Controversy over rightwing thinktank dinner at Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum has come under fire for hosting a conference dinner for National Conservatism, an initiative organised by a US-based rightwing thinktank that promotes climate denial and anti-immigration policies.
The private event, which was booked through the museum's commercial arm, was organised by the Edmund Burke Foundation, which describes itself as a public affairs institute founded in 2019 "with the aim of strengthening the principles of national conservatism in Western and other democratic countries".
Critics of the organisation say it it is a populist platform for far-right policies against immigration, climate action and LGBTQ+ rights.
The dinner at the museum followed a day of talks by conservative speakers such as UK home secretary Suella Braverman, former leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and MP Miriam Cates.
Braverman's speech called for tighter migration policies, while Cates' speech has been criticised for referencing "cultural Marxism", which is often described as an antisemitic conspiracy theory. Cates also referred to the low birthrate as being an "existential threat" to Western countries.
A number of museum professionals have expressed concern that the museum accepted an event booking from an organisation whose aims appear to be inconsistent with the museum's own ethical values concerning inclusion and climate action.
Adam Koszary, head of digital at the Audience Agency, tweeted: "Values only matter to national museums until it costs them money. If backtracking means a resulting attack article in the Telegraph, then they won't backtrack."
The case has raised questions for the museum sector about ethics and commercial activities. The Museums Association's Code of Ethics asks museums to: "Carefully consider offers of financial support from commercial organisations and other sources in the UK and internationally and seek support from organisations whose ethical values are consistent with those of the museum. Exercise due diligence in understanding the ethical standards of commercial partners with a view to maintaining public trust and integrity in all museum activities."
However it is unclear whether a museum would put itself at risk of legal action if it denied a service on the basis of political beliefs.
A spokesperson from the Natural History Museum said: "We hire rooms for private events, no museum staff attended this event."
The museum later tweeted: "The Natural History Museum champions diversity, equality and inclusion of all people. We hire rooms in our building to hosts for a range of events but are clear that this is not an endorsement of their products, services or views."
Updated to include a further statement from the Natural History Museum.
I’m sorry, what? Museums are the literal home of conservation of which conservatism is the literal cornerstone. Incredibly weak and sad that some will openly demonish anything linked with anything they don’t politically align with. If it’s not extremely pro-LGBTQ+, it’s anti. If it’s not extreme climate doomslinging, it’s climate change denial. Some people just don’t agree with you, and they want a ‘safe space’ too. Go counter it with something you believe in.
It is laughable that the author of this piece is attempting to tar mainstream conservatives as ‘far right’ antisemites. NHM should take the booking and not complain. It should not matter whether NHM staff attended a mainstream political event such as this. Unfortunately this is what passes for journalism today.
There is a useful report of the conference and political leanings, as well as closure to journalists, by Seth Theroz for Open Democracy here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/inside-national-conservatism-conference-suella-braverman-immigration-wind-farms-rifles/
This article is very useful in drawing attention to the need for greater understanding or discussion around ethics guidelines, such as those quoted above, and decision making around private hire and commercial activity. It is tricky to navigate the commercial need for private hire and assessing the ethics of such hire. Guidance and nuanced understanding from the MA and other policy leaders is helpful, not least in supporting organisations to deal with the fallout of saying no if that is a museum feels that that is the right decision to make.
@Deborah Challis. NHM is funded in very large part by government grant. It takes money from everyone in the country. Therefore it should be available to hire by everyone in the country. End of.
It is scary to me that the MA might have any other position than that.
Not everyone’s on board with the more exaggerated climate change claims (such as human extinction in 20 years) or with mass migration. It doesn’t make those holding such concerns “far right.” It’s disappointing that the MA is resorting to such facile smears against those with legitimate concerns.