Current Affairs

Oxford City councillors may not be able to participate in the future of Rhodes statue

Oxford City Council’s Liberal Democrat opposition leader has raised objections to a letter signed by 27 Labour councillors protesting the controversial Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College, Oxford.

In a virtual council meeting on 20 July, Andrew Gant said:

“the wisdom of councillors signing and thereby removing themselves from their proper role in actually deciding as councillors the outcome of any application on it; and in addition to that, because there are so many people who did that, putting a considerable extra burden on their colleagues on council.”

This letter was signed ahead of the Black Lives Matter protest in Oxford and it demanded the removal of the statue which towers high above the doors to Oriel College. However, the participation of the councillors in the Rhodes Must Fall campaign could affect their ability to participate in the planning application to remove the statue.

Clause 24.7 of Oxford City Council’s constitution states:

“If a councillor has publicly supported a particular outcome, it will be very difficult for them to appear to make up their mind at committee and they should not participate in the debate or vote.

If a councillor believes they have pre-determined an application, they should make this clear at the beginning of the meeting and leave the committee table for that item. In such a situation the councillor may address the meeting as a ward member in the public speaking slot.”

This could mean that the councillors who have expressed their opinions on the statue will not be able to participate in decisions regarding its future.

Susan Brown, the Labour council leader, released a statement on 9 June about the future of the statue:

“I have today written to Oriel College to invite them to apply for planning permission to remove the statue, as it is a Grade II listed building. Typically such actions are only allowed in the most exceptional of circumstances. But these are exceptional circumstances, and as a City Council we are keen to work with Oriel to help them find the right balance between the laws that protect our historic buildings and the moral obligation to reflect on the malign symbolism of this statue.”

During the recent meeting Brown, in reply to Gant’s question, said:

 “every councillor has to make up their own mind about whether they need to express a view on a particular issue … and that is a matter for individuals to consider, and sometimes on important issues it is very important that we speak out.”

Brown also added that:

“it is not a surprising state of affairs in a council which has many times expressed its view that we must be an anti-racist city.”

Oriel College have released details regarding the “Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Rhodes statue and associated issues”. The Commission will be putting together an inquiry over the next six months and they are expected to share and publish the results of the report in January 2021. Activists will have to wait until then to find out the decision of the Commission.

If the Commission decide to submit a planning application for the removal of the statue, it is possible that some of the councillors who signed the letter will not be able to adjudicate.

We have reached out to the aforementioned councillors for comment.

Phoebe Jowett Smith

Phoebe is a student at Jesus College, she studies Spanish and Arabic and is about to start her third year, after spending her second year living in the Middle East.