Anti-racism campaigners target Nelson's Column as next statue that should be removed

Anti-racism campaigners have listed Nelson’s Column among the statues they want to see brought down.

The Topple the Racists website, which says it was set up by an anti-Donald Trump campaign, has listed a number of sites across the UK involving historical figures where it says there is “responsibility for colonial violence”.

The calls come after a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was ripped from its plinth and thrown into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter demonstration at the weekend.

The protests started after American George Floyd died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Activists have called for statues including Nelson's Column to come down after activists toppled slave trader Edward Colston. (PA Images)
Activists have called for statues including Nelson's Column to come down after activists toppled slave trader Edward Colston. (PA Images)

“We believe these statues and other memorials to slave-owners and colonialists need to be removed so that Britain can finally face the truth about its past – and how it shapes our present,” states the Topple the Racists site, which bears the logo of the Stop Trump Coalition.

“We have included cases where there is responsibility for colonial violence. History is complicated so we have made some judgment calls. We welcome feedback.”

Among the statues in their sights are Robert Peel, the 19th-century Tory prime minister who founded the Metropolitan Police.

The website’s interactive map highlights a statue of him in Birmingham, with the caption that he “created the modern concept of policing, which has disproportionately targeted the poor and ethnic minorities world-wide for centuries”.

Christopher Columbus, Lord Kitchener and William Gladstone also feature.

Horatio Nelson, the admiral who died leading a British fleet against a combined French and Spanish force off the cape of Trafalgar in 1805 during the Napoleonic wars, is also among the names.

A piece focusing on Nelson’s Column was published in The Guardian in 2017 by writer Afua Hirsch.

In it, she described Nelson as “a white supremacist”, who “while many around him were denouncing slavery... was vigorously defending it”, and who used his political power to “perpetuate the tyranny, serial rape and exploitation organised by West Indian planters”.

Calls to remove Nelson tributes are not confined to the column in London’s Trafalgar Square.

In Bridgetown, Barbados, a history undergraduate said a monument to the admiral should be removed in National Heroes Square.

Alex Downes’s petition has received more than 5,000 signatures, Nation News reported.

Graffiti on the Winston Churchill statue during the Black Lives Matter protest rally in Parliament Square, Westminster, London, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis.
Graffiti was painted on to the Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square during the weekend's protests. (PA Images)

“I’ve been watching what’s happening around the world and we in Barbados have been discussing those issues, but then I asked myself what could we address here for ourselves?” he said.

“Nelson has been a real sore point over the years and I thought it was time we stopped just talking and take action.”

Back in the UK, a series of councils have pledged to review monuments. The statue to Winston Churchill, near parliament, was graffitied to say he was a racist.

Downing Street has told police it is a matter for them whether to intervene should anti-racism demonstrators try to bring down more statues.

Boris Johnson told his cabinet on Tuesday that those who attack public property “will face the full force of the law”.

Among his party, business minister Nadhim Zahawi said people should be able to consider the country’s history without a feeling of “self loathing”, while Caroline Nokes described the removal of Colston in Bristol as “terribly symbolic” but disagreed with the way it was done.

In Labour, leader Keir Starmer said it was “completely wrong” for the statue to be torn down in the way it was but said added that “you can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue”.

Diane Abbott said figures who made money from slavery should not be held up for admiration and London mayor Sadiq Khan set up a new commission to review the capital’s landmarks.