The government’s ‘anti-woke’ agenda and the future of the arm’s length principle — Ed Vaizey

Wednesday 27 October 2021
4:00pm - 5:00pm
Online event
Lectures and seminars

In this event organised by the Centre for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage, Ed Vaizey will draw on his experience of working with museums as a Conservative Minister of Culture.

In 2020, Oliver Dowden the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport issued new guidance to national museums and other arm’s length bodies on how to deal with ‘contested heritage’.

The guidance has become known as ‘retain and explain’ and has been implemented through linking it to management agreements and future funding settlements and subsequently through a requirement that all incoming and reappointed trustees ‘individually and explicitly express their support’ for the new policy.

Ed Vaizey, drawing on his experience of working with national museums as a Conservative Minister of Culture (2010-2016), came out publicly to question the government’s approach:

“I’m very concerned by the direction of travel of the government’s ‘anti-woke’ agenda. It’s one thing to have a bit of fun to feed the tabloids, quite another to start issuing directions to arm’s length bodies. It is a serious breach of the arm’s length principle, an attack on their independence and scholarship, and hugely damaging to morale at a time when the sector is already on its knees. It will have damaging long-term consequences if what were once curatorial decisions are taken over by ministers.”

In this event we have invited Ed Vaizey to reflect on the last 18 months taking a particular focus on the implications for the arm’s length principle.

Find out more

Find out more about the event, including booking details, on the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies website.


Creative Commons ‘Black Lives Matter – The Museum of the Home, Hackney’ by Alan Denney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

One flash point in the government’s development of the ‘retain and explain’ position were the protests related to the Museum of the Home’s ultimate decision to retain the statue of Sir Robert Geffrye, an English merchant who made part of his money from his investment in transatlantic slavery. This picture depicts one of the protests.

Find out more information of the context of the Museum of the Home’s decision.