The Mother of Parliaments has a lot on her plate at the moment. Britain is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades, and there is a continuing danger that the conflict in Ukraine could escalate into a world war.
Meanwhile China, a state built on slavery and oppression, makes appalling progress in the world, and tightens its grip on British industry, nuclear power stations and (through lucrative sponsorship deals) universities.
But the Speaker of the House of Commons nevertheless decided that the parliamentary committee on works of art should spend its time, and taxpayers’ money, on ‘updating’ its art collection, and recommended how many trigger warnings and labels must be added to the many. Paintings, cartoons, sculptures and engravings at the Palace of Westminster.
This committee, which sounds like a dream dreamed up by Charles Dickens or Gilbert and Sullivan in their most frivolous moods, is doing its best to point the finger of blame at long-dead politicians, while evading fraudulent agreements made by their contemporary counterparts. is being neglected.
AN WILSON: ‘Edmund Burke was an 18th-century ruthless denouncer of the evils of empire in England, and a staunch defender of Irish and American liberty. In short, a really great person
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons at the State Opening of Parliament in December 2019
Westminster, which used to lead, now follows. Every modest civic art gallery, every college, every institution up and down the country is wringing its hands because of a possible link to past wickedness.
In addition to the very few cartoons and paintings in the Westminster collection that depict non-Europeans or non-British people in a racist manner, a parliamentary committee was asked to pick any former British politicians that upset modern sensibilities .
In particular, they were looking for people who had ties to the slave trade, and were asked to identify not only those who ‘supported slavery’, but also those who had had ‘financial or family interests in the transatlantic slave trade and slavery’.
So let’s all talk about Edmund Burke, arguably the most subtle and most brilliant speaker Westminster has ever seen. A ruthless 18th-century denouncer of the evils of the Empire in England, and a staunch defender of Irish and American liberty. In short, a really great person.
Yet our committee has put him on the naughty list because one of his younger brothers may have speculated on investments in the Caribbean.
And he’s by no means the only political monarch in the cross-hairs of this ridiculous organization. Among the works of art they contain are sculptures or paintings by Sir Robert Peel, the figure best known today for founding the Metropolitan Police (whose officers are known as bobbies or peelers after him).
Former Prime Minister Robert Peel – known as the founder of the modern police service – was a noted opponent of slavery and his family were not owners. But he is tagged because his father earned money by spinning cotton
In his time, he was perhaps best known as the prime minister of the 19th century who destroyed his own party, the Conservatives, on a point of principle: free trade and the importation of cheap foreign grain to lower the price of bread. Permitting and eradicating poverty. It was said that Peel was the only British politician on whose death the poor people wept openly in the street.
Peel had improved people’s lives in one fell swoop, but – by sweeping powerful landowners and farmers into his party – he sacrificed his political career in the process.
He was also a staunch abolitionist, but, since his father made a fortune from cotton-spinning, Peel is also on the Westminster Committee’s naughty list.
Among the other villains on the list we have Gladstone. The Gladstones made a lot of money from their Demerara and Jamaican sugar plantations and were slave owners.
True, as a young Tory, Gladstone’s first speech in the House of Commons – for which he later felt immense guilt – was to complain that his family had not been adequately compensated when they were forced to free their slaves. was forced to.
But the morally complex case of Gladstone should surely remind us how difficult it is to reconcile good and evil in history.
In 1892, Gladstone became Prime Minister, who almost brought peace to Ireland – if his Home Rule policy had been followed, thousands of lives could have been saved. He saw that the way Ireland had been treated by British governments over the centuries was a scandal.
Gladstone also helped expand suffrage so that you and I could vote. He was a formidable force for good, whatever you think of his pathetic character. To simply label it as tainted by the slave trade is absurd.
Just remember – and this is a point worth repeating – that many of the people on the committee, as well as today’s ignorant Westminster politicians who would endorse its ‘findings’, voted for measures to strengthen our relationship with modern China Will happen.
Among the other villains on the list we have Gladstone (pictured). The Gladstones made a lot of money from their Demerara and Jamaican sugar plantations and were slave owners
This photo shows people and people in wheelchairs at the emergency department of a hospital in Beijing on January 3, 2023
Never mind that Beijing’s economy depends on modern-day slavery, as well as forced labor for absolutely minimum wages. The reason so many goods made in China are so cheap – from clothes to toothpaste, ceramics to plastics to electrical goods – is that they are made by workers without any pay.
It does not allow British politicians of all persuasions to urge closer trade ties with China, or to see our colleges and universities exploited by a regime that does not share our values.
Our former prime minister, Theresa May, for example, campaigns for victims of modern slavery, but it was under her watch that China’s controversial investment in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station was green-lit in 2016.
The truth is that the past is a bloody place. This is another country. Slavery is, and was, abhorrent, but to focus solely on the question of whether or not profit was made from the wicked slave trade as a whole is to conveniently ignore all the other wrongdoings of the past.
And let’s not forget that in 18th century Britain one could still be hanged for forging a forged cheque, for pickpocketing, for stealing a small bundle of firewood. Shouldn’t the MLAs who have approved these punishments also be blacklisted?
Meanwhile, early trade unionists, the so-called Tolpuddle Martyrs, were sent into exile in Australia as criminals.
I could go. , ,
It was more than a hundred years after the abolition of the slave trade before women were given the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
It took almost two centuries to change a law that condemned homosexuals to prison – or to chemical vasectomy for being gay, as happened with Alan Turing, in cracking the Enigma code and winning World War II. One of the people who helped.
Setting aside the unforgivable exploitation of slaves by British planters and cotton merchants implies that racism was the only sin committed by our forefathers.
AN WILSON: ‘Britain is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades, and there is a continuing danger that the conflict in Ukraine could turn into a world war’ (Grad missiles fired by Ukrainian armed forces in Donetsk, December 30, 2022)
There is also a danger of ignoring the huge difference between the British and American experience of racism on the part of those who support Black Lives Matter.
Despite losing their Civil War, American former slave owners continued to discriminate against people of color.
It was not until 1954 that racial segregation in state schools was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and even then it remained in place for years in some states.
Thirteen years later, the ban on interracial marriage was declared illegal.
The British, on the other hand, not only abolished slavery (in 1833, 32 years before the US) but, after outlawing the slave trade in 1807, employed the Royal Navy to suppress it around the world.
The Parliamentary Committee on Works of Art no doubt now feels too pleased with itself to establish its moral authority over figures such as Robert Peel or V Gladstone.
But the truth is that if we had a politician today, left or right, with even a tenth of his integrity, we would all be beaming with joy.
These pranksters probably think they’re drawing our attention to something we didn’t know—namely that our ancestors were a morally mixed bunch. But in that sense those ancestors are no different from us.
What the Hypocrisy Committee is really reminding us is that the current Palace of Westminster is packed to the rafters with twits and second-raters.
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