The Welsh Government strongly refutes a recent article in the Daily Mail that alleged it was considering renaming roads and buildings honoring figures like Winston Churchill and Horatio Nelson.
According to the Daily Mail, a newspaper with historical ties to the 1930s Nazi regime, the UK Government was portrayed as “engaging in a new front of cultural battles by enacting legislation to prevent the removal of names honouring British historical figures from streets.” The Mail’s story contended that this was occurring concurrently with the Welsh Labour administration’s purported plans to rename roads and buildings dedicated to Winston Churchill and Horatio Nelson.
The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, had unveiled an “anti-racist Wales action plan” that pledged to “evaluate and decolonize public spaces.” This raised the prospect of altering names associated with places like Churchill Park in Caerphilly and Nelson Street in Chepstow. The plan also included an “audit of commemoration,” which identified 204 individuals, 57 monuments, 93 public buildings, and 442 street names. These were categorised using a “red-amber-green color-coding” system to determine the level of association with historical wrongdoings.
The audit revealed that Nelson had 31 commemorations, the Duke of Wellington had 47, and Churchill had 15. It highlighted that Churchill, the World War II leader, was “widely disliked in South Wales mining communities due to his actions as Home Secretary during the Tonypandy riots.” Furthermore, it noted that Churchill “expressed a belief in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race and opposed the dissolution of the British Empire, holding a romanticised view of its accomplishments.”
The Mail story also pointed out that Nelson, the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, had written to his wife expressing his firm support for the colonial system. Additionally, the audit called into question the legacy of figures like Christopher Columbus, who initiated the era of contact and colonisation through his trans-Atlantic voyages, leading to the devastation of native populations in the Americas, European colonialism, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s anti-colonial movement, was scrutinised for a speech in 1896 in which he denigrated Hindus and Muslims as being “degraded to a level of Kaffir,” a derogatory term for black Africans. Other figures mentioned included former Prime Minister William Gladstone and explorer Sir Francis Drake.
The Daily Mail also highlighted provisions in The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, currently in Parliament, which would require two-thirds of residents’ agreement before renaming a street in England. It quoted the Welsh audit report, stating that the audit’s purpose was to gather information rather than offer specific recommendations.
A source within the Westminster Government criticised these actions as “woke nonsense,” suggesting that if Labour had control beyond Wales, such policies would be widespread. They stressed the importance of empowering people to prevent such changes in England and raised concerns about the disruptions caused by altering postal addresses.
In contrast, in Wales, the authority to rename streets rests with local authorities rather than the Welsh Government. Moreover, there are no legal powers to compel building owners to change the names of their properties.
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government categorically denied the claims, noting that the audit, first published in 2020, aimed to identify public monuments, street names, and buildings linked to the slave trade and the British Empire. The guidance accompanying the audit was intended to assist public bodies in making informed decisions about existing and future commemorations. Notably, the guidance did not make specific recommendations but stressed that all decisions should be developed through public consultation.