Mandela and the brass necks of Westminster – They revere him now. What about back then?

The ‘Guardian’ Diary notes;

• Continuing grief at the passing of Mandela, with parliamentary tributes befitting a colossus. And amusing to watch those who were unsupportive of Mandela and the ANC running to play catch-up. Much has been said of the discomfort exuded by rightwing Tories, as they massage their positions. But we find the brassiest necks reside in Westminster. “He had a strong connection with people in Westminster and with Westminster itself. He was the only person still living who had a statue in Parliament Square – a true testament to his unique strength, courage and bravery,” said council leader Phillippa Roe. Which merely evoked demands for the sickbag from all who remember the titanic struggle by the then London mayor Ken Livingstone to give a Mandela statue the prominence it deserved. Livingstone wanted it in Trafalgar Square. Westminster fought that tooth and nail. The compromise, after much rancour and a judicial appeal by the mayor budgeted at £100,000, was Parliament Square. But that wasn’t the only issue. Glynn Williams, an expert fielded in 2005 by Westminster, said the statue itself, the work of sculptor Ian Walters, was uninspiring. “I believe this to be a run-of-the mill mediocre modelling in an attempt to get a mimetic likeness.” He said the problem was not just the proposed sculpture but Walters too. “The sculpture proposed is an adequate portrait but nothing more. In my opinion a sculptor of more originality and inventiveness should have been chosen, so a lasting piece of artistic heritage will be left.” Williams, then head of the school of fine art at the Royal College of Art, was deployed by Westminster at the height of the battle. Still, that was then.

• But it wasn’t the only instance of Mandela push-back. Rewind to 1996, when Labour councillors sought to bestow upon Mandela the freedom of the borough. It was a heady time, says current Labour leader Paul Dimoldenberg. “When Mandela made his visit to London, the then Labour group called a special meeting to award him the Freedom of the City. The Conservatives voted the motion down precisely on the grounds that he did not have any particular connection to Westminster.” Twelve Labour votes for, 24 Tory votes against. Still, Mandela already had the freedom that mattered.

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