My University experience led me to the following conclusion; the perceived wisdom is not always right. Although, I have flown the proverbial nest, I still feel a sixth sense in regards to the on-goings with my alma mater. The current hot topic pervading the University is the curious case of William Gladstone. The Student Guild has received a petition ‘change the name of Roscoe and Gladstone Halls of Residence’. Why? Because William Gladstone’s legacy is marred with his reluctance towards abolition and his personal association with the slave trade.
It goes without saying that most people of sound mind are not for the slave trade coming back into fashion anytime soon. However, I feel that my reluctance towards this petition will somehow become an endorsement of the slave trade. My reluctance towards this petition is mainly due to the fact it is fundamentally misguided. Disregarding the incorrect nature of the title, as the petition is only seeking to change Gladstone Halls, not Roscoe Halls of residence. The reluctance I feel towards the petition is because I believe I don’t think it has been thought through. See the following quote:
“As a former residents of the halls we were horrified to find out we had been living in a building named after such a figure [Gladstone] without even realising.”
The fact that they had not realised they were living in a halls of residence named after such a figure belies the seemingly clear cut nature of the issue. I for one would be wholeheartedly behind such a petition if the university had named one of their halls after Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. However, they didn’t. They named it after a man who served Britain on four separate occasions as Prime Minister. Despite his failing to be for abolition, one should acknowledge the better aspects to his legacy. We should note for example, his successful removal of the paper duty in his 1861 budget. In his budget speech the year previous, he argued,
‘On dear books, which are published for the wealthy, it is a very light duty; on books brought out in large quantities by enterprising publishers for the middle and lower classes, it is a very heavy and oppressive duty’.
These liberal reforms coupled with his financial reforms, in an era of illiberalism by our standards of shining liberalism has led to the following summary of his legacy:
“While the sobriquet of ‘The People’s William’ was bestowed on Gladstone by portions of the press grateful for his financial reforms, it did reflect the popular appreciation of his financial measures which benefited all classes.”
The Guild Summit has decided that the issue should go to a preferendum, but maybe the guild should override the petition, and claim that the only options for future names of residences are peace, and love. However, the Beatles claimed ‘all you need is love’. Thus, does that mean that peace is irrelevant? Can you have one without the other? Should there be a campaign against peace because sometimes acts of love can be quite violent. Taking a metaphorical bullet for a loved one goes against the nature of peace. So, what are we left with? Absurdity would be a fair summation.
In all honesty, the intention behind this petition is obviously in passionate earnest. Nevertheless, its flawed nature is reflected in the jovial conclusion one can reach, as shown above. This current trend of removing people’s monuments, disavowing people’s association with an institution, and calling for public condemnation of people past will not end. The reason for this is because humans are flawed. Gladstone was not perfect. I am not perfect. However, maybe, just maybe sometimes people overcome their flaws, and are subsequently honoured for their better accomplishments. This is not to say we disregard the sins of these figures, it is but instead to view humans in a fair light: forever seeking to improve themselves.