Councillors vote against further action on Clive of India statue

Shropshire Councillors have decided that the controversial Clive of India statue will remain in Shrewsbury’s Square.

The Statue of Clive of India in Shrewsbury's Square. Photo: Elliott Brown / CC BY-SA
The Statue of Clive of India in Shrewsbury’s Square. Photo: Elliott Brown / CC BY-SA

Today’s full council meeting included two public questions, a debate over a petition and a motion that involved a referendum all in relation to the controversial Robert Clive statue.

After the debate had taken place, Councillor Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council Deputy Leader, proposed no further action. Councillors approved this, 28 in favour, 17 against and with one abstention. There was some confusion over the new online voting system and one Councillor indicated that she wanted, but wasn’t allowed, to change her vote.

Several hours later, Councillors similarly voted down Councillor Nat Green’s motion, which involved a referendum, by 34 votes to 10 votes, with two abstentions.

The petition

There have been two recent change.org petitions in relation to Clive. One, titled “Replace Clive of India statute from Shrewsbury town centre”, at the time of writing, has over 9,000 signatures, while another, “Keep the Robert Clive statue in Shrewsbury”, now has over 9,300 signatures.

In the meeting, two public questions about the controversial statute in Shrewsbury Square were first asked.

Then, as, according to Shropshire Council, the former petition had 1,000 signatures by the deadline of 10am on Tuesday 14th July 2020, it was debated in the meeting. Its petitioner, Mr Jake Thompson, did not provide a statement.

Several councillors took part in the allotted 15 minute debate on the topic. Councillor Pauline Dee said that she strongly welcomed Black Lives Matter, but would vote against a referendum because she was concerned about an upcoming economic downturn because of COVID-19. She also voiced her concern over modern slavery. However, Councillor Julian Dean stated that “an injury to one is an injury to all” and that “there is no snowball”.

Councillor Peter Nutting, Shropshire Council Leader, said that he had received mass support for his stance on not taking the statue down. He said that he favoured an educational plaque either by the statue or in the museum, though noted that if it was by the statue, it could become a target. He also referred to a statue of Clive in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Perhaps controversially though, Councillor Nutting referred to Clive’s “so-called terrible deeds”. Several hours later, when asked about his use of “so-called” by Councillor Kevin Pardy, Councillor Nutting said that “there are various versions of those events” and that there needs to be “more investigation to say which are true and which aren’t true”.

Back in the debate, Councillor Charmley said that there was “no place for racism or prejudice of any type in our society”, but he explained that the statue was a grade two listed building and that it would be no simple task to take it down. A search on historicengland.org.uk confirms this. He also said that he favoured a plaque, probably in a museum because of the statue’s listing, but moved that no further action be taken. Councillors approved this.

The motion

Several hours later, a motion by Councillor Green was tabled.

Councillor Green’s, supported by the Liberal Democrat Group, motion was that:

– A history board giving a “balanced narrative” of Clive and his history should be erected and placed adjacent to the statue.

– After an information campaign in the media and perhaps public meetings, a referendum of the people of Shropshire on whether the statue should stay or go should take place.

In his motion, Councillor Green explained that “By taking this course of action, Shropshire Council will have shown itself mindful both of contemporary sensibilities, but not have been seen to have discarded the past on a whim.”

Councillor Andy Boddington substituted for Councillor Green in the meeting. He argued that he had no experience in relation to Councillor Charmley’s earlier concerns about the fact the statue was grade two listed. He suggested that there should be a hologram sculpture every month and that this could drive people to Shrewsbury.

He also said that “we’re not representative of the total population of Shropshire” and that the vote could be “like a petition, but run by us”.

An amendment was shot down and, ultimately, Councillor Green’s motion was not approved either.

Who was Robert Clive?

Robert Clive, known as Clive of India, was born in Market Drayton and lived between 1725 and 1774. He spent much of his time in India. He lived during the era of the colonial East India Company, which would go on to seize control over large parts of the Indian subcontinent. He was also the MP for Mitchell, Cornwall and then Shrewsbury. He also spent some time as Mayor of Shrewsbury and Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire.

The petition that advocates replacing the statue states that “He was described by Robert Dalrymple as an “unstable sociopath” and he committed mass atrocities and passed catastrophic policies in Bengal that reduced Bengal’s population by a third. He essentially looted the country of Bengal, with the majority of the blood money going straight into his pockets.” It goes on to state that having such a statue is “both offensive and embarrassing” and concludes “Let’s commemorate someone more worthy celebration.”

The petition that advocates keeping the statue reads that “Shrewsbury and Shropshire has been influenced by the actions of Robert Clive whether we condone all of his actions or not.” It begins “Removing statues does not change history nor help us learn from it. Shrewsbury and Shropshire has been influenced by the actions of Robert Clive whether we condone all of his actions or not.”

The public questions and Mr Thompson’s petition were item 5 and Councillor Green’s motion was motion 4 of item 16 on today’s agenda.

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