Culture wars stepped up with blocked appointment

The government appears to be stepping up what has been called the “culture war” over non-approval of appointments to public body boards.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden’s failure to reappoint Dr Aminul Hoque, a Goldsmith’s College lecturer, to the board of the Royal Museums Greenwich has led to the resignation of the board’s chair, the Carphone Warehouse founder Sir Charles Dunstone.

Hoque, a third generation Bangladeshi from east London whose particular interest is in multicultural issues, social justice, youth policy, religion and race relations, is in Goldsmith’s education studies department, and the blocking of his reappointment is believed to be because of  his advocating of “decolonising” the national curriculum. He said he was “shocked, disappointed and baffled” at his removal.

The government’s move also seems to have puzzled its own public appointments commissioner Peter Riddell who told The Guardian that ministers had “actively sought to appoint allies to the boards of public bodies”, adding “What is different now is the breadth of the campaign and the close engagement of 10 Downing Street”.

Last year, following the Black Lives matter demonstration which saw protestors remove the statue of a slave trader in Bristol and demands for the removal of a statue to Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University, Dowden threatened to cut funding to museums and galleries that removed statues associated with British colonialism. “As publicly funded bodies you should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “The significant support that you receive from the taxpayer is an acknowledgment of the important cultural role you play for the entire country”.

Also ast year the government attempted to bar the appointment of Dame Mary Beard, the Cambridge University classic professor as a trustee of the British Museum because of her anti-Brexit views, but failed. 

The government has particularly targeted Channel 4, most recently the reappointment of two women trustees was vetoed by the culture department. In 2016 the then culture secretary Karen Bradley blocked the appointment of former Arts Council deputy CEO Althea Efunshile, who was appointed a year later after the ensuing public row.

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