George Osborne – who oversaw sweeping austerity measures during his reign as chancellor of the exchequer from 2010-2016 – has been appointed as the new chair of the British Museum in London.
He will join the board of trustees on 1 September and will succeed Richard Lambert as chair from 4 October. The museum's 25 trustees unanimously approved his appointment, following an independent search process for “a leader with a global perspective, with a demonstrable interest in culture and history, and a commitment to engaging local, national, and international audiences”.
Osborne has been a long-time member of the Conservative Party and started his political career working on John Major’s unsuccessful 1997 re-election campaign. He was elected as MP for Tatton, Cheshire, in 2001 and was a crucial part of David Cameron’s cabinet during the coalition government of 2010-2015.
Museums suffered a 13% cut in public funding between 2007 and 2017 as a result of austerity measures, according to the 2017 Mendoza Review.
Osborne ruled out standing as a candidate in the 2016 Conservative Party leadership election, triggered when Cameron stood down following the Brexit referendum, and returned to the backbenches under Terresa May’s leadership.
In 2017, he announced he would not stand for re-election in the general election of the same year, and instead moved to journalism, serving as editor of the Evening Standard newspaper until last year. He is currently a partner at Robey Warshaw investment bank and chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
“I am very happy to welcome George Osborne as our chair,” said the British Museum’s director Hartwig Fischer. “George Osborne knows the museum well and values the trust the museum enjoys around the world.
"He understands the active role the British Museum is playing in the recovery of the country, creating opportunities for everyone to discover the collection as their own – onsite, through loans to their local museums and online.”
The appointment has prompted some criticism among museum commentators on social media.
Chris Garrard, the co-director of Culture Unstained, which campaigns to end oil sponsorship of culture, said: "The appointment of George Osborne as chair is completely out of touch. As chancellor, he gave huge tax breaks to oil firms like BP with the aim of maximising the amount of oil and gas they would extract from the North Sea, as well as companies intent on fracking across the British countryside.
“And at the same time, he was making huge cuts to funding for museums and the culture sector. The British Museum urgently needed a chair with the experience to meaningfully engage with colonial legacies and climate change. Instead it has chosen yet another establishment white man whose main experience of the museums sector is decimating it."