Call to remove Churchill mural puts Labour council on spot

Council leader Tony Newman doesn’t tend to enjoy having his judgement called into question, but a councillor-backed petition to remove the image of the wartime leader from the side of a town centre building appears to do just that, as our Town Hall correspondent KEN LEE reports

The Churchill mural at the corner of Croydon High Street and Park Street, as it looked in pre-lockdown Croydon

There have been calls for Tony Newman to sack one of his most trusted councillors, after “Thirsty” Chris Clark helped to launch a petition calling for the removal of a mural in central Croydon which depicts Sir Winston Churchill.

The mural was granted planning permission by Croydon’s Labour-run council just four years ago.

Clark jumped on the “Churchill is a racist” bandwagon yesterday, after the Parliament Square statue of the wartime leader was defaced by demonstrators on a Black Lives Matter rally. Clark has been a Croydon councillor since 2018, and the mural is in his Fairfield ward, but yesterday was the first time that he has raised so publicly his apparently strong objections to the work.

“Back him or sack him” was one message from Croydon Tories directed at Newman, who only in April promoted Clark to the role of Paul Scott’s puppet chair of the planning committee, which came with a handsome £6,000 hike in his council allowances.

Thirsty: Chris Clark

Human rights lawyer and apparent Labour supporter Jessica Simor QC tweeted in  response to Clark’s virtue signalling over Churchill, “How to keep the Tories in power forever and  why Johnson has an 80-seat majority.”

And Tory MP-turned-housing-lobbyist “Lord” Gavin Barwell took time out from his many company directorships to wallow in this bit of sneering: “This [is] the modern Labour Party in Croydon. Campaigning to remove a mural to the man who did more than any other to defeat Nazism, a Prime Minister Labour Ministers proudly served under. Keir Starmer has his work cut out dragging a once great party back into the mainstream.”

More than 24 hours after it had started, Clark’s petition – addressed to the council and Sarah Jones, Croydon Central’s Labour MP – had yet to attract 500 signatures.

Among those supporting the petition is Leoni Descartes.

Descartes, who has been a Labour Party supporter, runs Matthew’s Yard, the café and art gallery to which Clark and a fellow Fairfield councillor recently handed £8,000 towards the business from their taxpayer-funded ward budgets.

Listing examples of Churchill’s racism, Descartes tweeted, “If Croydon is anti-racist or at least trying to be so, the mural of white supremacist Winston Churchill has gotta go.”

The petition itself states, “Croydon is a rich, multicultural community, so why do we have an old, racist, bigoted, white man looking down on us?

“Whatever you [sic] opinions on him being a ‘war hero’, he led atrocities in Ireland, Kenya, and India which still have lasting repercussions today. He is a controversial figure who was openly bigoted and racist…

Housing lobbyist Gavin Barwell offered his two penn’th over Clark’s Churchill petition

“… With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum, I think removing this mural and replacing it with something reflective of Croydon would be an important demonstration of solidarity. Churchill wouldn’t like our community. He wouldn’t be proud of the Croydon we know and love today so I don’t see why he gets to be here when we could surely replace him with a mural of someone less divisive or more appropriate for the Croydon community.”

The somewhat tangential connection between Churchill and Croydon went unremarked in 2016 when the Labour council was agreeing to the mural being commissioned, through the former bankrupt art dealer Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison and his Rise Gallery.

Described at the time, somewhat misleadingly, as a “masterpiece”, it was done in a single night by David Hollier, who was flown in from New York for the purpose. It is suggested that Zuchowski-Morrison may have acted as a selling agent for Hollier, marketing his work in London. So a giant-sized mural at a busy junction in the town centre, with an admittedly controversial subject, will have served as a significant advertisement for Hollier and the Rise Gallery.

According to reports at the time, the Churchill mural was intended as “a conversation piece”.

Given that the mural is sited on the side of a privately-owned building, it needed the building owner’s permission as well as that of the council for it to go ahead. Its removal or replacement will require similar permissions – though Clark and his petitioners have yet to have a whip-round to pay for any work. And there’s £8,000 less in the Fairfield ward budget to pay for any such work, too.

Tony Newman (right) gave strong support – and loads of public money – to Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison’s art projects

Clark may have created several unfortunate precedents – starting with the calling into question the judgement of his council leader, Tony Newman, who has remained an enthusiastic supporter of Zuchowski-Morrison’s artwashing of the town centre.

But if Churchill goes, what next might need to be given a Croydon makeover?

Will the East India conservation area, which takes so many of its street names from the exploitative and imperialist company’s former college on the site in Addiscombe, have to have its name changed?

And will there be objections to any links in the borough to John Whitgift? As the Archbishop of Canterbury under Queen Elizabeth I, Whitgift was in a position of some influence and power as over 25 years at least 50 Catholic priests were executed – many of them burned alive – while he also signed the death warrants for three Puritans in 1593.

Clark should be very well aware of the consequences of his enthusiastic support for the removal of the Churchill mural because, as he informed one of those on social media who responded to his call, he does have the benefit of a History A-Level.

Eminently qualified then.


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Art, Business, Chris Clark, Croydon Council, Fairfield, Gavin Barwell, History, Rise Gallery, Sarah Jones MP, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Call to remove Churchill mural puts Labour council on spot

  1. What we need to focus on at the moment is holding the government to account in their handling of the Corona virus pandemic as well as looking at the current causes for unrest and concern in our multicultural society. None of this is helped by irrelevant petitions.

    Clark and his Committee need to pay attention to the petitions of Croydon residents about the inappropriate building consents that they have a 100% track record in passing!

    My generation looked on Churchill as the symbolic leader of a country that opposed a regime carrying out genocide. We all know about his earlier imperialist history but the generation that is at the sharp end of Covid-19 deaths from the pandemic, especially in Care Homes, do not need a kick in the teeth from people like Clark at this time.

    Get on with sorting out the house building mismanagement, start looking at the actual treatment of people from ethnic minorities and the causes of their anguish – then, and only then Mr Clark, might you garner some respect.

    • Grace Onions says:

      Your “My generation” paragraph is particularly telling, George. This controversy hugely widens the generation gap, as it is hard for the young today to comprehend how much Churchill means to those who lived through the war and its aftermath. In a time of deep, even existential crisis, the British people felt that his spirit, his tenacity and humour, was their spirit. If this old man could doggedly carry on, cheerful and undaunted, at such a time, then so could we. He played a unique part in keeping the nation going through that dark period and is loved for it to this day.

  2. blath8 says:

    History seems to contain a lot of unsavoury content. If we try to hide or change or bury this, there will be no base to recognise the wrong-doing, acknowledge it truthfully and move on in a positive way.

  3. sebastian tillinger says:

    I don’t want to get into a debate about modern history with Chis Clark aka Mr Blobby.

    I do want to debate why we have to put up with low-grade, non-thinking politicians such as Clark and the shameful antics of the planning committee he chairs

    Should Newman sack him? It’s a resounding Yes from me.

    • But low-grade, non-thinking politicians are the only sort Tony prefers, the more supine the better. The chances of Chris Clark being sacked are substantially lower than the chances of Paul Scott taking a sensible planning decision.

  4. Dan Kelly says:

    Don’t forget our esteemed London Mayor is setting up a commission to look at statues and place names etc, which no doubt cost us taxpayers even more money. This is despite the enormous TfL deficit.
    It would be nice of these politicians to put aside their ideologies and start sorting out their constituents’ problems.

    • A deadly knee on the neck of a black man has reminded the world that oppression and inequality still exists for many in the BAME communities.

      Statues glorifying slave traders, who did little to benefit this country outside of lining their own pockets on the proceeds of human misery, act as a constant reminder of inequality and given that we live in a democracy, I certainly would have no problem should Sadiq Khan ask each the relevant Boroughs to vote on their removal.

      The TfL current budget problems arise in the main from a lack of proper Government support to help them deal with reduced revenue resulting from the pandemic.

      I can’t see how making political points relates to reviewing the relevance of these objects in today’s society?

      • Dan Kelly says:

        Removal of the statues will achieve nothing. The placing of educational plaques would be better. Surely we have bigger problems to sort out now. Khan is just grandstanding.
        You cannot compare here with the US. Their society is rotten. Even their paramedics are prejudiced. If you have time listen to the BBC Radio 4 report broadcast on 4 June 11:00, “Black lives in Minnesota”.
        As for TfL, Crossrail is prepandemic as was his failure to raise fares with inflation. They also continue to pay circa £60,000pa for drivers who merely operate the doors on many trains! Over 400 staff are paid more than £100,000. Rather than remove the central touch in pads on buses they could employ more revenue protection staff who would easily cover their pay.
        TfL is long overdue a clear out.

  5. Dan Maertens says:

    Unfortunately, there will be a lot of this type of ‘virtue signalling’ by minor local political figures who might better concentrate on the day job, rather than try and bolster the number of likes that they can garner on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or whatever WhatsApp group that they belong to. As Mrs M said this morning “It’s all boll***s. Tear down all of the statues if you want to but what will happen is that we’ll all forget the back stories. Far better to re-tell the history with honesty from a different, and more enlightened perspective. Whatever happened in the past is part of my history. What we should concentrate on now is all our futures.”

    Mrs M is the daughter of parents who travelled to the UK as children during the Windrush migration, like so many other Croydon residents]

  6. Lewis White says:

    George Wright above mentions the fact that Churchill led Britain, in conjunction with its Allies, to overcome the Nazi regime for which genocide became the centrepoint of their evil ideology. That must be worth remembering and celebrating. And Churchill was not a Stalin, who was responsible for sending around 3 million people, many to their deaths, in the forced labour camps, the Gulags, plus well over half a million citizens murdered outright.

    The past –and present, around the world, and in the UK, is full of violence. It is up to all of us to stand up against modern slavery, genocide, and in a personal level, bullying, abuse, and racial and sexual/gender and any other discrimination, in our own lives and times. In many ways, the UK is a haven of tolerance, and safety, but is far from perfect, and unequal in wealth and health, and complicated by the class system.

    Undoubtedly, every generation has to have its own realisation of what needs to be done to make a better society and a brighter, fairer future for all our young people. Times change, and society’s problems sadly remain but also evolve.

    But, in working for a better future, “Airbrushing out history” can be dangerous.

    Removing or relocating statues to museums ? Possible– subject to a proper debate, in my view.
    But whitewashing out a mural of Churchill? Is that actually airbrushing out history?

    I welcome a national and local discussion about adding plaques below UK statues to explain the good and bad, and let the viewer learn about the person, and work out their view. After all, many in Croydon today may well not even recognise the person who the Churchill mural depicts .

    Murals can in fact be a powerful way of challenging politics— as well as delivering reminders of contemporary power, as in North Korea. The Croydon Winston Churchill example could be an educational feature as well as street art.

    Debate is healthy, and respectful. Debate about statues and murals timely.

    Who was it that said “Jaw jaw, is better than War, War” ?
    Apparently, 1957-63 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan !
    Winston Churchill (P.M. 1940-45) actually said ‘Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.’

    Either way, the jaws have it.

  7. sebastian tillinger says:

    Is anything Chris Clark says worth discussing? He’s not exactly an intellectual heavyweight……I don’t think he’d even register on the scales.

  8. Keith Adams says:

    I don’t think that the “Black Lives Matter” movement would have had much traction if Adolf Hitler had prevailed in his fight against Britain. Chris Clark needs to read about WW2 and to appreciate the role of Churchill in the defeat of this fascist dictator. But I doubt he has the intellectual capacity to make a balanced judgement.

  9. Pete Jenkins says:

    Winston Churchill and all….. what next? Close places like Chartwell and other places connected with these people?

  10. Lewis White says:

    Regarding statues, Richmond Virginia is the scene of both sculpture overturning, and planned relocation. In Richmond, Capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War from 1861-65, is the majestically- dimensioned street of Monument Avenue. A fine piece of civic design, as monumental as its name, it is focused on celebration of heroes of the “Glorious South”. At each major intersection along the first mile of its 5 miles, there has, until the last few days, been a large statue. Five of these commemorate a Confederate hero, some mounted on horseback, on huge stone plinths. General Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and two others are still there, but the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis has been torn down by protestors, In the last few days, during the continuing protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    Along with the remaining bronzes of the 4 white Confederates, is just one statue to a black man–not a Confederate, not white, but the US and World Champion Tennis hero, and Richamond native, Arthur Ashe.

    Quite likely, the vast majority of US citizens who visit Monument Avenue are decent people, interested in US history, who will reflect on the terrible tragedy of the civil war. Some will hold some vision of the South, and its conflict with the Unionist North, without fully or even connecting this with the brutality and exploitation of black slavery. A vision of cannons, the noise and gunsmoke of battle, cavalry and infantry charges, brave attacks, brave defences, fire, dead and wounded soldiers, and horses, leading to a Glorious but doomed end, but rising again to become the united USA. A few of course will be gun-lovin’ folks, flying Confederate flags on their pick up trucks, some of whom are not at all nice, and who hold a range of nasty views on race and governance, informed by a frighteningly myopic vision. I shiver when I think of them, and are very glad that we don’t have guns over here like that, although we do have some people of that mentality.

    The Robert E Lee monument has been ordered for removal by Governor Ralph Northam. Richmond mayor Levar Stoney has announced plans to introduce an ordinance that will remove the remaining Confederate monuments. (incidentally, Mayor Stoney, Richmond’s 80th Mayor, is one of over 30 black mayors of the US’s 100 biggest citiies.)

    The removal of monuments has been discussed for years in Virginia. Back in In February 2020, the Democrat-led Virginia House and Senate passed measures that would give cities and counties in the state the autonomy to “remove, relocate, contextualize, cover or alter” the monuments in their public spaces.

    Delores McQuinn, a Democrat from Richmond who sponsored the House bill, said it would let local communities decide “how they want to memorialize history, whether it’s right in your face or they want to memorialize it in another way.”

    The community would have to commission a report as to the monument, including a historic significance assessment, and hold a public hearing , on the report findings before it could vote. A decision to remove a monument would require a 2/3 vote or could be sent to voters for a referendum.

    Under both the House and Senate bills, the locality would have to offer the monument to a “museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield” for a period of 30 days, though both measures say the local government has the “sole authority” to determine its final disposition.

    In comparison with Richmond Virginia, our public art issues in Croydon are far less emotion-charged, but even so, the action needs to be seen to be fair and give people the opportunity to express their views. Whether we end up having referenda, remains to be seen. I hope not.

    • What a well researched and thought out response Lewis. Thank you very much. If our local politicians took as much care we would have far fewer problems!

  11. The whole statue thing is getting a bit silly now.

    If you get rid of the statues you don’t get rid of the history but you do help in the process of forgetting it.

    The best solution would be for some gallery of high repute to set up a Rogues Gallery and for all the statues which give offence to be exhibited there together with exhibits and the reason why each deserves their place in the gallery of ignominy.

    Boris Johnson’s back of an envelope Race Commission is not going to help with this…or with anything else.

  12. Lewis White says:

    Thanks George, and Hi Arno.

    My own feeling is that we need to leave most of the statues in situ, but add explanatory plaques next to the statue, but not on it, which would give enough space to give a good amount of text, giving the good and the bad aspects too. To write the text for such a plaque would not be an easy job, as the balance need to reached.

    To most of us, bronze statues of now forgotten figures around London are just sculptural works, often with heads graced by pigeon dropping streaks. However, it is understandable why the Bristol Colston statue and the statues of Confederate heroes in Richmond Virginia give deep offence to many black viewers in particular. I really am glad that I am not one of those having to make decisions about those in Richmond, as these are truly magnificent pieces of bronze, without which the street will be lesser as a piece of civic design. But clearly, the slavery they represent is the key important thing. What will fill the empty plinths, if the statues are moved to museums, or will some of the people of Richmond demand a referendum? How divisive would such a referendum be, if it ends up with a referendum needing a 2/3 majority in favour of removal ?. Slavery, and the issue of Civil War remembrance alone is so emotion -charged for many in the USA……………… our Brexit is a mere pale thing in comparison.

    A mile of empty plinths, leaving the Arthur Ashe monument, an idea proposed in a survey several months before the current protests, could be an eloquent silent memorial to the Civil War and Slavery. Some even people say “Move Arthur to the street in Richmond named after him. ” It will be interesting to see how years of ongoing discussions about the monuments of Monument Avenue pan out.

    Incidentally, in downtown Richmond, near the site of the slave markets, there is a Slavery Reconciliation memorial — for details, see https://broadbent.studio/reconciliation-triangle-casestudy

    Getting back to Bristol, I see that Banksy, a Bristolian, has just suggested that the Colston statue should be put back on the plinth, and that bronze figures added , plus bronze ropes, showing the protestors toppling the statue.

    Public Art must be one of the most difficult art forms. So many people to be pleased, or offended.
    When it comes to statues, also very costly. Perhaps hologramatic representations provide interesting possibilities. Had artist Christo not died last week, he could have been invited to wrap up the statues in Richmond. So many aspects.

  13. Dan Maertens says:

    What if… The portrait could be subtly transmogrified into that of the our glorious leader Mr Tony Newman. It wouldn’t require much in the way of change, facial features and stature are similar, and I have just the words to go with it from circa September 2015:

    “This is a day of celebration for Croydon residents and an important milestone for them. Today’s decision is a monumental step forward for Croydon, and a vitally important stage in our town’s transformation into a modern, European city. The redevelopment of the 1960s Whitgift Centre will reposition Croydon as the best place to shop, live and work in South London and the wider region in the 21st century. As well as a premier retail destination, this will deliver thousands of new jobs for our residents and new affordable homes. We are absolutely delighted with today’s decision, and that we can now move forward with the Westfield-Hammerson development.”

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