Peter Rhodes on statues, stigma and modern heroes who turn out to have feet of clay

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

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SHREWS COPYRIGHT SHROPSHIRE STAR 13/06/2020 - Protesters defending the Robert Clive - Clive of India - statue in Shrewsbury Square..

Statues again. If we are only going to commemorate historical figures who were 100 per cent pure, principled and politically correct then we will have no heroes.

We humans are all flawed. And if statues of empire builders are torn down and replaced with statues of reformers, it will be only a matter of time before we discover our new heroes had feet of clay, just like the old heroes. There isn't a hero in history who didn't have a bad day, nor a saint who did not sin.

Meanwhile, the debate continues over whether to remove the statue of Clive of India from Shrewsbury on the grounds that he was a violent, unstable, genocidal, sociopathic, racist, imperialist asset-stripper and, frankly, not a very nice person. However, it is clear that Clive suffered from a cocktail of mental issues. He was uncontrollable as a child, was expelled from three schools, made a couple of suicide attempts and plunged into deep depression. A modern psychiatrist would diagnose Clive as bipolar with attention-deficit issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and possibly a dash of Tourette's. With proper support and treatment, Clive might have become a useful member of society.

You see where this is going? Clive is hounded by stigma, discrimination and intolerance. And if the only statue to be torn down in Shrewsbury is of a victim of mental illness, what does it tell us about Shrewsbury? I look forward to the statue being solemnly removed by anti-imperialists and then re-erected, with equal solemnity, by Prince William's mental wellness charity, Heads Together. Arise, Clive of Bipolar. This could run and run.

I had to smile at one report about Clive which referred to the Black Hole of Calcutta as “an Indian prison in which prisoners of war were kept in dangerous conditions.” This is presumably based on information from the Department of Profound Understatements.

In a column for The Guardian on Black Lives Matter, Owen Jones declares: “What protesters are doing on both sides of the Atlantic is compelling entire nations to confront their present through a new understanding of their past.” Ah, yes. The past. What a disappointing and treacherous place it can be. In the past, lest we forget, the Manchester Guardian, as it was then, actually supported the slave-owning Confederacy in the American Civil War. The newspaper, now regarded as the Bible of the Left, greeted the election of the saintly Abraham Lincoln in 1862 as “an evil day both for America and the world.” And when Manchester mill workers showed their solidarity against slavery by refusing to touch cotton picked by US slaves, the Guardian said they should be forced back to work.

We know all this because The Guardian fessed up in a feature for Black History Month 12 years ago. It didn't seem to matter much in 2008. How things change. Time to throw somebody in the Manchester Ship Canal?

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world


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