David Lammy shames the Tories’ sickening ‘colonial amnesia’ in a new advert

David Lammy
Fréa Lockley

The Department for Transport (DfT) has sunk to a new low. A new advert celebrates the UK’s “commercial shipping” history. But it’s hugely problematic.

So Labour’s David Lammy shamed the DfT for this shocking “colonial amnesia”. Because it featured boats used for transporting slaves and building the British Empire’s colonial trade.

“Stripped of their rights and enslaved”

Lammy’s heartfelt and poignant tweet sums up just how shocking the DfT advert truly is.

“My ancestors,” he said, “were taken from their homes across the sea in boats, stripped of their rights and enslaved”. He continued:

Now the Department for Transport is using images of slave ships to promote our maritime sector.

This kind of colonial amnesia is at the root of Britain’s problems.

The DfT advert includes a fluyt, the East Indiaman, and a steamship. As the Guardian noted, these boats:

were used between the 16th and 19th centuries to establish the British Empire, transport slaves and indentured labourers across the Atlantic and bring hauls of valuable goods to Britain.

Historian Kim Wagner also said:

This is what happens when the historical memory is limited to a narrative in which we simply abolished slavery – it is remarkably tone-deaf, never mind historically illiterate.

A “deeply violent” history

As Cambridge lecturer Priyamvada Gopal explained, Britain’s commercial shipping history was:

a deeply violent one, which included shipping millions of black and indentured bodies tightly packed in the holds of ships to be exploited on plantations.

So the anger this DfT advert caused is understandable:

Many others, meanwhile, shared Lammy’s outrage:

Perhaps even the DfT recognised it’s error since the Guardian reported that a spokesperson said:

The slave trade was an abhorrent practice for which the British government has rightly apologised.

They also claimed the tweet:

intended to promote the future of Britain’s maritime sector, which accounts for 95% of British trade. Needless to say, we apologise if any offence has been caused.

But in reality, that’s too little, too late.

Tory through and through

Yet, this isn’t the only racist and insensitive tweet from this government. In 2018, a now-deleted tweet from the Treasury claimed that:

Millions of you helped end the slave trade through your taxes.

And as one Twitter user also noted, this advert seems to link straight back to ‘failing’ former transport secretary Chris Grayling. In 2018, Grayling launched Maritime 2050. This was billed as a long-term government “strategy to maximise future opportunities for the nation’s maritime industries”. The latest DfT tweet seems clearly linked to this project.

Too many Tories, it seems, happily bask in the nostalgia of the UK’s maritime history. Yet they ignore the historical fact that this links intrinsically to death and suffering in the name of profit and colonising other countries. And with its ongoing hostile environment, and hideous treatment of the Windrush generation, Lammy is quite right to slam this DfT advert.

So, with such a blatantly racist prime minister now in place, here’s yet another reason to get this vile government out once and for all.

Featured image via Policy Ecxhange/Flickr

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  • Show Comments
    1. David Lammy shames the Tories sickening ‘colonial
      amnesia’ in a new advert.
      ////
      Mr. Lammy welcome to the NEW true Tory party plus its rich funder, as they all will uses whatever means to get voters back on Tory Govt side including shaming the slaves dragged here to U.K
      To look after the rich plus well off and keep our U.K. going in bad times, I do hope all voters take head of the path the Tory party is NOW going down, and the relative alive now living in U.K. areas up and down the country which is to live off the backs of U.K. people slaves /poor/old/mentally ill/and so on.
      ////
      And vote accordingly to remove Tory party from power at any new G.E. held in 2019 before they are sent back home by Tory Govts new immigration laws possibly could be or maybe being put into place Now in backroom of Parliament while all you M.P. are not sitting thanks to Boris?
      /////
      Gagging you M.P. by closing parliament is NOT JUST about Brexit
      Mess It is also giving Tory Minister time to make new laws and pass them in Queens speech time frame plus write them into new laws while Parliament is closed down under Boris rule.
      So, Mr. Lammy + Mr. Corbyn what are you going to do???

    2. The Department for Transport ad Labour MP David Lammy refers to here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYnyvtUXOJE is, for me, an innocuous 22 second length cartoon of commercial ship-types of British Maritime history which compliments a recent Department for Transport document ‘Maritime 2050 Navigating the future’ https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/773178/maritime-2050.pdf being an outline of intent impressively detailed with attractive imagery. The two particular commercial ships cited in the cartoon as historic slave ships appear within just the first 5 seconds of the ad. You’d have to be a really nerdy boat buff to have known ‘1600-1700s Fluyts Trading ships in Europe and the Americas’ or ‘1700-1800s East Indiamen Trading cotton and silk between UK and Asia’ had been utilised as slave carriers in amongst numerous other shipping tasks less controversial to our shaming seafaring history. Of course, Britain’s and other European nation’s colonial history is horrendous in so much of operational, religious arrogance to be forever discoursed and atoned for where possible. In this particular instance of disdain upon a brief cartoon for ‘his history’ one has a sense of Mr Lammy is grubbing up the slightest innocuous of evidence to bash who? and about what? and for what ongoing and engaging maritime purpose?

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