Not all non-Tory councils have gone woke—Lib Dem-dominated Watford Borough Council adopts Policy Exchange recommendations on street renaming
The post-BLM trend amongst institutions across the country to take action in relation to the public representation of history on a whim, without a thoughtful and considered process, has been deeply troubling to those who care about national heritage. As at Cambridge and Kew Gardens, recent events in Watford suggest that there is reason to have hope. At a Watford Borough Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday (17 Jan), the Mayor Peter Taylor declared that “We’ve got no plans to rename any streets”. This came after suggestions that the council should rename streets such as Imperial Way and Rhodes Way; and contradicted a BBC headline a few days earlier declaring that “Watford plans to scrap slavery-link street signs” (altered a few days later to the more neutral “Watford residents could get vote on slavery street signs”).
In a Policy Exchange paper published last year entitled Protecting Local Heritage: How to bring democracy to the renaming of streets, I proposed a policy whereby any local authority would have to consult all residents and businesses on any given street and obtain the consent of 2/3 before the name of that street could be changed. The rationale behind this is that renaming streets is not just a costly, time-consuming process, but street names are part of the heritage of a place; it is therefore imperative that robust consultation takes place and conclusive supermajority support obtained before change takes place.
The motion to introduce a statutory requirement for support from 2/3 of residents and businesses on a street before any renaming taking place was passed by the cabinet, with several councillors acknowledging that change to local heritage should not be imposed on unwilling residents and highlighting the importance of democratising the process of change to local heritage. Cllr Mark Watkin argued that “knee-jerk ‘let’s change all our colonial-connected streets’ […] would be a complete mistake and would not help the community in which we serve”.
Nor could this be construed as a party-political issue. Watford Borough Council is comprised solely of Liberal Democrat, Labour and two independent councillors; it has no Conservatives. Tuesday’s cabinet meeting proves that imposed cultural wokery is something opposed by people of all political stripes.
As Cllr Stephen Johnson remarked, “This policy makes a lot of sense. It’s straightforward; it’s easy to understand, and hopefully we can draw a line under this issue now”. Let us hope that other councils follow suit.