Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.
Keir Starmer has said it was “completely wrong” to tear down the statue of notorious Bristol slave trader Edward Colston – but insisted it should have been peacefully removed “a long time ago”.
The Labour leader stressed: “You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue.”
But he said the statue should have been taken down with “consent”.
Appearing on his own new monthly phone-in show on LBC Radio, the opposition leader said: “It shouldn’t be done in that way. Completely wrong to pull a statue down like that.
“But, stepping back, that statue should have been [...] taken down a long, long time ago.
“You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue.
“A statue is there to honour people. And you can’t have that in 21st century Britain.
“That statue should have been brought down properly with consent and put, I would say, in a museum.”
Justice minister Kit Malthouse has said protesters who pulled down the statue should face prosecution for criminal damage while Boris Johnson has condemned what he calls the “thuggery” of some within the overwhelmingly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.
Malthouse told BBC Breakfast: “A crime was committed, criminal damage was committed, there should be evidence gathered and a prosecution should follow.”
Shadow justice secretary and staunch anti-racism campaigner David Lammy said he did not “condone violence and criminal acts” and insisted the statue “should have come down in a democratic way”.
But during his interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Lammy went on to compare the protesters to those who followed the likes of Martin Luther King and the Suffragettes in opting to break the law to highlight their cause.
The Labour frontbencher said: “We have a tradition in our country of protest.
“We have had great men and women, like Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes, who have faced imprisonment because of their protest.
“I’m quite sure that those young people who brought that statue down knew that they would be facing the law but that was a price they were willing to pay and there are many examples throughout history, from Martin Luther King to Harvey Milk, who protested on behalf of gay rights.
“Many, many men and women following these people and being prepared to break the law because they believed the issue of justice they wanted to shine a light on was a bigger project.”
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees, who is of Jamaican heritage, meanwhile said he “cannot pretend” to have “any real sense of loss” for the statue.
John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, criticised Avon and Somerset Police for its decision not to intervene in the protest.
He told BBC Breakfast: “To have no police presence there I think sent quite a negative message.
“I understand there has been a lot of controversy about this statue for many years – so the question is: why didn’t those in the local authority consider taking it down long before, rather than waiting for these actions?”
But Starmer said: “I was very struck by Superintendent Andy Bennett, who was the police officer, the superintendent, on the ground who judged the situation.
“And he said he was really disappointed by the vandalism and the bringing down of the statue. But he didn’t think it was the right thing to intervene, because it might make the situation worse.”