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Moore sculpture sell-off act of vandalism

Tower Hamlets is one of the worst areas for child poverty in the UK and one of the country’s poorest boroughs. So when Mayor Lutfur Rahman decreed that a publicly-owned iconic sculpture by Henry Moore should be sold off, he probably did not anticipate the furore that would result.

This Wednesday, a resolution is to be put to an open council meeting demanding that the sale should be put on hold. The motion is proposed by Labour councillor Denis Jones and seconded by Anwar Khan.

The motion says that the sculptor donated “Old Flo”, as the monumental seated woman is affectionately known, “to the people of Tower hamlets... because he believed that art is beneficial, and should be accessible to all, including the East End’s working class, not just those rich enough to be able to afford to own it.”

Moore, a miner’s son from Yorkshire, was inspired by the wartime experiences of the people of London’s East End, thousands of whom were killed in the blitz, including 172 in the horrific Bethnal Green tube disaster.

The proposed sale of the artwork, presently on loan to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, is a blatant breach of Moore’s wishes that it should inspire Eastenders recovering from the war and is an act of cultural vandalism. So much so that his daughter Mary, has joined Olympics ceremony director Danny Boyle, Tate director Nicholas Serota, artists Jeremy Deller and Rachel Whiteread, in signing a letter asking the council to reconsider.

But Rahman – who began political life in the Labour Party and was elected mayor as an independent in 2010 after his expulsion – and his cabinet member for culture Rania Khan, remain adamant that the sculpture must be sold off.

Their grossly philistine attitude is being shot down in flames. There is a groundswell of opposition, not only from local councillors, but also experts like Art Fund director, Stephen Deuchar. The Museum of London, Queen Mary University, the Friends of Christ Church at Spitalfields and a local school have all offered safe public sites to house the three metres tall, 1.5 tonne bronze.

Rahman’s ace card is that the possible £5-20 million receipt would plug the hole in council finances that result from government-imposed cuts.  But, in fact he was already pushing for the sale before the last round of cuts were announced.

And, even the maximum sales figure would hardly dent the council’s requirement to make £100m cuts by 2015 (Rahman’s own figure) and its predicted £44m deficit for 2016/17.

But the mayor appears to have public funds available for other purposes. Last week he offered £2m funding exclusively to faith groups to refurbish their premises, whilst ignoring an alternative option to make funds available to all community buildings.

Over 22,000 people are currently on the council waiting list and major overcrowding issues, but community and advice services are being cut to the bone.

Will Rahman listen to the opposition? Probably not. Opposing the sale, as some of the councillors are doing, may be too little and too late. In other parts of Britain, Labour councils, including Bolton and Bury, are also selling off their family silver with the same rationale as Tower Hamlets. In Brent, Labour is flogging off libraries.

Historically, London’s East End has defied government cuts with outright resistance. In 1921, George Lansbury led the Poplar Rates Rebellion, in which 30 councillors (including six women) were jailed for giving funds to needy local people rather than sending it on to the London County Council.

A mass rebellion along these lines, against the sale of “Old Flo” as well as cuts to services and jobs throughout the country, should be item one on everybody’s agenda.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
26 November 2012

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