Lester Holloway, Black Information Link (UK), June 30, 2004
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is understood to be infuriated with Westminster City councillors, who are likely to vote down proposals to erect a statue of Mandela when they meet tomorrow (Thursday 1st July).
Livingstone is due for a public showdown with Westminster council’s planning committee when he turns up in person to argue the case for a statue. Filmmaker Lord Richard Attenborough, one of the statue’s most prominent backers, is also planning to attend the meeting.
Black leaders have called on members of the Black community to attend the meeting to show the strength of feeling for the statue. Some activists claim Westminster’s position “smacks of gut-wrenching racism.”
If councillors turn down the statue proposals Livingstone may appeal to Prescott who would have the powers to overrule Westminster and impose the statue.
Newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald has personally appealed to Westminster council to approve the statue. He said: “The erection of a statue in Trafalgar Square would be a fitting contribution to one of the great men of our time.” Other well-known figures supporting the statue include celebrity designer Sir Terence Conran, Lord Geoffrey Howe and novelist Nick Hornby.
A London government source said today that they would consider reporting Westminster council to the Local Government Ombudsman over the secret behind-closed-doors process the council is alleged to have adopted in considering the Mandela statue.
A paper, to be considered at tomorrow’s meeting, recommends that councillors reject the statue because it would not be aesthetically pleasing. Council officers believe it would be “confrontational” and a “distractive element in the settings of listed buildings.”
Critics say Conservative councillors are objecting to it simply because Mandela is black, and that a ‘no’ decision would be seen as a personal slap in the face for Mandela. It is understood individuals in Westminster council previously suggested the statue should be placed in Southwark, south London, rather than Trafalgar Square.
A source has revealed that Westminster council actually agreed that there should be ‘prominent piece of art’ on the north side of Trafalgar Square in a 1996 ‘Masterplan’ of the area written by a Norman Foster-led design team.
The statue is supported by Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy. Only one major organisation, English Heritage, objected to Mandela’s statue. All other large bodies, including the government and the Metropolitan Police, did not raise any concerns when asked by the council.
However questions are likely to be raised about whether the objections made by English Heritage reflect the true position of the body, or whether they were an individual English Heritage officer’s personal view. A spokeswoman for English Heritage said they weere in favour of a Mandela Statue, but not at the proposed location.
Simon Milton, Leader of Westminster City Council, sought to defend the council today releasing a statement claiming any decision was not about Mandela, but the merits the particular planning application.
He said: “I represent a community of over 100 different nationalities which has been to many great statesman, from the UK and around the world. We are used to honouring those who serve the cause of freedom.
“The committee’s decision will be made solely on the basis of the planning merits of the application. This is not a decision about whether there should be a statute of Mr Mandela, nor should it be seen as an attempt to express a political view.”
But Lee Jasper, race advisor to Livingstone, hit back: “Of course it’s political. There are no black people in Trafalgar Square, and virtually no statues of black people in London. Westminster councillors and this panel cannot hide behind the pretence of aesthetic taste and planning law.
“Why are none of Westminsters’ ‘100 nationalities’ on the planning committee? How many freedom fighters have Westminster council honoured exactly? This is a disingenuous and misguided attempt to prevent a black hero being situated centre-stage in Trafalgar Square.
“The Mayor is very clear — Mandela is a world figure worthy of being centre-stage and not shuffled off into some side street.”