Will the Rustat Ruling be a Turning Point in the War Against Woke?

Charles Moore strikes an optimistic note in his Telegraph column today, arguing that the common sense verdict of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Ely regarding Jesus College’s Rustat memorial will make it harder for woke fanatics to ‘cleanse’ Britain of any reminders of its colonial past.

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.

Moore then reminds us just how damning the Judge’s ruling was, even though it was couched in moderate, judicial language.

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.”

Let’s hope Moore is right about this being a turning point in the battle to preserve our heritage from the woke Taliban.

Worth reading in full.

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September 2022
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