Welcome to this fortnightly edition of TaitMail from the Arts Industry
01.05.2015

 
Labour leaves another Ed for the museum wolves


I wonder if there was an omen for the election result in last night’s museums hustings at the Imperial War Museum, organised by the National Museums Directors Conference and the Museums Association.
 
There should have been three representatives of the major parties, Ed Vaizey for the Tories and the culture minister for the entire last Parliament, Baroness Jane Bonham-Carter for the Lib Dems and Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow arts minister. Unfortunately Bryant turned up 24 hours early and his last minute replacement, Lord Wilf Stevenson, one-time Gordon Brown advisor who sounded sage on the matter of the importance of the arts to every government department even if he was talking largely from the top of his head, could only stay for less than half of the proceedings. So it was pretty one-sided.
 
At first it all seemed fairly amiable, with lots of agreement about the value of free admission to national museums, the importance of museums to the perception of Britain, their innovation and expertise. Then off goes Lord Wilf, and the thing turns into a “let's get Ed” fest, or so it seemed, despite some robust defence of his record.
 
Jane Bonham Carter (no hyphen if you don’t use the title, and a Panorama producer in a former life) was wise and supportive without saying how she would deal with the repercussions of 35% cuts since 2010 and 20% more in the next three years. The problem with free admission is that no-one in their right mind disagrees with it these days, but the museums simply can’t afford it and something has to be done to mitigate it. Always open to new ideas, says the minister. The problem for the nationals is the fiddling about with Cabinet Office protocols and pension rearrangements, which means they are having to deal with millions of more lost cash on top of the cuts. Yes, says Vaizey, and the Treasury is sympathetic…
 
But it's local authority museums that are dying out there, and there is nothing that Vaizey, he says, can do about it – it’s the local councils who make the decisions. But, said the floor in its loud profusion, it’s the government that has cut the local authorities so much they have no choice. Everybody has a choice, came back the minister.
 
And so on – when the last question asked what the member of the panel would put in a new museum of politics, a chaste Vaizey commented “judging the mood of this meeting, my head on a spike would be the most appropriate” before leaving.

But it doesn’t need to be like this. Surely the time has come with the shared  understanding of the value of our heritage, the acknowledgement that this is who we as a nation despite our political differences, is more important than dogma and tunnel vision politics? It’s time, surely, for a cross-party national planning committee that hears evidence from all levels of the profession to get our invaluable museums community back from the brink and thriving again.

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