Colston statue toppled over 'unaffordable housing and gentrification'

Bristol mayor says toppling of Sir Edward Colston statue was fuelled by ‘years of unaffordable housing, gentrification and being left behind’

  • Marvin Rees was giving evidence on ‘physical heritage’ to the DCMS Committee
  • He said statue toppling in Bristol in June was not ‘all about the Colston Statue’
  • Suggested issues like ‘unaffordable housing and gentrification’ contributed to ‘public anger’ as well

The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue was about ‘years’ of unaffordable housing and gentrification, the Mayor of Bristol has told MPs.

Marvin Rees said that Black Lives Matters protests this summer which led to the  17th-century slave trader’s bronze effigy being ripped off its pedestal were not ‘all about the Colston Statue’.

Speaking at the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee’s ‘hearing into physical heritage’, the mayor suggested public anger had been ‘built up over the years’, and the toppling was just the ‘focal point’ for frustrations.

Marvin Rees has said that Black Lives Matters protests this summer which led to the 17th-century slave trader’s bronze effigy being ripped off its pedestal were not ‘all about the Colston Statue’

‘I don’t think that the Colston Statue was all about the Colston statue,’ said Mr Rees. ‘I think that the issues are a lot more complicated than that.

‘I think there is a lot that has been built up over the years, whether we’re talking about unaffordable housing, gentrification feeding into this, or being left behind by the national or the international economy.

‘This action happened within a context, it’s not just the action. I think that the Colston statue became a focal point for other frustrations with life in modern Britain and some of its challenges.’

Speaking at the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee’s ‘hearing into physical heritage’, the mayor suggested public anger had been ‘built up over the years’, and the toppling was just the ‘focal point’ for frustrations. Pictured: Edward Colston statue in the centre of Bristol falls to protestors

Mr Rees added that there had been a ‘long-running question in the country’ over national identity and ‘what it means to be British’ that started in the 2000s and has now become more pronounced.

Committee member Damian Green questioned Mr Rees why it was only now Colston’s statue had been toppled despite being deemed controversial for 30 years.

Mr Rees, who has been Bristol Mayor since 2016, said that the topic of Colston had come up in 2007 at the 200th anniversary of William Wilberforce’s Abolition of the Slave Trade, but those in power did not do anything.

‘It was a very difficult year for the city, it was not equipped to have a conversation about Colston,’ he replied.

‘This action happened within a context, it’s not just the action. I think that the Colston statue became a focal point for other frustrations with life in modern Britain and some of its challenges,’ he said

‘When I came in in 2016, I was the first directly elected black mayor of a major city in Europe.

‘If I come in and the first thing I start doing is tackling slave memorabilia in the middle of a Brexit debate that is all about national identity and heritage against the EU, it would have been all I’d be doing for four years, and would have been a pretty politically naive thing to have done.’

In July, a month after protestor tore the statue down and it into the River Avon, Mr Rees said that while action over the statue ‘makes people feel good’, he said ‘it doesn’t address the underlying drivers of inequality’.

Committee member Damian Green questioned Mr Rees why it was only now Colston’s statue had been toppled despite being deemed controversial for the past 30 years

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