If we’re not careful, identity politics will fracture our society

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As the scale and severity of the pandemic became apparent, some hoped that the collective effort against the virus might put a pause on the culture wars; faced with a real public health crisis, we’d put aside our differences for the common good. As it turns out, this could not have been further from the truth; it now feels as though racial identity politics is at risk of deeply fracturing our society.

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement supported by hard-left activists saw the dramatic toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the Bristol harbour. The police stood by and watched; to them, the ‘context’ justified the action taken. Tonight, the statue of 19th century colonialist Sir Cecil Rhodes will be the subject of another round of protests. Although, in 2016, Oriel College decided to keep it in place, it seems this time may be different. Then, the College concluded that the statue should stand as a reminder of the complexity of history, but today, the momentum seems firmly behind those intent on tearing down ‘problematic’ figures.

Previously these types of campaigns were dominated by the voices of student and far-left activists. Now, more than 50% of Oxford City councillors have signed a letter saying that the statue is “incompatible” with the city’s “commitment to anti-racism” and that the “city’s public art and monuments should reflect its values”. The London mayor Sadiq Khan made similar assertions this morning when he announced that he would launch a commission to ensure all landmarks “suitably reflect London’s achievements and diversity” – one may ponder who might be chosen to sit on such a commission.

Of course, there are few who would wish to stake their reputation on defending statues of slave traders, but, without a counter-narrative, it is clear this action will only intensify. Marxist activist, Owen Jones, has already been sharing links to a new website, the sole purpose of which is to encourage people to ‘topple’ statues as a form of resistance to racism. Ironically, one of the targets is Charles Grey, the Prime Minister who passed, amongst many reforms, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833!

It seems to me that this desire to remove statues has more to do with anti-British, anti-Western sentiment, than it does with tackling racism. Why else would Owen Jones wear a t-shirt glorifying the murderous and notoriously racist Che Guevara? I wonder how the very same people would react if I went down and forcibly removed the giant tomb of Karl Marx from Highgate Cemetery because I find the ‘problematic’ legacy of his philosophy deeply offensive. In any case, I’m not sure his views on race – particularly the anti-Semitism – would stand up to today’s standards.

Our national broadcaster has made it clear where it stands on this issue with its blatant editorialising. But the defacing of statues and violent action has left many of us feeling as thought we are at a tipping point. Do we allow this to continue, or is it time the silent majority spoke up and defended democracy against mob rule? After all, this is the country in which modern parliamentary government was born.

Emily Carver is a Conservative commentator. Follow her on twitter: @CarverEmily

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