THE peak of the coronavirus is behind us, some of the lockdown measures are now being lifted, but the state of our country and the western world today is not a cause for hope. The storm we are in is not passing, it has only just begun.
What could have been a peaceful memorial for George Floyd has turned into, as Martin Luther King put it best, ‘a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy’. King reminded us: ‘Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.’ Now, as well as the natural disaster in the form of coronavirus, we have the man-made disaster of lawless violence and destruction on our streets and an assault on historical monuments; to this anarchy we must not bow.
Monuments belong to history, our history, which belongs to us all. For better or worse, we humans have a past. This history tells us that (pre-lockdown anyway) this is the best time to be alive in Britain and almost anywhere on this planet of ours, whoever you are. Now forms of art are following history as a target for the latest purge.
The best thing about the past is that it is over, it is done. We can cherish our past as our rightful inheritance, we can learn from the mistakes and triumphs. Alternatively, resentful people can in cowardly fashion fight an enemy which cannot fight back: it is too late to teach Edward Colston a lesson. But the lesson has been learned. This battle, along with equality under the law, was fought hard and the right side won, a momentous victory for any society. There are still battles to be fought – people-trafficking continues – but under the law, not under the direction of violent protesters.
Toppling a statue and defacing a monument is an attack on history and art, the symbol and the memory, not an attack on a contemporary idea or an action happening now. If you find a bad idea alive today (and there are plenty of them) confront it with words. A war of only words is the mark of a civilised society; in free and open debate the prize is knowledge, ideas and truth for all who participate.
What is violent protest other than spiralling intolerance, besides perhaps a retreat from any moral high ground? With all the talk of a ‘new normal’, this had better not be it. Whilst the violent protests and iconoclasm are deeply shocking, it is sadly unsurprising in a nation that has laws on so-called hate crimes, where the state and big tech have co-opted each other into censoring online content that is critical of the response to coronavirus and the lockdown measures, and another example of our cultural capture by identity politics and the censorship of dissenting views.
The violent protesters have had a model for their tactics. It seems they have learned their lesson from government lockdown policy too well; they see that fear can be used to compel us into perpetual house arrest. Fear and authoritarian control spread like a virus; people sacrificed their neighbours who did not fully submit to the orthodoxy of lockdown.
Only an ignorant agitator would deface the statue of Churchill, the man who led the charge against the Nazis and other fascists, against dictatorship and against a tyrannised authoritarian Europe. A favourite film of Churchill, which he watched twice aboard the Prince of Wales as he sailed to meet Roosevelt off Newfoundland in August 1941, was That Hamilton Woman, set in the Napoleonic Wars. A favourite line of his was Nelson (played by Laurence Olivier) speaking of Napoleon: ‘You cannot make peace with dictators. You have to destroy them, wipe them out!’ We cannot let a minority of violent extremists be glorified, normalised or left to become dictators; we must stand up to these cowardly bullies now, otherwise it can only end badly for us all, and we risk a disaster of historic proportions.
Violence, intimidation, segregation, censorship, destruction: these are the fearful tools of control and the actions of proto-dictators. The police, sadly now as partial as the BBC, need to remember their sworn duty to prevent crime and maintain law and order.
Before it allows further descent into agitprop chaos, the government must remember its core purpose as protector of liberty and defender of order. It has a golden opportunity to lead by example, by rescinding every law and every regulation that has removed our liberties to place us in lockdown and keep us apart. People understand the need for social distancing, they know if they are at greater risk and are wise enough to take their own precautions. These illiberal laws are not needed. Replacing lockdown laws with guidance based on up-to-date and impartial evidence would restate the British government’s commitment to liberty, regardless of who you are.
Lockdown has been in force for too long, and the micro-management by a PR-obsessed government has backfired. Unless he restores the liberty that made Britain great, Boris Johnson can forget anyone ever raising a statue to him. Rather he will be remembered as the man who finally destroyed British liberty and who ultimately broke down our society, our economy, and our future. History will not forget.