How Oliver Dowden turned secretary of state for the tradition wars

When the Museum of the House in London’s Shoreditch needed to take away the statue of the slave shipowner Sir Robert Geffrye that adorns the entrance of its constructing, the charity’s trustees acquired a robust warning from the tradition secretary.

“The federal government believes that it’s at all times reliable to look at and debate Britain’s historical past, however that eradicating statues, paintings and different historic objects just isn’t the correct strategy,” Oliver Dowden wrote to the board final summer season. “As a government-funded organisation, I might anticipate you to be conscious of the above strategy.”

The museum trustees, who had expressed issues concerning the Geffrye’s continued presence in a racially numerous space following the Black Lives Matter protests, reluctantly selected to maintain the statue – and prevented any authorities risk to their funding.

The incident is yet one more second within the public rise of Dowden – a frequent foot soldier within the “tradition wars”.

His profile has grown in parallel with Boris Johnson’s willingness to mobilise the federal government machine behind divisive subjects that fill the day’s headlines and let ministers rail in opposition to “woke” insurance policies – and draw a cultural dividing line with Labour.

Within the 16 months since he was unexpectedly promoted to the cupboard, Dowden has warned museums to “retain and clarify” controversial statues, efficiently argued the BBC ought to hold the lyrics from Land of Hope and Glory on the Final Evening of the Proms, and made the unprecedented determination to intervene within the choice for the England cricket group by expressing remorse over the choice to drop Ollie Robinson over historic racist tweets.

He has additionally ordered the union flag to be flown on UK authorities buildings day by day, blocked reappointments of government-appointed trustees to museum boards who have been deemed to be hostile, and relaunched your complete hiring course of for the chair of media regulator Ofcom after the federal government’s most popular candidate, the previous Day by day Mail editor Paul Dacre, didn’t make the minimize.

Folks rightly anticipate the union flag to be flown above UK Authorities buildings.

Now that may occur day by day except one other flag is being flown – serving as a proud reminder of our historical past and the ties that bind us.

— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) March 24, 2021

Final 12 months, Dowden even wrote to Netflix to ask the streaming firm to place a warning at first of episodes of The Crown stating that occasions within the drama is probably not strictly traditionally correct. The intervention was uncommon as a result of his predecessors had allowed the earlier three collection of the present to go on air with out feeling the necessity to demand such a warning, however it acquired optimistic protection in right-leaning retailers and elevated Dowden to the entrance pages.

“Ministers are understanding an increasing number of what Johnson desires,” mentioned Matthew D’Ancona, who has produced a podcast on Downing Avenue’s perspective to tradition conflict points. “He desires them to come back out on broadcast and social media on these points and to not maintain again.”

Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory are highlights of the Final Evening of the Proms

Share issues of many about their potential elimination and have raised this with @BBC

Assured forward-looking nations don’t erase their historical past, they add to it

— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) August 24, 2020

The shock is that it’s “Olive” Dowden – as he’s universally recognized in Westminster owing to an early-career typo – a remain-supporting ex-David Cameron aide, who has develop into the face of this marketing campaign. Many fellow Tory MPs speculate his ambition will likely be rewarded with an even bigger job in a forthcoming reshuffle.

A part of Dowden’s energy lies in his division’s monetary patronage. Final summer season he secured £2bn in funding for the humanities business and helped negotiate schemes to assist the movie business return to work, successful plaudits from a enterprise that’s usually hostile to the Tories. What the humanities sector won’t have realised on the time is that the federal government felt this can be a two-way transaction.

“It’s odd to suppose {that a} tradition secretary isn’t allowed to have a view on tradition,” mentioned a person who works with Dowden, who emphasised that the minister nonetheless lived near the a part of suburban Hertfordshire the place he grew up, arguing this implies he’s extra in contact with the views of Conservative voters. “In the event you’re giving that a lot taxpayer’s cash to the humanities then we needs to be ensuring these organisations symbolize individuals … That is about representing the views of the individuals who elected us.”

Dowden has not commented on the choice by a bunch of College of Oxford college students to take down an image of the Queen from their frequent room wall. However viewers might in all probability guess which aspect of the controversy he stands on, based mostly on his workplace decor. After he made a tv look in entrance of a giant portrait of the monarch, the Day by day Specific ran an article with the headline: “BBC Breakfast viewers baffled by Oliver Dowden’s image of Queen.”

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