Volume 52, Number 7, July 2015
The peoples’ choice? THE recent announcement that the Bank of England (BoE) wants the public to consider the subject for the next £20 note (they did stipulate that they would prefer someone from the art world but other than that the brief is pretty free) comes hot on the heels of the announcement of the new design for the 12 sided £1 coin chosen after a public competition won by 15-year-old David Pearce who was featured in the June issue of COIN NEWS. The Royal Mint has held design competitions before, of course, some open, some invited, but this is the first time the BoE have actively courted public opinion and one cannot help but wonder whether it is a direct result of the furore that surrounded the decision to replace Elizabeth Fry on the £5 with Sir Winston Churchill, thereby leaving our notes without a woman featured on them (the fact that the obviously female Queen Elizabeth II was featured prominently was, apparently, irrelevant). Following the announcement of the decision the outcry from the feminist lobby was deafening, with social media campaigns, petitions, endless media hype and column inches in the newspapers, there was even a march organised with the participants dressed as famous women from history to emphasise the choice available. The leader of the campaign, one Caroline Criado-Perez, was seen as the champion of women’s representation when it was announced that Jane Austen would feature on the new £10 note even though Sir Mervyn King, then Governor of the BoE, made it clear that the writer had always been “waiting in the wings” and the choice to use her had nothing whatsoever to do with the campaign! Of course, the media would never let the truth get in the way of a good story and so Ms Criado-Perez and her ilk were credited with changing the minds of the fusty old men of the Bank and feted as heroes (or heroines—or maybe not, I’m not sure whether heroine itself isn’t sexist) and that sets a rather worrying precedent. The sad fact is that often those who shout loudest get heard—this has been proved in the medal world with the campaign to get an Arctic Star awarded to veterans of the Russian convoys finally paying off some 70 years after the event simply because those who wanted it were the ones who shouted longest and loudest. If you look at the World War II campaigns and actions there are undoubtedly dozens of other worthy causes that deserve medallic recognition but because they don’t have an orchestrated campaign behind them they will be overlooked. Are we, I wonder, about to see the same thing happen with our banknotes? Will a well orchestrated campaign, with lots of rhetoric and clamorous accusations of sexism or racism sway the BoE away from a more popular choice? Already we are seeing calls for someone from a “minority” group (whatever that is these days) to be put on the £20 and the moment a counter argument is put forward against that the shouts of “racist” follow. I have no issue with the next person on our notes not being white, or male, few of us would, but the BoE can only consider putting historically important, deceased, British people on our notes and whether the campaigners like it or not the majority of influential people in the history of Britain have been white and male—that’s just a fact and no amount of protest can change that. Yes, of course, there have been hugely influential women, and in more recent years there have been many from a non-white heritage, but if you look back at the history of the United Kingdom there is no denying that the pool of white males to choose from far outweighs any other group. That’s not sexist, or racist or any other kind of -ist. It’s just the way it is. That isn’t to say the next person to feature on a £20 has to be a white man but I do hope that whoever it is is chosen because he or she gets the most nods from the British people and not because a loud mouthed minority force that choice upon us. I personally don’t mind who is on the next note but if they are there simply because a certain element shouted loud enough I think that will be a great shame and, to be honest, will belittle that person’s legacy as there will always be the chance that they will be seen to be featured simply to appease the campaigners and not because they deserve to be in their own right. Jane Austen was chosen long before Ms Criado-Perez came on the scene but now many will see the writer as being on our tenners just as a sop to the feminists which is plainly unfair. Let us hope the same thing doesn’t happen this time around.
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