AFTER the events surrounding the destruction of the mural celebrating the Chartists in John Frost Square recently, I feel compelled to write an open letter to the people of Newport.

Firstly, the vicious irony of something that was created to celebrate those who risked much for the good of all, being wiped out without consulting the people themselves, and under the auspices of a Labour led City Council serving the needs of profit above all else, is both absurd as well as tragic.

That so little was done, or was able to be done, by us, in order to stop this from happening, brings shame to us all.

The Council themselves do not want to let us know who was responsible for allowing this to happen for fear of ‘assassination attempts’, and while it is heartening to know that the Council feel they include someone of the ilk of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi, the real point is that the responsibility is ours, if we wish to honour the values of the Chartists - fairness, equality and a political system that truly represents the needs of the people.

Clearly that political system has let us down in this case.

So what can we do about it?

Firstly, for those who do know something of who the Chartists were, what they stood for and what happened in Newport in 1839, do whatever you can to tell as many people about it as possible. Forgetting what has been struggled for in the past makes it so much easier for those who would take from us in the present.

Secondly, let us all come together and find a common ground upon which we can re-affirm our belief in those values. I urge the Council, those who have been active in demonstrating against the destruction of the mural, and all those who have an interest in this, which I hope would be anyone that has a stake in a free and truly representative society, to focus now on how we can celebrate the past, connect it to the present and look hopefully toward the future.

There has been talk of a ‘like for like reproduction’ of the mural and so forth, with various possible sites. I propose that whatever form it takes and wherever it may take place, it should be as much within the ownership of the people as possible, and done under the advice of the people, rather than being handed out to us after a minimum of face-saving consultation and left vulnerable to the next time someone wants to build a bigger shopping centre or the like.

There have been various figures thrown around about costs for such a project. In order to keep costs down, perhaps we could look into the possibility of students from various art schools and design courses working together on this. Having done something similar when working on ‘The Passion’ a few years ago, I was amazed and inspired by the vision, commitment and resourcefulness of the design students I worked with. Looking for found materials to work with, along with as much of the original destroyed mural as can be salvaged, could connect the past with the present in a grounded and economical way perhaps.

Inviting ideas and suggestions for a new mural/mosaic/whatever it might be, and finding out what sort of artistic response would reflect how the people of Newport feel now about what the Chartists stood for, allows the possibility of something new and exciting and that speaks to who we are now as well as honouring who we have been before.

I feel sure that we can find a way to pay for it that will allow it to happen at all, first and foremost, but also to allow it to be fully in the ownership of the people.

But this is all in your hands. The City Council, the activists and all those who wish to be represented fairly and openly.

This is about more than the mural itself. It is about standing up for certain values and freedoms and ideals when they come under attack, whether through greed, malice, ignorance or sheer stupidity.

I hope we can make the Chartists proud.

Michael Sheen