I will always have very fond memories of my three years at the University of Liverpool. Great friends, tutors, part of a friendly department and campus.
And graduation day itself; July 19th 2012. Travelling to Liverpool early in the day, meeting fellow graduates and friends, sharing congratulations, beaming with pride in our achievements. Me cringing slightly in my pink graduation gown, and feeling ever more sick with nerves as the ceremony drew near (mostly fretting over a justified fear my mortarboard would fall off while on stage – which happened a few times earlier on).
And the post-ceremony celebration and relief headwear disaster avoided. Top of the world, at the peak of academic achievement, yet to be punctured by the bleak postgraduate gloom of trying to get on the first rung of the employment ladder.
However, I have to admit to recently feeling some quiet shame of my old Alma Mata.
Now this isn’t anything a case of sudden academic snobbery – even if someone did charmingly refer to the university as the “arse-end of the Russell Group” to my face the other week (in mitigation I wasn’t completely flattering over his workplace: Salford University).
No, I was dismayed to see Liverpool students are set to vote on removing the name of William Gladstone’s name from the Roscoe & Gladstone building.
Dismayed, though sadly not surprised. Neo-Marxist campaigns like this to wipe out “unwanted history” are of course becoming alarmingly common on western campuses, most notably across the Atlantic where students are more and more keen onremoving statues of historical figures than recently-liberated Iraqis.
Apparently this ‘Preferendum’ (for which there is no set date yet) has come about due to some students’ concerns over the Victorian Prime Minister’s “racially marred legacy” for failing to wholeheartedly support the abolition of slavery.
This follows a few weeks ago when, conservative journalist Peter Hitchens refused to talk at the University because of “intrusive conditions” being imposed by the Guild. The event was rearranged and ended up taking place in the street after the owners of the new venue failed to turn up (it turned out to be a delightful event which I was fortunate enough to attend).
Of course Liverpool’s student Guild always had a strong modern leftist influence. Like anyone with any kind of conservative mindset I just kept my head down and got on with it. What can you do? (As the phrase goes now, people don’t come out as gay anymore, they come out as conservative).
But I find these type of campaigns chilling. Not only do I vehemently disagree with the vote and the prospect of removing Gladstone’s name. Judging historical figures by contemporary standards is, to me, not only self-evidently ludicrous, but an incredibly simplistic view of history, and human beings. Reality is complex, and so are people. We are not split into ‘nice people and racists’, good and bad, black and white. Thus kind of retrospective moralising (however well-intentioned those behind it may be) comes across as incredibly patronising. As if we can pass judgement on those gone before us.
I have no personal knowledge of Gladstone’s views on slavery, undoubtedly an appalling thing. I can’t of a reasonable person who would say otherwise. Yet the implication is having buildings named after Prime Ministers, or statues of Confederate-supporting figures is some kind of implicit societal endorsement, capable of causing grave offence which needs to be quickly resolved and stamped out.
These types of campaign always brings to mind the brainwashed fanatics in Orwell’s 1984 spewing uncontrollable hatred towards Goldstein in the Two Minutes Hate. As the famous quote from the dystopian masterpiece goes: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past”. Maybe that is becoming more and more apt in our society.
I just hope the sensible majority among the student populace (assuming there is one) defeats the campaign and we can do Liverpool’s Prime Minister the courtesy of being allowed to have existed.