Thank you for contacting me about public monuments.
While I understand the strength of feeling surrounding certain statues and memorials that adorn our public spaces, I strongly condemn the actions of those who in recent weeks have defaced and damaged public property, or otherwise broken the law.
Many public statues and memorials are erected on land overseen by local authorities. Elected councillors have responsibility for such municipal sites, accountable to local voters. With that said, I hope that councillors will follow the advice from Historic England (HE) on this issue. HE are the Government’s adviser on the historic environment, and their guidance advises against removing so called ‘contested heritage.’ Instead, HE recommend that reinterpretation at or near a contested object or site can be used in order to reflect a changed context and contemporary understanding of the statue or memorial. This could for example mean updating the monument’s plaque to explain differing or updated perspectives.
I am pleased that the Government itself does not have any plans to remove statues or memorials on its property.
It is of course true that many statues are dedicated to people who said or did things that few would defend today.
I strongly agree with the Prime Minister that we must not try to edit or censor our past. Rather than seeking to air brush our history, our aim should be to use heritage to educate people about all aspects of our complex past – good and bad. Historical figures acted in a completely different context to the one we live in today. To pass judgement from our current viewpoint, in one of the freest and most prosperous societies ever to have existed, is both unfair and ahistorical.
I am very pleased that Ministers and the Opposition are backing the new Desecration of War Memorials Bill, which will outlaw vandalism to memorials, with a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment if the Bill passes.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP