Charles Moore of the Telegraph wrote:The Rustat hearing at Cambridge should be a turning point in the war against woke
A judge has rejected Jesus College's attempt to remove the memorial. This should give all such "anti-racist" institutions pause for thought
Without intending any disrespect, I think one can say that a judgment in the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Ely would not normally affect our public life. The Church of England is “by law established”, so ecclesiastical law is part of English law but usually this need not trouble the scorers.
This week, not so. A carefully argued judgment by Judge David Hodge forbade the removal of a 17th-century memorial from the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge. It will help protect our heritage, expose weak leadership in our great institutions and help turn the tide of jiggery-wokery.
Before I explain why, please excuse some recent history.
Two years ago, as the world became infected by a plague which the Chinese regime had tried to hide, I came across the website of the China Centre at Jesus College. Its wording struck me. It made no pretence to academic detachment. Using Xi Jinping’s pet phrase “national rejuvenation”, it praised the “extraordinary transformation” wrought by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership.
Further inquiry showed a pervasive yet opaque college engagement with CCP-backed bodies. Professor Peter Nolan, who runs the centre, would not speak publicly about it. The college’s wider China engagement included a UK/China Global Issues Dialogue Centre, conferences (some not ostensibly China-related), receptions, prize-givings, oily speeches in Beijing etc, backed enthusiastically by Cambridge’s vice-chancellor. No forum criticised the Chinese regime – holding events, for example, about the suppression of Hong Kong or the enslavement of the Uyghurs. Only this month did Jesus finally print figures showing that the college has taken nearly £1.5 million from regime-controlled Chinese sources in the past five years. I think that will prove a conservative estimate.
Journalistically, I had hit a rich seam. Controversy rose. Distinguished alumni expressed unease.
At the same time, Jesus College, so reticent about China, turned on another source of its money. Tobias Rustat, a 17th-century supporter of King Charles II, rewarded for his loyalty in the long years of exile, could not hit back, being dead. Rustat’s donations still pay for college benefactions today.
Given extra impetus by the Black Lives Matter pile-on after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the college has a Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP). In June 2020, I discovered that Rustat was being what George Orwell called “unpersoned” by the LSWP because of his links with the slave trade. In November 2020, the new Master, Sonita Alleyne, said his Grinling Gibbons memorial in the chapel should be removed. Because it is in a Grade 1-listed church, this required legal permission from the Diocese of Ely. The college would petition for this. “The Church is very supportive of our considerations,” added the Master, unwisely pre-empting any court case.
As early as June, an old colleague had put me in touch with a Jesuan friend (as the alumni are called). He and his Jesuan contemporaries did not like the trashing of a great college benefactor. They suspected the charges against Rustat were factually weak. They felt that alumni, always courted by the college for their money, should not be ignored here.
They wrote to the Master but got no satisfaction. As the plan to remove Rustat’s statue grew, I asked heritage experts about the law. I learnt that the bar for removing a leading piece of heritage from a church is, rightly, very high. The burden of proof would lie on the college.
In discussion, the Jesuan and I agreed Jesus College should bear that burden in court. He consulted the large numbers of interested alumni. He won strong backing. Sixty-five signed up as the “parties opponent” in court, ready to share any costs.
Hence the contested case. As is required, numerous learned bodies were consulted. Most came down, on conservation and heritage grounds, against moving the Rustat memorial. The alumni did proper historical research. Their suspicions were confirmed: although Rustat had indeed invested in a company which traded in slaves, he had lost money by doing so (serves him right, perhaps). His wealth had other sources. Contrary to the LSWP, he gave no slavery money to Jesus.
Last month, the court hearing took place dramatically – in chapel, beside the Rustat memorial. I went to Cambridge to watch. Most college witnesses seemed a little unsteady on the Rustat facts. The Master herself barely addressed them, preferring to make an emotional speech as if shaped for “anti-racist” learning materials rather than the issues before the court. Unless Rustat went, she said, she would not – could not – pray in the chapel.
On Wednesday, Judge Hodge published his 108-page judgment. The removal of the Rustat memorial would indeed cause “notable” damage to the heritage of the chapel, he said. He did not accept the college’s view that the mission of the Church was harmed by Rustat continuing to stay in the chapel after 330 years there.
Although carefully moderate in tone, as good judges are, he was tough on the conduct of the college authorities. The chair of the LSWP, Dr Véronique Mottier, had been “an underwhelming witness’” who was “firmly wedded to her own entrenched opinions and unwilling to recognise any views other than her own”. In several answers, she had “not been frank”; in one, she had been “untruthful”.
The facts about Rustat did matter, the judge said. A student member of the LSWP had emailed all undergraduates saying that Rustat “amassed much of his wealth from the Royal African Company that captured and shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade”. This stirred up students to support the removal, but it was factually wrong in relation to Rustat. The LSWP never corrected this error, so the college put out “a false narrative” against its own benefactor and never corrected it.
In essence, the judge was saying to Jesus College: “You are wrong in law. You did not do your homework properly. You have not dealt fairly with critics.”
How could this ancient, learned charitable institution have got itself into such expensive litigation and reputational damage? How could it not see the hypocrisy of aerating (on factually inadequate grounds) about someone who died more than three centuries ago, while failing to confront the evil done to human dignity by the CCP regime whose money it was trousering?
These issues go wider than one college. The Rustat judgment should encourage all lovers of heritage to resist such removals, backed by the law. It should also deter all leaders and institutions tempted to play to the woke gallery.
I am afraid one figure who emerges poorly from this unnecessary adventure is the Archbishop of Canterbury. While his own Church’s court was deliberating the Rustat case, Justin Welby exclaimed publicly, “Why is it such agony to remove a memorial to slavery?” It reminded me how he plunged into the case of the late Bishop George Bell, falsely accusing him of paedophile acts, and years later apologised. The answer to the Archbishop’s question is Judge Hodge’s judgment itself. The Rustat monument is not a memorial to slavery, but to philanthropy. The fact that Rustat had done some bad things is not decisive: “From a Christian perspective, every memorial is a memorial to a sinner.”
Start from that forgiving, Christian premise, and we might begin to get some of these contests over heritage right.
The first Black person and the first woman to lead Jesus College is consuming herself in leading a personal battle against the benefactors of the institution she chairs instead of actually leading the institution itself.
Mirroring Dan-el Padilla Peralta of Princeton who is leading a war against the Classics that he leads, they are both doing a disservice to the community they purport to represent chasing ghosts for their own personal gratification instead of helping the living to learn & thrive.
Make no mistake this assault on European culture is directly funded by enemy states seeking to undermine our confidence & sap our institutions seeking out useful idiots from both ends of the spectrum.
Putin speaks directly to the outraged conservatives seeking to align himself with J.K Rowling pretending to lead the war against "wokism" and "cancel culture" while he imprisons and poisons any critical voice. This mega irony is apparently missed by our resident right-wingers, when the Arch Priest of Cancellation by death, prison and poison is deriding other nations for standing by peace and national self-determination.
While China seeks to fund and speak to the outraged woke who are merely looking for yet another reason to feel outraged in an attempt to undermine the great institutions that propel our cultural and scientific work.
Well done to the Archdiocese of Ely for having the courage to stand up and emphasize fact over feeling.
...take your common sense with you, and leave your prejudices behind...