As the new, near indestructible £5 Bank of England notes become legal tender, Elaine Crory looks at a number of people who would be better to look at whilst paying for your weekend pint.
This week, a new £5 note was introduced. It’s polymer-based and difficult to damage, as the Bank of England have demonstrated to us all by washing them, microwaving them, and trying to tear them. They also feature Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister and frequent winner of popular poll,s to find the ‘greatest Briton in history’.
Was he really all that great, though? Sure, he could deliver a rousing speech encouraging us to fight Nazis on beaches – but he also held deeply racist and classist views. He oversaw the setting up of concentration camps in Kenya as well as the use of castration and rape as a means of control across numerous colonies. He allowed and even encouraged a terrible famine in India that killed millions, actively refusing relief efforts from elsewhere. He wanted to use chemical weapons against all his enemies and some of his allies. His views on Irish people were depressingly predictable for their time, and he even advocated for the sterilisation of the less ‘desirable’ element of the British polulation, some of whom continue to admire him. Surely we can do better than Churchill, both for our banknotes and our role models. Here are a few suggestions with regards to where we might start to look.
Everyone knows Crick and Watson, right? Rosalind Franklin did much of the work and collected the data upon which they based their ‘discovery’ of DNA, but has largely been written out of history and was not recognised by the Nobel Prize panel. A banknote might go some way towards redressing that imbalance.
Turing was a pioneering computer scientist and logician whose day job lead to great advances in computer science and whose work on the Enigma machine during World War II arguably contributed a great deal more to the war effort than anything Churchill did. Despite this, he was imprisoned for indecency and experimented on cruelly in an attempt to “cure” his homosexuality. He eventually took his own life. Pardoned posthumously, perhaps seeing his face on the £5 note every day would be a timely reminder of how far we have come and how much further we must go.
An internationally-recognised human rights lawyer and activist would be perfectly ironic as the government attempt to scrap the Human Rights Act.
As Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, or simply David Jones? We are spoilt for choice by this legendary artist. Quintessentially British and yet also somehow universal and alien at the same time. If only banknotes could play samples of his music.
Suffragist who helped win the vote for women almost a century ago, one of the many vital baby steps towards the still distant goal of true gender equality. Her tactics were considered radical and dangerous at the time, but if they weren’t quite radical enough for you, her fellow activist Emily Wilding Davison (of death by King’s horse fame) might be more your style.
Politicians have been conspicuous in their absence from this list, but this devoted socialist and miner’s son who devoted his political life to social justice issues and worker’s rights surely deserves recognition. Nye Bevan was the architect of the National Health Service, surely one of Britain’s proudest achievements and greatest treasures.
Who would be your choice to be the new face of the £5 note? Tweet us your choices @TLast_R, or tell us in person at our first birthday party!