Tory MP says Black Lives Matter should 'stop cancelling' opponents

22 July 2020, 19:35

The death of George Floyd sparked global Black Lives Matter protests
The death of George Floyd sparked global Black Lives Matter protests. Picture: Getty

By Ewan Somerville

Black Lives Matter campaigners should "stop cancelling" those with different views and instead focus on changing "minds and intents and souls", A Tory MP has said. 

Lee Rowley, who represents North East Derbyshire, admitted he "personally has much to learn and many more conversations to have" but stressed he "does not recognise this portrait of our country" as being institutionally racist.

Taking aim at calls to tear down historical statues, he told a House of Commons debate on Wednesday: "Take for example that vexed issue of statues, is this really where we want to centre debate?

"How can the toppling of a statue ever be helpful in demonstrating our respect for the rule of law or due process?

Lee Rowley MP urged Black Lives Matter to change tact
Lee Rowley MP urged Black Lives Matter to change tact. Picture: UK Parliament

"And fundamentally how does a focus on pulling down and graffitiing statues help one poor child in north-east Derbyshire, or Newham or Norfolk?"

Anti-racism campaigners have stepped up calls, since the death of African American George Floyd in US police custody, for British institutions to address their ties to slavery and colonialism.

Black Lives Matter activists dumped a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol harbour
Black Lives Matter activists dumped a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol harbour. Picture: Getty

Mr Rowley said the statues he walks past in Westminster, one of which - of wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill - was daubed with the word “racist” during BLM protests, serve as “reminders of an imperfect past but also how we built a better society”.

The MP, who said he is working-class and gay, added: "We all have a responsibility to debate this as broadly as possible. With a willingness to both listen and to recognise that no single one of us and no single group has the answer to every question.

READ MORE: Mural to George Floyd defaced with racist graffiti in Manchester

"Yet too often we have seen attempts to impose a single world view on the contours of this important debate."

In Bristol last week, activists led by the artist Marc Quinn erected a statue of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid on an empty plinth previously occupied by the 17th century slave trader Edward Colston. The council took it down 24 hours later. 

The controversial memorial to Colston, which stood for 125 years, was torn down and dumped in Bristol harbour by protesters in June, sparking fierce debates about dozens of other statues across the world. 

On Tuesday, Oxford University said Oriel College's statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist, at the centre of multiple protests last month would stand until at least January 2021. 

An independent commission of inquiry has been launched to determine its future, after Oriel governors voted to remove it.