There was a documentary on TV last night (which I forgot to watch) in which Dr Robert Beckford argued the case for the government to pay reparations for slavery. What I’ve gathered from the web is: he consulted “an economic historian, a compensation lawyer and an expert on loss of earnings” and came up with a figure of £7.5 trillion. The total GDP of the UK is only about £1 trillion, as a comparison, so it seems like a very big figure to me, even allowing for the scale of the slave trade. Anyway, whether or not that figure is sound, Beckford apparently didn’t seriously suggest it was a possibility. And, btw, he visualised reparations being in the form of debt relief to African and Caribbean countries and educational support (scholarships?) for the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK, rather to individuals. He also suggested building a memorial.
I’m all for debt relief, and indeed educational opportunity, but I’m unsure about linking it explicitly to the slave trade.There has to be some kind of statute of limitations on these things, and whatever it should be, I think 172 years is long enough. That is, after all, about seven generations since the UK outlawed slavery.
But I do think we should have a slavery memorial somewhere. Bristol or Liverpool perhaps. Not just a plaque – a bloody great thing like a war memorial, or the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Something institutional, which would make it absolutely clear that those who put it up (i.e. the UK government) recognised the scale of the tragedy represented by slavery and unreservedly recognised the British involvement in it. William Wilberforce has a statue in Westminster Abbey, as he should do, but something specifically remembering slaves seems appropriate.