Iain Dale thinks that this morning’s news that the Tories are considering reintroducing charges for Britain’s national museum is a surefire vote loser. The policy shift – being investigated by the arts taskforce set up by David Cameron and under former Barbican chief Sir John Tusa – would certainly risk offending those very middle class ‘Waitrose voters‘ that Project Cameron has done so much to woo. The Mail on Sunday mischievously presents the policy as more or less settled and gives Tessa Jowell the opportunity to denounce the idea as a "return to Thatcherism". The reality (according to an adviser to Hugo Swire who spoke to me this morning) is that the party does not plan to decide its view on the issue until the autumn when the Tusa committee makes its recommendations. The danger in the intervening time period – as with all of the interim policy review reports – is that scare tactics like those from Jowell will start to gain credibility.
Allowing museums to charge for entry would not amount to a return to a free market approach to arts funding that would have appealed to the late Terry Dicks. Sir John and his committee are apparently concerned that museums have not been given the level of compensatory support that they were promised by Chris Smith when, as Labour’s first Culture Secretary, admission charges were abolished and the large increase in museum visiting took off. A new ‘national purchasing fund’ is also under consideration so that Britain’s museums and galleries can more adequately compete in the global market to secure works of art.