One of many statues of Sir Simon Milton

On a pedestal?

Tributes to the man who helped destroy London now litter its public spaces

On Architecture

This article is taken from the March 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

I have found it odd in the recent discussions about public statuary that no mention has been made of the person who has the most recent statues in public spaces in London. This is not, as you might think, Sir Winston Churchill, whose statue by Ivor Roberts-Jones in Parliament Square has been so frequently defaced, nor Margaret Thatcher, whose statue was commissioned by the House of Commons Works of Art Committee, turned down by the House of Commons, had her head knocked off when on display in the Guildhall Art Gallery and has now been sent to Grantham.

No, the person who is the subject of the greatest number of modern statues in London is the late Sir Simon Milton.

There is a portrait bust of him by Alan Micklethwaite on the corner of One Eagle Place, a recent building in Piccadilly, flanked by his old Cambridge College, Gonville and Caius to his left, and City Hall where he worked to his right.

Sir Simon Milton Square, SW1

There is a statue of him in Potter’s Field, close to City Hall, unveiled by Boris Johnson when still Mayor in April 2016. Another is in Merchant Square, next to Paddington Basin. The Tadao Ando sculptural basin in front of the Connaught on Carlos Place is dedicated to his memory. There is even a Sir Simon Milton Square close to Victoria.

So who was Sir Simon Milton? And why does he deserve such widespread commemoration? The answer is that he was a political lobbyist turned local politician, who furthered the interests of property developers in London to such an extent that they wanted to ensure his contribution to its destruction is not forgotten.

Milton was born in Cricklewood and educated at St. Paul’s School and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read history, and was President of the Conservative Association and the Union. He worked for his father’s chain of London pastry shops, before joining Ian Greer Associates, a public relations firm hired by Mohammed Al Fayed that was behind the cash-for-questions scandal during the Major Government (the current administration does not have a monopoly on sleaze).

Meanwhile, Milton was elected a Tory Councillor for Westminster City Council, serving under Dame Shirley Porter. In 2000, he became council leader and is regarded as having done an exceptionally good job: hard working, scrupulous, and particularly interested in abolishing planning controls.

This led to the redevelopment of Paddington Basin (which is why he is commemorated there) and the development of Sir Simon Milton Square close to City Hall and Victoria Station. He worked closely with a fellow councillor, Robert Davis, a lawyer and Milton’s civil partner, who chaired the Westminster planning committee for 17 years.

Milton was regarded as the workhorse who made City Hall function effectively

At the time of his premature death from leukaemia in April 2011, Milton was Boris Johnson’s Chief-of-Staff at City Hall, having been recruited when the mayoral regime was a mess. He was regarded as the workhorse who made City Hall function effectively while Johnson was the show pony getting credit for all the work Milton was doing behind the scenes. Many have suggested Johnson needs a similar figure now to help manage 10 Downing Street.

Milton’s friends thought his double act with Johnson paralleled his interest in the respective roles of Pitt the Elder and the Duke of Newcastle in the Seven Years’ War, in which Newcastle did the political manoeuvring, while Pitt provided the charismatic leadership.

Johnson, on the other hand, said in his funeral eulogy that Milton’s owed his success to what he had learned in his father’s pastry shops, where employees “could expect to be pampered with extra squishy cream buns to take home at the end of the day.”

He added: “And there are some of his friends who think it was this experience that gave him the managerial skill that was to serve him so well in his career, that flair for exactly when to dish out and when to withhold the squishy cream bun.”

Does Milton’s career deserve such extensive commemoration? It could be argued that we should honour and celebrate the work of a local politician who understood the machinery of local government and did not apparently seek publicity, although it seems odd that many people vehemently object to the statue of Robert Geffrye, a former Mayor of London, in a niche of the almshouses which he endowed in the eighteenth century while being apparently content that we should celebrate the life of a recent conservative Leader of Westminster City Council.

Milton is one of the men who destroyed London and deserves all due honour for his part in doing so

It should also be noted that Milton’s partner and close associate, Robert Davis, decided to step down from his role at Westminster City Council when it was discovered that he had received so many gifts of entertainment, so many meals and theatre tickets from property developers, all of them dutifully recorded in the Council’s Register of Interests, that it was felt that all this hospitality might be viewed as having influenced decisions in favour of property development by Westminster’s planning committee.

Milton presumably accepted hospitality likewise. It was a way of life. If so, then it is appropriate that in death he should commemorated so ubiquitously. Milton is one of the men who destroyed London and deserves all due honour for his part in doing so.

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