John Barnes: Society isn't ready to remove statues and change street names

19 July 2020, 16:36

John Barnes: Society isn't ready to remove statues and change street names

By Seán Hickey

As Watford Council plans to rename streets associated with "negative history," John Barnes said that the UK isn't ready to make this change.

Streets such as Imperial Way, Colonial Way, Clive Way adn Rhodes way in Watford are set to be renamed in an effort to provide better representation to its residents. Former footballer John Barnes spoke to Ian Payne about the decision and his view of the matter.

He initially claimed that the conversation is not about dethroning British historical figures, "it's about the disenfranchised" and how they feel about living in a society surrounded by reminders of colonialism.

"I don't think society is ready" said Mr Barnes. He argued that the British public is "ready for the conversation, but not ready for the outcome" around decolonising landmarks.

Ian wondered how we can start the conversation, when Mr Barnes told him that debates need to be had over the history of Britain and her exploits to "together come to a conclusion" over whether it is right to remember controversial figures.

Ian asked the Liverpool legend what he thought should be done in schools, where Mr Barnes pointed out that we "don't know about colonialism, but you know about the empire" and that needs to change.

He used the example of World War II and how Britain fought Germany mainly because of the threat that they would "take over some of the colonies England may have had."

John Barnes doesn't think we should be changing street names
John Barnes doesn't think we should be changing street names. Picture: PA

For the conversation to be carried out properly, "you have to tell the truth about what Britain did in the past" Mr Barnes said.

He also argued against the phenomenon of dethroning figures that have built towns and cities across the UK, like Edward Colston.

He said that if people want to remove statues of such figures, they should "give the money back that they took, because it's blood money." In the eyes of Mr Barnes, we cannot have a double standard like this in the conversation.

He argued that instead of investing in transforming street names, "put that money into making jobs, education" for BAME people who are disadvantaged and are the very people that the decision has been made to accommodate. "Spending money changing names isn't going to help" people find work or live better, John Barnes suggested.