A Culture of Fear: Looking Back On A Year of Tories Censoring The Arts

by Niall Walker

 
"The culture war is the dominant policy of the British government"

February 2021 The chair of the Royal Greenwich Museums Group, Sir Charles Dunstone, resigns after ministers block the reappointment of Aminul Hoque, an academic who advocates decolonising the curriculum.

14th April The government vetoes the reappointment of two women to Channel 4’s board of directors, against the recommendations of Ofcom and Channel 4 themselves. It is a move widely seen as motivated by the womens’ political positions.

27th May Ministers scrap the recruitment process for a new Director of Ofcom after the Prime Minister’s favoured candidate - former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre - is rejected by an interview board. A new process begins, allowing Dacre to reapply.

7th June As England begin their Euro 2020 campaign, Boris Johnson refuses to condemn fans for booing the players taking the knee before kick off. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, supports fans’ right to boo ‘gesture politics’.

15th July An art installation in Essex about the UK’s first atomic bomb by Gabriella Hirst is removed after intense pressure from Conservative councillors

A photograph of an abstract sculpture by Antepavilion on the roof of an art studio outdoors
Antepavilion's sculpture was dismantled by police on shaky evidence

The culture war is the dominant policy of the British Government. It is no longer led by the party of neo-liberalism, having taken millions onto the public payroll during the pandemic.

Nor does it represent family values any longer: after all, at its helm is a man who doesn’t know how many children he has.

Instead, a flag-waving crusade on ‘wokeness’, and hostility to any form of alternative culture, is the defining feature of their policy and rhetoric.

At times, it has been enforced through violence. On 25th June, police raided the art studios of Antepavilion in East London and arrested everyone in the building.

On the mistaken pretext of the studio being connected to Extinction Rebellion, they also arrested the building owner, Russell Gray, and raided another of his properties.

 

Related: Homeless Artists And The Whitechapel Centre

 

“I wasn’t best pleased” Gray recalls sardonically, “but that’s what authoritarian governments do. They intimidate the hell out of anyone who dares to keep friends with their political enemies.”

The need to stand up for an equal society, and a democratic and inclusive culture is growing increasingly urgent. The Conservatives, as of writing, enjoy a 12% average poll lead over Labour.

We aren’t yet two years past an election where the Conservatives won 43.9% of the vote - the highest for any party since 1979. But as the shadow of a new election grows ever hotter, we have to expect the imagined enemies of culture to grow larger, more threatening and more targeted.

“It’s getting scary”, says Gray. “‘But if this raises awareness of the importance of human rights, freedom of expression and civil liberties then some good comes of it.”

To support the legal case of Antepavilion, visit antepavilion.org or write to Hackney Council.

(This article was originally published in our print issue, PRECIPICE, in August 2021. Some information may be outdated.)

 

Niall Walker is the founder of Radical Art Review