I’m not a fan of the British Conservative Party on the whole. But most long established organisations have both good and bad in their history, and the Tories have had their moments that command respect. And certainly as a body of people they aren’t uniformly bad. It is unfortunate that right at the moment they seem to be fielding not so much their B team but more a group of chancers that would normally have been shown the door long ago.
But even with this in mind, the recent statement by the Culture Minister Oliver Dowden comparing returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece as comparable to asking for the return of the Bayeux Tapestry is extraordinary. As anyone with even a modest knowledge of English history will know, the tapestry is in Normandy where it was made. It has never been taken anywhere against the will of the Normans. And even from a nationalistic frame of mind, is the story of an English defeat. If it had been created in England and later shipped abroad it is hardly something the narrow minded English chauvenist ought to be asking to be brought back.
But his faux pas does sort of illustrate something. Imagine for a moment that there was some artefact of English history that had been filched at some point. For example, if during the brief spell in the mid 12th century when London was occupied by a french claimant to the English throne the Magna Carta had been sent to Paris, wouldn’t we legitimately want it back? I’d say that we certainly would and would be quite justified in that desire.
As it is, the English Channel has given us a pretty strong immunity to such humiliations over the centuries. I can’t think of anything comparable to the Elgin Marbles that is in the hands of any other country. But it’s a good thought experiment. Surely we can’t imagine that the Greeks are less proud of their heritage than we are of ours. And on top of that, we share a big chunk of our heritage with the Greeks. I enjoy looking at the marbles when I am in London. But it would be a much better experience in their natural home in Athens. I can’t imagine the current invertebrates that pass for Tories having the necessary class to return them. But I hope we get some politicians capable of seeing the bigger picture some day soon.