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Oh for the days when the Loony Left were in plain sight


THE cultural revolution marches on. A left-wing council in London is placing a permanent public work of art ‘commemorating the transatlantic slave trade’ in a park named after William Gladstone, the 19th century Liberal prime minister whose family benefited from the trade.

The Anchor, the Drum and the Ship, a ‘horticultural installation’ by Harun Morrison and Antonia Couling, ‘offers a set of triangulation points to create conversation around Victorian aesthetics, plantations, horticulture, colonialism, migration, botany and storytelling’. No, don’t doze off; this sort of thing is important. It is all about ‘contested history’, apparently. What that means in practice is the Marxist revision of the past. The project is to be unveiled on October 14 to coincide with Black History Month, which starts on Saturday.

Where is this taking place? In Gladstone Park (the name itself is under threat, as I will report later in this article), Dollis Hill, in the north-west London borough of Brent. 

Brent! Just the mention of that flat, ugly word, so close to the adjective denoting an object that is damaged and no longer in its correct shape, conjures memories of the ‘Loony Left’ in the Eighties: of Nuclear Free Zones, extreme badge politics, lesbian and gay marches, race riots, non-competitive school sports, reggae festivals, chaotic services, all-round incompetence, breakdown and rate capping. In Brent, Haringey, Hackney, Lambeth and other inner London authorities the goat-acting behaviour of dimly remembered figures including ‘Red Ted’ Knight, Bernie Grant and Linda Bellos were a great source of copy and amusement for the tabloid press. None other than that old lover of Irish republican terrorism, apologist for Islamism and believer in the idea that Adolf Hitler was a keen Zionist, Ken Livingstone, who said he felt ‘an affinity’ for Brent because so many of his friends lived there, was its MP years ago. 

At this remove one almost feels a pang of nostalgia for those days: the hard left was in plain sight and to a degree contained. I suspect everyone, including most Labour voters, knew that all the rebarbative, resentful nonsense that emerged from activists in these boroughs was as ham-fisted an assault on western bourgeois life as Wolfie’s ‘Power to the People’ invocation in the BBC sitcom Citizen Smith. It was all more or less laughed at. This was a mistake. Forty years on, much of the dogma of those days has become official policy in our civil administration across Britain, and nobody is laughing. 

It was even then no laughing matter if you were on the receiving end of it: for example, in 1983 hard-left activists broke up a meeting of Brent Council to stop a Conservative-Liberal coalition taking control of the authority, an action described by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as ‘mob rule by the fascist left’. 

Today the loony left are still running things, but are largely left alone by an incurious, left-liberal media. A lot of the beards have gone, and the money, your money, is pouring in – unstopped by 12 years of so-called conservative government. The great aim of the left to turn Britain into a decaf North Korea goes on. 

The latest curious monument is the brainchild of the ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’. This group, set up by the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was described by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the current Business Secretary, as a ‘left-wing wheeze that should not be inflicted on Londoners’. In essence the commission’s job is to turn London’s visible commemorative history towards minority revisionism and thus to effect one of the prime functions of the cultural revolutionary: take control the past. This is what the term ‘contested history’ actually means, a war against cold, balanced truth. I suspect you will be hearing a lot of it under the next Labour government. 

Gladstone Park itself was earmarked for a name change after Brent Council approved a ‘review’ in 2020. Gladstone himself was opposed to the slave trade, calling it ‘foul’, but took steps to ensure financial recompense for his family after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 outlawed slavery in most of the British Empire.

In the wake of the council’s review, new names were proposed for Gladstone Park, including Diane Abbott Park, BAME Park and Diversity Fields (no, I’m not making this up). 

The council has since said that the park’s name will not be changed ‘for the time being’. I feel sure that view will be reversed. The new installation will doubtless raise the issue again, as it is designed to. My recent review of Alexander Adams’s book Artivism, about publicly funded art activism, goes into the political aims of such installations. Publicly funded artists, in Adams’s view, are left-wing parasites who soak up taxpayers’ money and make war on their cherished institutions. Projects such as The Anchor, the Drum and the Ship and the wider aims of the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm raise troubling questions. Britain led the world in abolishing slavery yet the public are bombarded with anti-British hostility. Why are we not building monuments to commemorate our moral authority in leading the world by the abolition of the slave trade? A more subtle public work of art in Gladstone Park would be a commemoration of William Wilberforce, though I somehow doubt that would get past the diversity commissars. 

Muhammed Butt, the leader of Brent Council, has been lavish in his praise of The Anchor, the Drum and the Ship. He said it ‘shines a light on some unexplored corners of our local history . . . It’s so important that these hidden pasts are embraced . . .’ 

While we’re on the subject of ‘hidden pasts’, the one-eyed outrage about the transatlantic slave trade is all the more remarkable given its historical repackaging as a practice exclusive to white oppressors rather than a ubiquitous trade carried on across all races of the world for thousands of years, including by black Africans and especially in the Islamic world, where vast numbers of white Christian Europeans were enslaved, the story of which is told in Giles Milton’s book White Gold.

Perhaps the Commission of Diversity in the Public Realm and Mr Butt, who in April was criticised for sharing online a TikTok video of three Palestinian activists calling for the bombing of Tel Aviv in Israel, would be interested in some ‘contested history’ about that subject. Would they be receptive to the memorialising of that long and disgraceful episode? 

Don’t bet on it.

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Robert James
Robert James
Robert James is a national newspaper journalist.

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