Jane Wenham-Jones: Lockdown lowdown -Statues, U-turns and the need for a siren-wailing app

Jane's sarong has been converted to face masks

Jane Wenham-Jones in week whatever of the dissolving ‘lockdown’

I was sorry to hear about Dame Vera – still singing in tune at 103, bless her – but the day-long coverage of the much-loved wartime singer’s death at least meant one thing. We weren’t talking about bloody statues.

The pitching of an effigy of Edward Colston into a harbour was, I felt, a rather splendid act of symbolism. It was also vandalism, which is of course, to be deplored, but what the hell was a known slave-trader still doing there anyway?  And for anyone bleating on about white-washing history, it’s not a case of wishing to re-write – we should all damn well remember – but choosing not to honour someone who committed atrocities against his fellow beings. As I said in a somewhat heated debate on Facetime – oh I how I miss a pub table to thump – you wouldn’t retain a figure of Jimmy Savile, would you?

Take Cecil Rhodes down by all means, is my view, and stick him in a museum, the better to educate with, but starting on Winston Churchill is surely fudging the issue.

Because, whatever unpalatable comments the wartime Premier made eighty years ago, the problem with cries for him to be toppled from his plinth, is that it brings the far-right thugs, in all their hideousness, out in force, and fuels their vile fire. Distracting from the conversation we SHOULD be having. Namely how we can put a stop to racism now. Today.  The bestselling novelist Dorothy Koomson, has written a sobering open letter to the publishing industry, detailing the way, despite all her success, she has experienced life as a Black writer.  Saying: “We do not want special treatment, we want a level playing field, an equality of opportunity, the chance to write books and explore as many subjects and genres as our white counterparts.”

It’s not an awful lot to ask, is it?

Great is the man who can change his mind. This was a saying my late father was fond of, delivered with unfailing (and often unfathomable) regularity throughout my youth. I think he made it up, although it was possibly an adaptation of “A stubborn man can’t change his mind…” from Winston Churchill, of whom he was also a fan. (Let’s not get re-started on that one!)

I recalled the words on Tuesday when Boris Johnson performed a welcome U-turn in response to footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to get free school meals extended over the summer. (A small gesture at a cost of £120 million, in the face of the 80 billion spent on the furlough scheme.)  I would not go so far as to say I now think the Prime Minister is “great”, but I would never sniff at any politician changing their mind for the good. Frankly, we could do with it happening a lot more. Now he’s got the flavour of it, perhaps Boris will spend his 56th birthday celebrations today, considering other ways in which he might also undergo a volte-face. Maybe he could reverse the threat of chlorinated chicken, for example, see Trump for the dangerous idiot he is, or do a bit of a rethink on Brexit…

So, the shops are back open and rumours abound that some eager bargain-hunters started queuing at Westwood Cross from 3am, while others actually camped outside Primark. Are they insane? It is bad enough having to physically shop in ‘normal” times  –  the crowds, the crush, the having to riffle through the hangers to discover they have every size but yours, the uninspiring view of all your blotchy, blobby bits magnified under the terrible strip lights if you want to try something on, or the dispiriting journey back again if you don’t. Anyone who can stand more than 20 minutes in a large chain store without getting hot, cross and running screaming for their favourite website, is made of sterner stuff than I am. But as for lining up for hours for the pleasure, with the added bonus of the chance to catch a deadly virus thrown in?  I’ll stick to searching “bargain” online…

And the much-promised coronavirus app has hit the rocks. I don’t pretend to understand technology but it seems to me that the fatal flaw in any tracing app goes deeper than its dependence on Bluetooth. First, you have to rely on people using it, then being honest about their symptoms and finally the ‘contacts’ carrying out what the ever-hopeful Matt Hancock calls their civic duty, and going into isolation. Even if they feel perfectly well and were on their way to a mate’s house to watch the crowdless football. Since the biggest threat to us all is getting too close and failing to wash our hands, how about a very simple app that just wails like a siren if we move within two metres of anybody else in a public place (it would have been going like the clappers in Margate last Saturday) or shrieks UNCLEAN to those with suspiciously dry fingers?  You’re welcome, Boris. Happy Birthday.

Lockdown gift of the week

Knowing I wouldn’t be going on holiday any time soon, I donated my favourite sarong to a local mask-making initiative. This week, a piece of it came back in a face-covering for me, from Kerry Millett, one of the group who have made over 10,000 mask for key workers. Thanks guys – and well done you!



  1. We shouldn’t be removing anything from history,leave it where it is ,it’s a reminder as a country and the world,we are changing for the better but as always things take time,
    So all life matters this way we all can help to keep making changes for the better ,

  2. JWJ I expect Kathy will chide you for failing to mention that Churchill founded NHS.

    On the subject of Bristol I recall a black man who credited himself with triggering the Bristol riot. I asked how he had been discriminated against given he had been a commissioned officer and then a school teacher. He explained that he was sacked as a teacher after the riot. Anxious to learn more I avoided mention of cause and effect and time continuum. He told me he was also a descendant of Creek Indians of USA,

    “Oh” I said “The slave owning tribe friends of Albert Pike founder of Ku Klux clan. The tribe who fought for the Confederacy”

    He looked like he was sipping vinegar off a fork. The personification of BLM.

  3. No Churchill did not found the NHS, he may have done many things but that was not one of them.
    The origins of the NHS are various but the Beveridge report, the 1911 national insurance act, the pioneer health centre at Peckham, the voluntary societies and several other localised schemes all played their part.
    The crowning achievement of the labour Govt of 1945 was the NHS and Clem Attlee, Ernest Bevin and most of all Aneurin Bevan all deserve the credit, if credit is due.
    Aneurin Bevan’s wife,Jenny Lee was also the projector for the Open University and if anyone should join the pantheon of heroes, she should.
    If there is one thing I find more obnoxious than airbrushing history, is to deliberately misattribute historical fact for some pointless political reason.
    Churchill was a great wartime leader but his postwar govt was below par, don’t accept that from me, read widely and you will see.
    The gold standard for post war PM’s is Attlee for his efficiency and his ruthless removal of the second rate.Perhaps his example should be studied.

    • I take as my text the British Medical Journal. Direct your ire at them George.

      A meaningful inquiry into Labour anti Semitism would include Labour MP Richard Rapier Stokes of Ipswich. As part of that postwar Attlee Govt.

      A weakness in your attribution of credit is Nuremberg Code and the Attlee Govt encouragement of research within the new NHS. And you will find that Nuremberg Code question also points at Rapier Stokes.

      Hope this is helpful George.

      • In 1911 Lloyd George introduced the 1911 National Insurance Act ….. drafted BY ?

        Winston Churchill

        • The establishment of the NHS was not opposed by either the Conservatives or the Consultants, but only by the British Medical Association. Winston Churchill committed to establishing the NHS in his ‘From the Cradle to Grave’ broadcast of 21 March 1943 “We must establish on broad and solid foundations a national health service.” Government set to work and in March 1944 the Minister of Health Henry Willink published the coalition white paper ‘A National Health Service’, which contains the things the public value re the NHS. The BMA heaped abuse on Nye Bevan as they had on Willink, but the consultant’s leader Conservative peer Lord Moran PRCP lunched Bevan round Mayfair’s finest restaurants hence the deal that Bevan, many years later, characterised as stuffing their [the consultants] mouths with gold’.

          Isle of Thanet News >>> re the loophole in National Insurance system, later exploited by IRA fundraising fraudsters, I think Kingsley Wood advising Churchill during WW2 did pick up that Beveridge got his sums wrong.

  4. My father who had fought throughout the war, and who had landed in Normandy on D-Day plus 2, loathed Churchhill! Statues of racists, or people who have made money from selling other people, or killing them, should be removed and put in a museum. My understanding is Bristol Council had been approached several times, over many years to remove Colston’s statue but hadn’t done so! In Germany any NAZI picture, or depiction, including songs, or the Hitler salute, is verboten! The Black Lives Matter movement is to be applauded, and if I was living in the USA and there were statues of Confederate generals in local parks etc, I would have been deeply offended, because those who fought to retain slavery were barbaric traitors!

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