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Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay blasted for 'absurd' sculpture cemetery plans in open letter by Kent County councillor

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An MP has been criticised for his suggestion to open a garden in Thanet to display unwanted and "despised" statues from across the country.

Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, made the comments on Wednesday, 10 June, saying the Westcliff Promenade, in Ramsgate, could become a tourist attraction for controversial sculptures of historical figures like Saddam Hussein and Abraham Lincoln.

Craig Mackinlay being given a preview of Dominic Grant’s sculpture of George IV
Craig Mackinlay being given a preview of Dominic Grant’s sculpture of George IV

But Karen Constantine, Labour Kent County Councillor for Ramsgate, fired shots at the MP this morning for his idea to display the "shameful" and "offensive" artefacts.

It comes as tensions continue to mount over the displaying of sculptures with links to racism and genocide, after Black Lives Matter protesters threw a controversial slave trader statue into Bristol Harbour last weekend.

An open letter, written by Cllr Constantine and signed by 240 local people, said: "Your suggestion of placing a 'sculpture cemetery in Ramsgate for unloved, unfashionable or truly despised statues', such as the Colston statue, is absurd.

"The people of Ramsgate do not want unloved civic memorial and commemorative sculptures which represent a shameful era - echoing a time where our country’s often racist and colonialist values were so at odds with our contemporary sensibilities of equality, fairness and justice."

She added: "We do not want to provide a home for contentious and often offensive sculptural artefacts, from a past that is barely understood or openly talked about."

Karen Constantine wrote an open letter to the South Thanet MP
Karen Constantine wrote an open letter to the South Thanet MP

Cllr Constantine also used the open letter as an opportunity to criticise Mr Mackinlay for his lack of response in helping his constituency weather the effects of Covid-19.

She said: "Your constituency has been hard hit by the coronavirus - we have seen avoidable numbers of tragic deaths in our care homes, a significant rise in mental health issues, a surge in poverty and the use of food banks to survive.

"In just a few months our unemployment rate has risen from 5% - 9%, the highest rate in Kent. Youth unemployment is the highest in the South East at 13.6%. Child poverty in some wards runs at 50%.

"Our schools and workplaces have not yet reopened. We are already witnessing large scale redundancies in Thanet.

"Your suggestion is an inadequate response to the rapidly emerging economic downturn which threatens the livelihoods and the well-being of all residents.

"We want you, our MP, to display real leadership and to do all that you can to develop an inclusive, fair, and sustainable economic recovery for your constituents. We await those details and urge you to consult widely with your residents on their real needs."

It comes as a statue in Medway became the centre of attention for Black Lives Matter protesters, who called for its removal because of its subject's controversial past.

The statue of army general Lord Herbert Kitchener in Chatham is being highlighted on the Topple The Racists website for the general's role in setting up concentration camps in the Second Boer War.

Despite the controversy surrounding statues across the country, Mr Mackinlay said on Wednesday his idea could prove a "successful" visitor attraction.

He said: "From Saddam Hussein to Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi to a currently soggy Edward Colston from Bristol, all could have a new lease of life with appropriate historical context and educational focus, whether loved or despised."

Commemorative statues across the country have been at the centre of intense debate this week, as Downing Street told police they must take the decision whether to intervene if anti-racism protesters try to forcibly remove them.

Downing Street said it is an operational decision for forces to make, after police in Bristol stood back to allow protesters to rip down the monument to slave trader Edward Colston.

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