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Clement Attlee statue: John Biggs responds

PUBLISHED: 16:50 11 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:22 05 October 2010

Dear Ed, FAR from name-dropping or getting out my scrapbook, I referred to the unveiling of the Clement Attlee statue with Harold Wilson (in my original letter) because it was a privilege to be there. Further, I feel a certain responsibility and duty of care for the statue

Dear Ed,

FAR from name-dropping or getting out my scrapbook, I referred to the unveiling of the Clement Attlee statue outside Limehouse Library with Harold Wilson (in my original letter) because it was a privilege to be there. Further, from being present at the unveiling, I feel a certain responsibility and duty of care for the statue.

A letter in the press asked what I have been doing for the last two years while the statue was boarded up (East London Advertiser, December 3). My work to restore and gain security of the statue for the residents of Tower Hamlets has taken a little longer than that and I summarise the key dates in these negotiations below.

In August 2006, I contacted Tower Hamlets Council to ask for an explanation of why statue was boarded up and what was being progressed to secure the statue. The council explained that shortly after replacing a vandalised hand the statue was vandalised again. They were in touch with the foundry who made the statue and had boarded it up for its own safety in the meantime. They were in the process of disposing of Limehouse Library and I shared their concern that while the building remained empty the statue would continue to be at risk.

I continued throughout August and September to chase on progress of disposing the site. I suggested in October moving the statue to a more secure location. The council were reluctant to pursue this option, but I persisted because the statue was still boarded up.

That same month the Advertiser printed my letter about the statue. Queen Mary College saw this and contacted me to discuss the long-term future of the statue and Prof Peter Hennessy, Attlee Professor in Contemporary History, was particularly keen to look at solutions.

For the next few months, frustrated with progress, I continued to liaise with the Town Hall and push for relocating the statue. I was in touch with Earl Attlee (Clement Attlee's grandson) and the Attlee Foundation to ensure that they were happy with what I was trying to do.

In March, 2007, I asked the Tower Hamlets History Library (in the renowned Bancroft Library) to assess relevant historical background for alternative locations for the statue. I received their historical assessment of six sites in May. This included Queen Mary College.

Here's an excerpt from their research:

Queen Mary College/People's Palace

Attlee (Prime Minister 1945-51) was awarded the Honorary Fellowship of Queen Mary College on December 15, 1948 (The Times, December 16, 1948, p3); Awarded Honorary Freedman of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney at the People's Palace on December 21, 1948 (East London Advertiser, December 24, p1, and December 31, 1948, p2; East End News December 24, 1948 p1 and 2).

Attlee present at the election count in 1945 held at the People's Palace (Bertha Sokoloff, Edith and Stepney: the Life of Edith Ramsay, p123) : "I asked Edith if she had been present at the General Election count at the People's Palace. The count took place some weeks after the actual election to give time for the Armed Forces and proxy votes to come through. As the national news came through, Attlee (who was) there for the Limehouse count gradually realised he might well be Prime Minister."

The other sites were Brightlingsea Buildings, Limehouse Library, Haileybury Club, Toynbee Hall and St George's Town Hall.

After Queen Mary College expressed enthusiasm for siting the statue there, I spent the following five months liaising with them and the Town Hall to progress this. The Attlee Foundation agreed with my suggestion that Queen Mary was the best site and Earl Attlee was also content.

Far from it being "an election gimmick," my work on this slowed from November, 2007, leading to the Mayoral and London Assembly elections the following May.

After the election, I began chasing progress again and thankfully by October, 2008, Queen Mary's and Tower Hamlets were directly in touch and the council was drawing up financial estimates of relocation costs.

I received confirmation last July from Queen Mary College that the relocation was going ahead, funded by them.

This account demonstrates that the Tories will lie about anything to claim a victory, as Cllr Hussain's letter in the Advertiser printed December 10 claimed it was the Conservatives who got this done!

At no time did I get any interest from any Tory Councillors at Tower Hamlets. Who knows, perhaps if they had been interested we could have worked together to gain support and our combined efforts might have sped up the process.

Of course, the Tories trying to claim credit for other people's work and initiatives is nothing new.

Just take a look at all Boris Johnson's "good news" stories heralding victories, the majority of which was work that Ken Livingstone set in motion.

John Biggs

Assembly Member for City & East London

London Assembly, City Hall


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