Andrew Percy MP

Andrew Percy MP

Member of Parliament for Brigg & Goole and the Isle of Axholme

Statues and History

Whilst I prefer to keep this page local, a lot of residents have contacted me in recent days to express their views about recent protests, violence on our streets and the on-going debate about statues and history etc. As such I thought I would share some views, especially given that this morning we woke to appalling news that the Churchill statue and cenotaph near Parliament have been boarded up because of concerns over protests this weekend!


The fact that the man who defeated fascism and the memorial to those who died serving their country in wars have had to be boarded up for protection tells you something is going very wrong at the moment. For the record by the way, these are not decisions of the Government as the statue and Parliament Square are in the preserve of Westminster Council and the Mayor of London.


Before I came into this job I was a history teacher, a job I very much enjoyed. In that role I taught about the good the bad and the ugly of British history (as is the case for all countries) and I was proud to do so. I taught about the important role Britain paid in spreading and defending democracy and the rule of law around the world, but I also taught about the shame of Britain's role, along with many others, in the slave trade. I was also proud whilst teaching in Hull, to be able to teach about the important role of one of that City's sons played in abolishing slavery in the British Empire.


For a nation to understand what it is today, it must know its history and and that includes the bad as well as the good. But the fact that there is bad in our history, should not stop us being proud of much of our history or proud of what that shared history - the good, the bad and the ugly - has made us today. It is as a result of our history as a global seafaring power that today we are able to project democratic values around the world and it is as a result of that past that we are now one of the largest donors to development and the protection of people in the world's poorest regions. We are driven by our past - the good and the bad - in 2020 to project a set of values which I am very proud of as a nation and which I will never apologise for.


Whenever there is a disaster on this planet who are among the first on the ground offering help and assistance - the British. The reason for that is precisely because of the legacy of our history, the good and the bad.


It is also about time that we reminded ourselves in this country that human society, at least in the democratic regions of this world, has never enjoyed the level of freedom and tolerance that we do today. Does that mean injustice, racism, homophobia, sexism etc do not still exist in the UK? Of course not, but to listen to some in recent weeks, you would think no progress has been made at all in those areas. I chair one of Parliament's largest anti-racism groups - the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. As a result of this, I know, perhaps better than many, that there is more to do to tackle intolerance in this country, but let's not for a moment pretend we do not live in the most tolerant society to have ever existed - as is the case across the western world.


However, when we have gotten to the stage that we have to board up Winston Churchill and the cenotaph, then I am sorry, but we are not on the right track to tackling the issues that remain in this country. As disgusting as the mob of activists who attacked those symbols last weekend, is the threat by white far-right activists that they will come and protect those statues! Actual neo-nazis threatening to defend the man who defeated the Nazis! What on earth is going on! To be clear I appreciate not everybody who wants to defend statues is a far-right activist but sadly these groups are seeking to exploit this.


None of these people are welcome on our streets - not the far-right activists nor the anarchists, far-left extremists or others who took to the streets last week.


This is one of the most liberal, tolerant and free societies on the planet. One that has more to do to fight injustice of course, but that will not be achieved by people attacking statues, trying to set light to flags on the cenotaph or systematically trying to trash every aspect of British history.


I am proud of Britain and I am very proud of much of our history and I will not let that be trashed by some who seem to be filled with so much hate against everything this country stands for. Nor will I stand by and let 'Britishness' be defended or defined by neo-fascist thugs of the far-right either.


Most reasonable people in this country are more than willing to have a debate and discussion about the past, to seek to learn from it and we would all benefit from every now and again thinking about how life might actually be for people in whose shoes we have never walked or who have a very different lived experience to ourselves.


That is because in my view Britain, England or however you want to define it, is by its character a fair-minded country on the whole. Let's debate our history, lets look at what more can be done to make people feel included in 'Britishness' but don't ever tell me that we can't be proud about what Britain is today and for what it has stood for in the past.


You cannot pretend events did not take place in the past or judge every historical character by the values of 2020. That would be ridiculous and nor can you hold every citizen alive today responsible for things that happened in the past - most of my family spent most of the past three hundreds years toiling as agricultural labourers around East Yorkshire and North Lincs - not plundering the world! However, when they were asked to fight in two world wars to defend democratic values they did so and I am proud of that and that is the experience of most of us.


But now the monument to that sacrifice is hidden away because some extremist group consider it a representation of British colonialism or some such nonsense. No!


Protests that emerged from an understandable outrage at what happened overseas, are now being used and hijacked by groups with more sinister or more radical ends.


It has to stop. As does the trashing of this nation's entire history. I am proud to be British/English - Yorkshire even more so (sorry to my constituents in Lincs) - and much of that pride comes from this country's history, be that defeating fascists and communists or eventually confronting our own shame and taking to the high seas to stop the very slave trade we were once so brutally engaged in.


History is complex, a lot more complex than mobs threatening to tear down statues will ever understand it seems.



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