Oliver Dowden: Museums should not be ‘bullied by left-wing campaigns’

The British Museum has said it has “no intention of removing controversial objects from display.”

Museums and cultural institutions should not allow themselves to be “pushed around by the zeitgeist of the day” when representing the country’s national heritage, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange UK think tank’s History Matters Conference, Mr Dowden said some cultural organisations feel they are being “bullied by left-wing campaigns.”

He added that museums and other institutions in the UK should act as “custodians” of our cultural heritage and not seek to erase certain aspects of it.

Discussing his advice to museums and cultural institutions, he said: “Don’t allow yourself to be pushed around by the zeitgeist of the day.

“Take a longer-term view of things, make sure you do things in a rigorous way and understand that your principal duty is to preserve and conserve our heritage.”

He added: “One of the things that prompted me to come into this debate in the first place was talking to some of the institutions who felt like they were being bullied, particularly by left-wing campaigns.”

Mr Dowden added that it is his “duty” to support those institutions in the face of “increasingly hostile activism.”

His comments follow a row last year over a bust of the British Museum’s slave-owning founding father, which was moved to be juxtaposed with objects reflecting his links to the British Empire.

The museum later said in a statement in September it has “no intention of removing controversial objects from display.”

There has also been a focus on the removal of statues in the wake of the toppling of the memorial to slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last year.

Mr Dowden said people are “bemused at the kind of arguments that are being had” over representations of the UK’s cultural heritage.

“There’s a tendency to try and rewrite chunks of history,” he added.

“I think most people in this country believe in retaining our heritage.”

Cultural institutions should be trying to “engender a conversation” about our national history rather than trying to erase it, he added.


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