My ancestors were slaves. My parents were Windrush immigrants. My children can be whatever they want to be.
That’s my family’s history and my family’s future. They are inseparable from each other. I don’t want to ignore my past; it’s part of who I am. It’s the same with London’s past: it will always be part of this city. So we should be strong enough to acknowledge that some of our history is bad without feeling the need to hide it away — because in the long run, history shows us how far we’ve come. That’s what I want my children to learn.
When people tear down statues, it’s not just vandalism; it’s an attempt to destroy part of who we are. And that attempt has now been sanctioned by Sadiq Khan’s new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. The commission will look at which statues to remove and which streets to rename.
I’m not comfortable with the idea that a group of commissioners should get to decide which bits of London’s history we’re allowed to see. But I’m also not comfortable with the idea that historical figures can be judged so definitively. Yes, some of our statues are of bad men.
But what about Gandhi, who led India to independence while defending the racist caste system? What about Millicent Fawcett, who fought to get women the vote but once argued that concentration camps were necessary in war? If we judge everyone in the past by the standards we hold today, we’ll find ourselves on a very slippery slope. So instead of hiding the uncomfortable bits of our history, we should celebrate how far we’ve come. We should build columns for our heroes in the NHS and emergency services. We should build statues for pioneering women in industry, science, and the arts.
We should build monuments to our black and brown role models, the people we want our children to look up to. If statues need to be taken down, local communities should be the ones to decide, not commissioners. Local consultations should be held so that decisions are made peacefully. And the statues we remove should be kept in museums. That’s how we learn from our past. The Mayor’s office has the power to make these changes. That’s one of the reasons I’m standing in next year’s election. The Good Growth Fund has £30.8 million behind it — money to regenerate and improve communities.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
Why not use some of the money to immortalise the heroes that come from these communities? As Mayor I would establish 100 ‘Peoples’ Plinths’ to host statues and monuments celebrating our present-day role models and values. We need a fairer and more equal city. That’s how we can address the anger behind these protests. And if I’m elected, that’s the city I’ll work to create. A city where you can see our history, the good and the bad. A city where new heroes and people of colour are immortalised in statues.
But we can do so much better and we should demand so much more from our political leaders. The current Mayor likes to trumpet the slogan “London is open”. Yet I don’t think he really understands what that actually means. Too many BAME communities struggle month to month, simply to put foot on their tables. Having grown up on a council estate, to a single mother in Ladbroke Grove, this is a struggle I know well.
Addressing this imbalance and really opening London is why I am running to be Mayor of London. I want to ensure everyone, regardless of race, color or creed has access to the same opportunities. This means reforming the housing sector by unlocking the potential development opportunities on brownfield sites and setting up a City Hall backed housing developer – Housing for London – to bypass the private sector and spur them into action, instead of setting arbitrary targets that look good on a press release.
I will build the homes local authorities actually need. This also means putting 40,000 police on the streets to tackle the crime that disproportionately affects disadvantaged and BAME Londoners. It means reopening 38 police stations – closed by the current Mayor – to ensure every borough has a minimum of two stations. And it also means investing in youth services and working with BAME communities to ensure their children have access to better education and employment opportunities. It’s the criminals not the communities that need to feel under pressure.
Which is why I will also be investing in and deploying new scan and search technology alongside stop and search to ensure only those actually carrying concealed weapons get stopped and searched. If we can all do this, we will have a city where there is equal opportunity for everyone. London will finally be open.
Shaun Bailey is the prospective Conservative candidate for London Mayor. He has been a member of the London Assembly since 2016 and co-founded the youth charity, MyGeneration.