The idea that figures such as Colston are remote characters from our history ignores their impact on our present
It was inevitable, but the speed with which it happened was still surprising. After the four protesters who toppled the statue of Edward Colston then helped to heave it into the harbour were acquitted, Conservative MPs, the rightwing press and the prime minister himself unleashed their volley of rage at the verdict. “Vandals can’t change our history,” postured Boris Johnson on the front page of the Daily Mail. A “green light to ransack the past” said the Sun. “A monumental mistake” punned the Telegraph, weakly.
If one were a cynic, one would think that the newspaper stories, the statements and the tweets were all sitting in draft form, waiting to be posted, emailed and published. The responses were so rehearsed, so obtuse and so optimised for a polarising landing, that the issue seemed less about Colston’s statue and more about their rigid vision of Britain, a country that – in their eyes – has done no wrong, that owes no apology and should show no humility.
Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist. She has won an inaugural 2021 Silvers-Dudley prize for literary criticism, arts writing and journalism