultural Marxist logic. Yet, we now live in a country where the feelings of the overwhelming majority are routinely ignored in favour of political correctness. This may be just about statues, but it’s another obvious reminder that we are now second-class citizens in our own country.
Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin