Public history is being altered in the UK through removing statues, renaming streets, and changing school curricula without a rigorous and non-partisan process, a British conservative think tank has warned.
A paper (pdf) written by broadcaster Trevor Phillips and released by the Policy Exchange think tank on Monday said there has been “widespread national concern about the growing trend to alter public history and heritage without due process.”
“In many cases the alteration of public history is taking place—whether through the removal of statues, the renaming of streets, the reevaluation of school curricula or the removal of museum exhibits—without a rigorous and non-partisan approach having been taken,” the report said.
The think tank said decision-makers should not give in to pressure groups, and should not “unduly be influenced by what may be temporary shifts in public sentiment or taste.”
Instead, any alteration can take place “only when a clear and positive case for change has been established, due regard having been paid to the views and wishes of the institution’s supporters, including taxpayers; to the interests of present and future generations; and to the legacies of past generations.”
The report, which has been submitted to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), also said that “overwhelming support” for change should be provable, whether that is changes to a school motto or the removal of a public statue.
The report recommended that whoever was making decisions over “reinterpreting the past” should be clear, while any changes must be lawful, that public institutions “can ultimately be held to account by the relevant secretary of state.”
At a Conservative Party Conference fringe event on Oct. 5, he warned that some cultural organisations were “responding too much to this noisy and aggressive brigade of activists” who criticised aspects of British history.
“Organisations need robust leadership to stand up to that aggressive campaigning because ultimately they need to be careful. If they go too woke, they risk going broke and they just need to tread that line very carefully,” Dowden said. “They have to demonstrate why they justify the funding.”
The Policy Exchange report was endorsed by leaders of three museums, including Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum, and the Museum of the Home.
Sir Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum, called the report “a resoundingly reasonable guide to achieving change that is thoughtful and sustainable, rather than anxious and panicked.”
PA contributed to this report.