ActivePaper Archive PM vows race inquiry but rejects ‘purge’ - The Age, 6/16/2020

PM vows race inquiry but rejects ‘purge’


LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged Britain has much more to do to tackle the issue of racism and has pledged to set up a cross-government commission to examine inequality.

He also launched a passionate defence of ‘‘one of the country’s greatest ever leaders’’, declaring it the ‘‘height of lunacy’’ to accuse Winston Churchill of racism.

‘‘He was a hero, and I expect I am not alone in saying that I will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better,’’ Johnson wrote in an opinion piece for the London Telegraph.

‘‘It is not just that it is wrong to destroy public property by violence. I am also extremely dubious about the growing campaign to edit or photoshop the entire cultural landscape. If we start purging the record and removing the images of all but those whose attitudes conform to our own, we are engaged in a great lie, a distortion of our history – like some public figure furtively trying to make themselves look better by editing their own Wikipedia entry.’’

However, Johnson condemned far-right demonstrators who sought out Black Lives Matter protesters in London over the weekend, leading to violent clashes: ‘‘It was utterly absurd that a load of far-right thugs and bovver boys converged on London with a mission to protect the statue of Winston Churchill.’’

Following the weekend’s ugly scenes, Johnson announced he would establish a new crossgovernment commission to examine racism and discrimination against minority ethnic groups in education, health and the criminal justice system.

He said he could not ignore the strength of feeling shown by tens of thousands of people who had demonstrated in London and other British cities following the death of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.

‘‘We have to look at discrimination in the education system, in health, in the criminal justice system. We have to look at all ways in which it affects black and minority ethnic groups,’’ Johnson said.

The Met Police said 23 police officers were injured on Saturday, with 113 people arrested.

Johnson said the government needed to ‘‘tackle the substance of the problem, not the symbols’’ and called for children to be taught the ‘‘context’’ of Churchill’s actions.

‘‘As it happens, he generally changed [his view] with the times. We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past.’’

He was joined by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said fighting racism should not lead to a ‘‘hateful’’ re-writing of history.

‘‘I will be very clear tonight, compatriots: the Republic won’t erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues,’’ Macron said in a televised address to the nation.

Macron acknowledged that someone’s ‘‘address, name [and] colour of skin’’ can reduce their chances at succeeding in French society, and called for a fight to ensure everyone can ‘‘find a place’’ regardless of ethnic origin or religion. He promised to be ‘‘uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination’’.

The Telegraph, London; agencies