The Labour MP – I’ll say that again with emphasis, the Labour MP – Tristram Hunt has proposed that we start charging for the national museums and collections, most of which reside in London. Apparently – and if you can’t be bothered to read the whole article, there’s a précis in the news section of The Observer – it’s unfair that local council cuts mean that provincial museums are forced to start charging entrance fees, while national museums still get a subsidy to allow free entry. And furthermore, to quote Mr Hunt,
‘At New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a de facto $20 entrance fee for adults, so why not a fiver for London's great galleries? Would it really undermine our cultural competitiveness?’
Mr Hunt. You’re wrong.
Firstly you’re looking at this from the wrong end of the telescope. All the museums in the country should be free, not the other way around.
My kids go to London museums all the time. A few weeks ago they went to The British Museum on a Saturday morning with their teacher. It was a voluntary school trip. There was no fee, the teacher gave up her free Saturday off her own bat, and the kids loved it. There was no note home asking for a donation, no need for the kids on free school meals to ask for a subsidy, just a brilliant, educative morning out that the kids got loads out of, paid for by central taxation.
Which is what central taxation is for.
The scandal is, my kids only got to do this because they live in London. Every child in the country should be able to visit their local museum, whenever they want, for free. It should be like a library. This is not where I think the cuts should be falling.
Secondly, the fact that the Uffizi, Prado or Met all charge doesn’t give them the moral high ground over us. It does the opposite. Most of the stuff in the national collections doesn’t hail from these shores. Would I feel good about charging Greek Tourists to see the Elgin marbles, or Italian tourists to see Leonardo’s cartoon? No, I wouldn't.
Mr. Hunt, you should be ashamed of yourself.