Sunday, June 17, 2007

Top Ten Ways to Lose Votes: Instalment No 94

If you were compiling a list of Top Ten Ways of Losing Votes, reintroducing fees to museums and galleries would surely have to be right up there alongside abolishing grammar schools killing all household pets. But if the Sunday Telegraph and Mail on Sunday are right that is just what the Conservatives are planning to do. The Telegraph story contains no quote from a Conservative politician but the Mail on Sunday has this from Shadow Culture Secretary Hugo Swire...

"We do not want to ban free admissions, but we believe museums and galleries should have the right to charge if they wish. They could use the money to make their facilities even better and could have special arrangements allowing continued free access for children, students and others." A party spokesman insisted that no final decisions had been taken. "We have a policy review under way. We haven't had the outcome of that policy review on this. All these areas will have to be considered in the policy review," he said.

I am a great believer in the principle that the user should pay, but there's no doubt that visitor numbers have increased hugely since Chris Smith abolished museum charges in Labour's first term. Reintroducing fees will lead to charges of elitism. If this really is a firm policy proposal, or even kite flying, it's a pretty dangerous road to go down.


Anonymous said...

Iain, of far more importance in today's Sunday Telegraph are the articles revealing the disastrous state of Gordon Brown's debt-soaked economy.

"The day of reckoning has arrived for a debt-soaked nation living for too long on easy credit. And it's going to hurt...."

The whole crumbling edifice of Brown's hollowed out economy is coming to an end and the "decadent decade" of phenomenal borrowing and spending is hitting the buffers.

The next 3 years are going to be a nightmare for our new Prime Minister who has been largely responsible for all this, and those millions of profligates drowning in debt. The spending merry go round fuelled by the house price bubble and easy access to cheap credit is over and recession/stagflation/asset price crash is on the way.

Read the whole of this article in today's Sunday Telegraph for a taste of what's to come and which will drive New Labour into the electoral wilderness in 3 years time:

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest we stop sending Prince Bandar £30m/year and give it to the museums instead. There are plenty of riffs on this theme, all of them asking our government to spend our money more wisely: do you think conservatives could manage this on our behalf?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that Museums and Galleries should charge. Admission should never have been abolished in the first place.

Since the abolition of entrance charges visitor numbers may well have increased, but recent visits to the IWM and Tate found it packed full of the great unwashed who were clearly there for a free day out - and had no real interest in the educational, cultural or aesthetic aspects whatsoever.

I don't know the precise figures, but I imagine 90% + of visitors could afford to pay and they should pay. As should tourists. If it is "free" to the end user then it will not be valued or appreciated.

And please don't use the line that it is "cultural" and therefore should be provided by the state. If that is the case can I please have a full refund for the two tickets I have recently bought for RSC. Surely that is also "cultural" - or are we now accepting that the government has the authority to decide on these matters?

It's the same old story - pensions in crisis, under funding in the Health Service, taxation at an all time high - yet money is taken from the people (which many cannot afford) to subsidise the conscience of the Guardianista society.

Ross said...

Personally I believe that museums should either set their own admission policies or have them set by local government rather than national government. However given that their is no need to have a museums policy before an election coming up with something as universally unpopular as this seems utterly bizarre.

Hughes Views said...

Curiously it was Ted Heath's introduction of charges for the London museums that led me to visit more than I would otherwise have done. I purchased a season ticket (and still have it) and, being more 'prudent' even than G Brown Esq., I decided to maximise my use of it to justify the 'huge' capital outlay.

But you're right, even though it defies logic that we must pay to visit museums in other countries and that many of the visitors to ours (at least in London) are overseas tourists and that a scheme could be set up so that the less well off British wouldn't have to pay, this is such a 'cause célébrée' that it would probably lose more of those key marginal votes that decide our fate at election time than it would gain. So go for it Tory boys!

John Moorcraft said...

I suspect there will be a clause in any legislation passed on this matter which says “ordinary people wanting to enjoy the fantastic exhibitions in UK museums will be charged for the privilege, but all government ministers and anybody else on the political gravy train will get in for nothing”.

Anonymous said...

It's really ridiculous to try to do this in such a clumsy, buck(pound?)-passing fashion. So the great unwashed go to museums, do they? As well they should; their taxes paid for them.

But there are plenty of models that aren't quite so every-museum-for-itself; here in Vancouver the civic Art Gallery has admission by donation on Thursdays. This takes what would normally be its deadest day and evens up the traffic, which makes sense, given that staff are going to be there anyway. It also instills loyalty in people who may be temporarily impoverished, but who will go on to write lyrically of their childhood memories in the museums and galleries. You've read such things a million times, if you read autobiographies at all.

If they exist to educate, shouldn't they be educating those in need of education? If you want to gaze at Rembrandt's Polish Rider without crowds in the way you are welcome to purchase it yourself, and how's THAT for an elitist statement?

Anonymous said...

Art is for all. If this news story is true - then the modern Conservative Party are way off target. This IS a vote loser.

I know of so many families who go on days out to museums and galleries. It is a constructive and affordable day out. How can the Tories say they want to support families and do something like this?

David Cameron should listen up. This is political suicide.

Anonymous said...

This is a completely unnecessary distraction and is, as you say, potentially a vote-loser. I profoundly agree that entrance to museums should be free to all - and I also think that there should be a well-posted facility to make (tax-deductible) donations for those who want to. To reverse the free entry policy will be an act of political vandalism as well as being culturally damaging.

As for the pompous comments about 'the great unwashed', well I'm afraid that we can't discriminate about who we let into our museums and galleries. How frightful it must be for you to have to mix with ordinary people - redolent of the comment which I can't accurately recall about the horrors of having to travel on the Tube with smelly people.

On another note, I was rather shocked to have an entrance fee of (I think) £4.00 compulsorily demanded of me at the entrance to Winchester Cathedral. I think that entrance to churches, including our gereat cathedrals and abbeys, should be free, with again the opportunity for donations, and to pay extra for a guided tour. An extension of the free entry policy to these great churches would be a vote winner. (Yes, I do appreciate that this is a C of E matter but think that the govt should provide funding to mee costs.)

(A pedant writes: There's only one 'l' in 'instalment'.)

Old BE said...

what a pointless argument to get into! why raise the issue now?

Nich Starling said...

I agree. I would guess this is the sort of stry that could go in any Focus leaflet pointing out how the Tories never change.

David Anthony said...

This I don't have much of a problem with. Museums are businesses too, if charging visitors will allow them to enhance the experience then why shouldn't we allow them too.

A nice concession would be to allow under-16s to enter for free however.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks this is a remotley good idea should have a look at the comments box at the Mail site. These are your voters, and they ain't happy. I imagine an urgent "clarification" is being drafted in CCHQ as I type...

Anonymous said...

As a working class child from quite a poor family, I was a frequent visitor to my local museum/ art gallery. This, the only culture/history I ever encountered as a child, inspired me to educate myself.

Now I'm a degree educated business owner and local historian. Who's to say what I would have become if I hadn't been able to visit that museum.

My family could not have afforded entrance fees.

Anonymous said...

P45 for Mr Swire

Sir Compton Valence said...

Museums and galleries do complain that they no longer have the money to acquire new works but, on balance, the greater good has been served by making admissions free. I can't really believe the Tories are serious about this, it really would be a turn-off.

Anonymous said...

Tamzin, for all our sakes, please pass this on.

Once more Dave:

1. Do not start a fight you do not have to.
2. Do not fight a battle you cannot win.
3. Do not reinforce failure.
4. When your enemy is making a mistake do not interrupt him - notice the silence that your more "amusing" policy statements are met by.
5. Does the name Custer have any meaning for you?

Surely Eton had a cadet force?
I remain available for interview.

Old BE said...

Sniper is quite correct!

Why make announcements which won't go down well with a lot of people when there's so much other important stuff to be talking about!?!??!?!?!

Anonymous said...

This is a good policy, museums are currently beholden to the government for money every time they want a new box of pens, but it will be very hard to sell. We should probably give this one a miss for now.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest we stop sending Prince Bandar £30m/year

but "WE" don't. It is Saudi money.

They buy equipment on cost-plus, the plus is then paid to the commission agents.

I think we should refuse to buy houses unless the sellers stop paying estate agents

Anonymous said...

Museums and galleries do complain that they no longer have the money to acquire new works

NO. They claim they now have Unrelieved VAT because they cannot offset VAT liability against end-user revenues. This is the reason.

They should lose ALL national public funding and survive on User Fees and Council Taxes.....London could levy a Corporate Profits Tax on all London businesses....after all the Lottery is for the Olympic Dome

Anonymous said...

Tony Blair is about to sign up for the EU constitution without a referendum, and all the tories want to talk about is museum entrance fees?

It appears to me that DC and chums are NuLAb infiltrators, with a mission to undermine the Conservatives.

Anonymous said...

thank goodness Cameron has got something right at last. why should my tax revenues be used to pay for the overseas tourists and ill educated to trample around our museums. The fact is that most of us who have any understanding of the arts, would not mind paying a few pound if we could walk around a museum, or gallery, without hordes of the great unwashed blathering on with their inane comments about some of our great pieces of art. This sounds horribly elitist to some - but art is not supposed to be about the masses - leave that to that ghastly Big Brother show.

Anonymous said...

of course Cameron is Nu Labour. Hes now trying to out Brown on international development and on so called climate change. they are all hideous crypto socialists -no tax cuts, more money for the bloated and inefficient public "services", and cosying up to minority interests against the wishes of the majority - hideous.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So when are the efforts of their new spin doctor Coulson going to kick in?

Anonymous said...

just goes to prove what bunch of tossers the conservative party are.

Bliar about to sign away more of our liberty and this shower are devoting time to debating museum charges.
bye bye

Anonymous said...

The minister who introduced no museum charges (sorry, can't remember the name), was interviewed on Radio (3?) the other day. The interviewer made the point that abolishing admission fees was intended to encourage poorer people to visit museums, and that hadn't happened. The socio-economic profile of museum visitors is the same as it was before entry charges were abolished.

hatfield girl said...

Bargello (State Musem of Sculpture):6 euros; Uffizi (no definition needed):8 euros; Accademia (Davide):6 euros; others (quite staggering but too numerous to list) 4-8 euros; churches: mostly free (except for San Lorenzo, Duomo, and Carmine) yet literally painted from end to end and side to side with masterworks.

Other cities, more or less the same rule of thumb - if internationally out of sight famous then you pay.

No moaning, no protests, should be the same here.

Anonymous said...

hordes of the great unwashed blathering on with their inane comments about some of our great pieces of art

Wasn't it the late, great Peter Cook who observed, contemplating Canova's Three Graces, that "their bottoms seem to follow you around the room"?

Anonymous said...

Anon says "This sounds horribly elitist to some - but art is not supposed to be about the masses "

How very wrong you are. Art is for all. You can never really 'own' art. Everyone benefits from culture and it is pig ignorant to think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Come down to the real world from your liberal/middle class ivory towers.

The truth is that the "unwashed masses" aren't the slightest bit interested in visiting art galleries and museums. I should know, I am one and so are all my friends and family.

Now put an entrance charge on going to the boozer and we'd be rioting in the streets.

Anonymous said...

I agree with chav brickie.

Anonymous said...

This is an important and earth shaking new policy!
At this time when the country has no pressing problems it is essential to bring this disgraceful matter to the fore. Never mind the footling matter of Europe, of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the parlous state of the NHS. Let us focus on inported timber and museums - the real vote getters.


Anonymous said...

What do we think is the profile of people who visit museuems etc now they are free but did not visit them when there was an admission charge? The great unwashwed? I think not. The self-styled cultural etiles? I think not. Go take a look at the galleries for yourselves. They are now full of young families; aspirational types who want better futures for their children. People who liked Gordon Brown when they thought he was prudent, etc etc. Now, sorry, remind me... what is the profile of the people we have to convince to vote for us in order to win the election? Hugo Swire: nul points.

Anonymous said...

of course you can own art - what you cannot "own" are the ideas and history on which much great art is based. The reality is, the vast majority of working people just dont get it (neither do most middle class suburbanites either - as we can see from this blog). They, really are better off in their own "reality", which, as chav brickie attests, is down the pub, (probably watching Big Brother). As I said, Cameron got this right, because for all his silly posturing to the lowest common denominator, his class background still occasionally shines through.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, it's a U-turn! They've flipflopped again. As you were, chaps, Swire has now rushed out a statement to say no reimposition of charges, committed to free entry, etc. So I can still have a free day out and look at some nice things.

I'm impressed by these carefully co-ordinated statements of Conservative policy.

Anonymous said...

The Telegraph has a vendetaa against Cameron - so I would like to hear what DC really thinks about this matter.

Spin doctor - start spinning.

Anonymous said...

vendetta too

Anonymous said...

As Dylan Thomas said: " Museums should be in museums".
If charging causes wives to think twice about a visit, the long-suffering hubby will be very grateful.

Anonymous said...

"We do not want to ban free admissions, but we believe museums and galleries should have the right to charge if they wish. "

Why not go the whole hog and slaughter the first born ? As the old saying goes, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. I went to a talk by John Tusa a couple of weeks ago, and it is already difficult to raise the profile of the arts. If charges are introduced it will be impossible.

People are already free to be philanthropic and patronise the arts through trust funds and the like. This just allows opponents to pin the 'artless philistines' label back on the Tories and must be resisted at all costs.

Anonymous said...

John Tusa is supposed to be advising Cameron!

Tory HQ needs an overhaul.

I want to believe Cameron when he says the Tory Party has changed - that they are more inclusive. But the problem lies with his party -its members.

Anonymous said...

Yet another arguement that need not have been had (e.g like the whole Grammar School debate).

If Dave wants to get rid of free entry to museums - just do it after he gets elected. The fact is that the only people who will complain are those who will vote Tory anyway.

As for the so called 'working class' people who could not afford to go if it were not for free I suppose that suggesting that people give up their Sky box and the season ticket to Man Utd is out of the question?

By the way before anyone starts shouting at me for being a middle class Tory voter - my sister lived on benefits in London for a decade in a council house on an estate with regular drugs raids so I think I know what deprivation means and it is not about being unable to get into museums free.

Richard Gadsden said...

The real pleasure of free admission, for me, is that I can pop in to a gallery in my lunch hour, spend forty minutes looking at one or two exhibits and then come back a few days later to look at another section.

If I was paying, then I'd feel obliged to get my money's worth and spend several hours in the gallery to look at all the exhibits, and so wouldn't just wander in for a flying visit.

Anonymous said...

canvas said...

The Telegraph has a vendetaa against Cameron - so I would like to hear what DC really thinks about this matter.

Spin doctor - start spinning.

Make him a cuppa and give him a kick in the shins, then I'm sure he'll oblige

Anonymous said...

Dave Bartlett: that surprises me. I used to do holiday work at a national museum during the period they were phasing free entry in and certainly noticed a difference. I guess it must depend on the nature of the museum and the attitude it takes.

Anonymous said...

Hugo Swire should be sacked.

Not just because his comments were unnecessary and distracting: he also embodies a tone, a temper, of everything that is wrong with unreconstructed Toryism.
It's been said before that while Margaret Thatcher won the 'economic' wars, the left emerged victorious on the cultural/social front.
If we are serious about 'setting people free', encouraging responsibility, forging new alliances with disaffected AB voters etc., Tories have to confront and defeat the left's ideological dominance on cultural/social issues.
Free access to museums (and a generous new acquisitions fund) should be be part of an all-embracing effort to roll back the left's agenda in schools and universities.
Tories should champion:

* Free access to museums
* Free higher education
* Free libraries

Because we value a civilised, well-educated Britain.

Tories want higher standards in schools which changes peoples lives for the better.

By these yardsticks we oppose dumbing down, we want more opportunities for more people to learn and here's the crunch: we support extra funding for education and the arts at the expense of New Labour waste and political corruption.

It's not families who visit to museums who need to be clobbered by Swire stealth taxes, but overpaid publc sector quangocrats and the armies of Swire-type consultants who have grown mega rich under New labour.

Why does Swire want to bash the decent?

Would Swire prefer to tax private equity millionaires or mums and dads who want their children to know more?

Anyone wanting to know why the Tory Party is still struggling need look no further than the Swire style.

Anonymous said...

Given that a rather annoyingly large portion of my taxes goes to fund things I have no interest in, services I don't use, and people I would find offputting if I had to meet them (and, let us not dicriminate, would hate me) I rather like the fact that a tiny amount subsidises the free provision of stuff I like.

The best bit is that I can defend it and sound all democratic.