BRISTOL – THE UNITED KINGDOM’S MISSSIPPI BURNING?

Priti Patel’s Crime Bill and More

Garrett Byrne, Political Editor

A Police van engulfed in red flames as the ‘Kill The Bill’ demo from Sunday 21st March descends into scenes of rioting and civil disorder. Twenty police officer suffered a variety of injuries during the violent scenes. Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Situated along the frontier lines dividing England and Wales lies Britain’s most politically radical urban city – Bristol.

The same could be contended on a cultural level. Various titans of UK popular culture have been residents. Neo-feminist pioneering author Angela Carter, Trip Hop outfit Massive Attack and globally renowned street artist adopting the arcane alias of ‘Banksy’ to name a few. There is a history of subverting the mainstream British value consensus.

Conceivably this claim may be swiftly rebuffed by any bog-standard cultural columnists who invokes ‘Landan’ with unquestioning immediacy. Yet if one merely considers Bristol’s relatively minute scale (geographically & populously) to the capital or even possesses a cursory knowledge of ‘The Bus Boycott’ that unfolded in the metropolis in the early 60’s, its unrivalled revolutionary status is clarified.

The activism and campaigning solidarity of Bristolians arguably catalyzed the most potent racial justice reforms in living British political history- The Race Relations Act of 1965/68. 

The late socialist Parliamentarian, Tony Benn represented the constituency for over 20 years and was the incumbent Member of Parliament when Caribbean migrants (many of whom had served in the Army and RAF veterans during the Second World War) were denied employment by the privately backed ‘Bristol Omnibus’ service.



Benn coalescing with the (WIDC) West Indian Development council, fronted by Dr Paul Stephenson a West African descendant, orator and WW2 RAF veteran, prevailed in demanding the company’s capitulation to reverse its policy of employment apartheid.

Remarkably, what day did the Bristol Omnibus concede to the WIDC?  

The 28th of August of 1963 – The Significance?

In what can only be construed as being an alchemy of poetic circumstance, Martin Luther King happened to deliver his ‘I have a dream address’ across the Atlantic in Washington D.C on the very same day. By any measure, King’s speech remains amongst the most imperishable in human history. 

It is therefore no wonder that the DNA of its population is infused with a staunch reverence for racial equality, democracy and mobilized responses to societal inequity. Bristolians were involved in what was a seismic day for race relations in the Western Hemisphere.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we see a revival in the population’s intrinsic radical spirit. Given the developing public discourse seeking to nuance and revise Britian’s imperial past amidst George Floyd’s killing, Bristolians have descended into organized acts of civil disorder to address the disparity. In June 2020, a statue honoring 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was soon ferociously dishonored. Protestors galvanized by the BLM movement dismantled the monument and subsequently ditched into the city’s Canal a stone’s throw away. Since, four people have been charged. 

Notwithstanding the palpable offence caused by these standing anachronisms, what is the point in eradicating one’s history (whether tainted or not) by attempting to replace it with a progressive contemporary faux narrative? Surely large proportions of minorities across Britain deem this to be a sanctimonious attempt of white liberal Britons to sanitize and wash its hands from nauseating historical truths.  

Defining 2020 in the UK: As the cutting edge of the Coronavirus pandemic and global racial equality activism, protests and violence collided, protestors took to Bristol’s streets to topple and subsequently drown the statute of 17th Century merchant and slaveowner Edward Colson, in the City’s River Avon. Tom Wren/SWNS/The Independent

Arguably it constitutes a new iteration of neo-imperialism. The majority race having supremacy over the recounting of history.

Nonetheless, last June reinforced how the people of Bristol excluding the 4 in the dock for criminal damage, implacably worship the paramount democratic virtue of protest, which now appears to be under unprecedented threat in the UK 

The new Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill engineered by Home Secretary Priti Patel has provoked disquiet across many British quarters. The contentious aspect of the bill is that amongst a series of other prosaic items, is designed to expand policing powers to be exercised in demonstrations, even that of ‘noise control’. Parliamentary opposition to the bill has characterised it as possessing the hallmarks of an illiberal authoritarian polity. Incidentally, ‘Illiberal’ is now a favourite adjective spouted by Hungary’s demagogue leader Viktor Oban. 


With respect to British Policemen and Women, their jobs have become immensely challenging and the most scrutinized of any state mandated body. ‘Too soft’ and they are labelled incompetent. Conversely when necessary, force is applied the term used is ‘barbaric’. Albeit this novel legislation was destined to brew sentiments of resentment that would eventually translate into civil meltdown as seen earlier last weekend in Bristol. This was arguably an inevitability given the city’s deep-rooted heritage where the concept of protest is cherished as sacrosanct to its identity.

The majority of civic society rightfully denounces the reprehensible arson and maiming committed against 20 Avon and Somerset based Police officers. However, what is the correct counterbalance to be struck in a toxic environment where citizens allege disproportionate policing as captured at the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham, South London.

Alongside their civic rights being simultaneously curtailed? Some indeed question whether this an equitable social contact.

Britons should lobby their MPs and lawfully assemble to expunge this stringent legislative crack-down item on democracy.  Echoing the immortal words of Bristol’s former representative Benn

“There is no final victory as there is no final defeat.. so bloody toughen up.”

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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