Culture and museums find themselves off the menu this election.
This is a summary of excerpts from the policies and manifestos of political parties standing candidates in the UK General Election on 7 May 2015.
Monday 4 May at 20:00 in the UK will see a #GE2015 election special #museumhour so please do come and join the debate if you are on Twitter.
I was looking for mention of specific policies and commitments towards museums, and in lieu of that, their views on culture.
This is not an exhaustive list of all parties standing in the upcoming election and I would welcome news from other parties and especially independent Prospective Parliamentary Candidates if they are standing on a culture or museum platform, to leave their pledges in the comments below.
Business as usual for museums after the election?
What is clear is that culture and museums find themselves off the menu this election. Museums are not a political hot potato or even on the radar of politicians, and particularly pundits who control what we hear from the media about this election.
This is in spite of the last 5 years seeing a significant transformation in the governance and landscape of the museum sector in the UK, especially England, namely cuts to grant-in-aid and revenue funding for those museums who were used to receiving it.
Coupled with the huge inequality between museum funding in London compared with the rest of the UK, both remain moot political points, except for the Green Party which makes a specific pledge to reverse this situation (see below).
Purdah (the pre-election period) has prevented the participation of government and local government civil servants engaged in administering, advising and funding museums from commenting or passing opinion on this election.
It is these arms-length or quango organisations that administer public funding to museums that are most likely to be affected by the election result, namely Arts Council England, Historic England, Historic Scotland, Scottish Arts Council, Museums Galleries Scotland, CyMAL, Cadw and RCAHMW in Wales and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland.
UKIP pledges to abolish the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which governs public museum bodies in England, suggesting the role of DCMS would be absorbed into other departments (not stated, see below).
For alternative analyses see the Art Newspaper and the Heritage Alliance. Museums Journal also published an analysis of the BBC Culture Debate on 7 April in May’s edition (article access only to Museums Association members).
Free entry for Nationals (again)
Several parties affirm the commitment to free entry to National museums but little else. The Conservatives alluded to an extra-manifesto commitment towards the creation of an India Gallery in Manchester Museum (in partnership with the British Museum).
Northern Ireland and Wales talk museums more
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) makes specific reference to the Ulster Museum and its role in promoting the Northern Ireland brand in its manifesto and one Sinn Féin candidate has made a public commitment towards the Derry Walls.
Plaid Cymru make a tantalising pledge to create specific apprenticeships in the fields of historical documentation and culture in order to preserve specialist skills and knowledge. Indeed the party makes nine separate pledges towards the arts, culture and heritage of Wales–the most of any of the party policies I have read so far.
So what are the other parties saying about museums? Listed in alphabetical order.
What parties say about museums
From their manifesto 2015, they pledge to voters in the section Enabling you to enjoy our heritage, creativity and sports, to:
- Keep major national museums and galleries free to enter.
Democratic Unionist Party
From their manifesto 2015:
“Whether at Westminster, Stormont or Europe, the DUP is pro-active in developing Northern Ireland’s cultural wealth and encouraging creativity to develop new opportunities in our economy.”
- Display appropriately our cultural assets at the Ulster Museum to promote the Northern Ireland brand
- Reduce the number of arms-length bodies associated with DCAL (Dept of Culture, Arts and Leisure)
From the Culture principles stated on their website:
“CMS414 The body of historical creative work forms the basis of our culture at national, regional and local level; the preservation of this culture is a responsibility of the state through support for cultural stores such as museums, archives, libraries, heritage and major performing arts venues and companies.”
From the Media, Sports and Arts section in their manifesto 2015:
- Increase government arts funding by £500 million a year to restore the cuts made since 2010 and reinstate proper levels of funding for local authorities, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open.
From the section on the Arts and Culture section in their manifesto 2015:
We reaffirm our commitment to universal free admission to ensure that our great works of art and national heritage can be enjoyed in all parts of the country.
Liberal Democrat Party
From the Pride in Creativity section of their manifesto 2015:
- Maintain free access to museums and galleries, while giving these institutions greater autonomy.
Mebyon Kernow – The Party for Cornwall
No specific mention of museums. From the Recognition for Cornwall section of their manifesto 2015:
- Greater local control over all aspects of Cornwall’s heritage, culture and identity, including the transfer of responsibility for work currently undertaken in Cornwall by agencies such as English Heritage.
Quizzing one of the candidates on Twitter I asked if that would include include Arts Council England and the reply was affirmative, that all organisations dealing with Cornwall should be devolved:
Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales
From the principles stated on their website Plaid Cymru says:
“Wales has a huge amount of priceless national treasures, including our National Museum, the National Library, and countless CADW monuments, and we believe that every child ought to have the opportunity, free of charge, to visit one of the National Museums or Libraries during their school years.”
In the Arts, Heritage and Culture section of the manifesto 2015:
- We will ensure that free access to National Museum Wales continues.
- We will create apprenticeships in the field of historical documentation and culture so that staff skills, knowledge and experiences are retained and nurtured.
Scottish National Party
From policy outlined on their website the SNP makes a commitment towards museum loans:
“We will continue to support the International Touring Fund for Scotland’s National Companies and co-ordinate overseas cultural and economic promotion activities. That means bringing together, where we can, national company tours, museum and gallery loans and trade missions for an ‘all Scotland’ approach to cultural and economic promotion.”
There is no mention of museums, heritage, arts or culture in the SNP’s manifesto 2015.
I could not find any mention of museums, heritage, arts or culture on Sinn Féin’s website nor the policies published on their website. The only glimpse into the party’s view of museums is the brief event stated above of a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in the Foyle constituency using the Derry Walls (see above).
I tweeted the official party account for link but have yet to receive a reply.
United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
There is no mention of museums in the published policies of UKIP. From the Heritage and Tourism section of their manifesto 2015 they pledge to:
- Abolish the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Want to have a say?
Join #museumhour to take part in a special #GE2015 debate on Monday 4 May 20:00 in the UK. Some of the questions we are asking:
- Why aren’t museums politically important?
- Should all museums be politically neutral?
- Has your museum petitioned local candidates?
- Have your local candidates visited your museum and its staff and volunteers?
- Which party will offer the best deal for UK museums?
- Should politicians be more interested in museums or is it better to be left alone?
- Has your museum got involved in campaigning to encourage people to vote?
- What, if anything, will change after the election for your museum?
- What, if anything, will happen to national museum funding and advisory bodies after the election?
- What message would you like to send out to your local candidates before election day?