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The new stakeholders of the Parthenon Marbles dispute

By the end of this year, the two sides in the Parthenon Marbles restitution debate may be very different from what they were a year ago – although apart from that, nothing may have changed.

Earlier this year, Greece got a new government [1] in the form of a coalition led by Syriza. Despite limited success so far in achieving their manifesto goals of removing Greece from the Austerity programme, they are still doing well in the polls. They have yet to speak in any detail [2] about how they plan to deal with the Parthenon Marbles.

In London, Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum announced a few weeks ago that he would be standing down [3] later this year. Various potential candidates have been mentioned in the press and I will try to look at the credentials of some of them in a future post.

Finally, in an unexpected outcome to what the opinion polls told us, Britain has a new government. The Conservative party now has an outright majority, so is no governing alone, without the support of the Liberal Democrats. I will make a more details post on the breakdown of who is in and out of the new British Parliament, but the situation at present does not look particularly promising for restitution cases. You can refer back to my previous post [4], to get a rough idea of where different parties stand on the issue.

David Cameron continues as Prime Minister and has in the past made his anti-restitution credentials clear, both in relation to the Parthenon Marbles [5], and in his responses to questions about other cases such as the Koh-i-Noor diamond [6].

Finally, Britain has a new Minister of Culture, John Whittingdale. His name may well already be familiar to many people, as he has chaired the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee since 2005.

During this time chairing the Select Committee, he has made clear his anti-restitution stance [7] on various occasions in the form of responses to statements and questions about the Parthenon Marbles.

His voting pattern on other issues indicates that he does not follow a particularly progressive line, even when compared to his own party, so we should not expect him to introduce any grand initiatives favouring restitution any time soon.

Once again, this highlights the need for Greece to increase the pressure on the British Government. While this government is in power (for five years, unless something goes badly awry), they are unlikely to make any concessions towards returning the Marbles, unless their hand is forced. In the previous Parliament, DCMS rejected the request for UNESCO mediation [8] and unfortunately, this sort of approach is unlikely to change.

Ed Vaizey continues in in the cabinet as the Minister specifically responsible for culture serving under John Whittingdale.

John Whittingdale, secretary of state for culture, media and sport. [9]

John Whittingdale, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

Art Newspaper [10]

John Whittingdale appointed Culture Secretary
Patrick Steel

Former chairman of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee promoted to cabinet

John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP for Maldon, was today appointed secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

Whittingdale has overall responsibility for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which includes museums and galleries in England.

He was briefly the shadow culture secretary from 2004-05 and has been the chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee since 2005.

A report by the cross-party committee last year called for “greater urgency” in addressing the imbalance in Arts Council England’s funding for London and the English regions, and sought an increased national museum presence outside London.

The report also highlighted the lack of a comprehensive arts policy in England, calling for a “clear overall policy statement by the government” that might guide the arts council’s strategic direction.

Since 2010, the DCMS’s departmental budget has been cut by over £140m while a 50% cut to its administration costs has seen nearly half of the department’s staff made redundant.

Before the election the Conservative Party said it would keep national museums and galleries free to enter and give them greater financial autonomy to use their budgets as they see fit.

Arts funding would be used to support projects in the north of England, including the creation of a new India gallery for Manchester Museum in partnership with the British Museum.

The government is also seeking to make further cuts, with some predicting the DCMS would be cut by as much as 23%, but prior to the election the Conservative Party would not confirm the level of budget reductions it would make.

No announcement has yet been made regarding the post of culture minister, which was occupied by Ed Vaizey in the previous administration.