Last month I had the privilege of being a guest of the directors of the Tate at a dinner in London marking the opening of a new exhibition entitled Painting with Light – Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age. I was invited as Moderator of the Free Church because we have loaned them one of our great treasures – Octavius Hill’s Disruption painting. It was a fascinating evening at the heart of the British Establishment, because make no mistake the arts establishment is the Establishment.
It is the chairmen of companies, the principals of universities and the graduates of Eton, Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge who are largely the patrons and controllers of the arts. And this is not just true of the arts. The political, economic, media, educational and arts establishments are all just sub-branches of the same establishment. We see this in so many ways and in my view it is leading to a dangerous democratic deficit.
One example is illustrated by the recent furore surrounding the extraordinary call of Kathy Warwick, CEO of the Royal College of Midwives to allow abortion up to full term, without consulting her members. Not only does this illustrate the increasing tendency of our elites to decide what to do first and then “consult” afterwards, but it shows how incestuous the Establishment is. Kathy Warwick is also chair of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service that support this policy.
Another example is the whole question of the EU referendum debate. At the Tate dinner one of the speakers made a reference to the EU debate that made it perfectly clear that the Establishment are totally against a Brexit. The Tate receives funding and support from the EU. Meanwhile a student from Edinburgh University told me they had received a visit in their halls from the university urging her to vote to stay in the EU. British university principals are of course strongly in support of the EU – after all they receive over €900 million in support. Meanwhile bosses of companies who get subsidies from the EU send their workers letters warning about the loss of jobs. Scientific research companies send out YouTube videos and social media posts about the threat to scientific funding to their staff, which is then usually passed on. You see the pattern. I have yet to receive anything pro-EU that does not come from organisations funded by the EU.
But what about NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) such as charities? Surely they are independent and offer independent advice? The EU gives €2 billion per year to NGOs. He who pays the piper calls the tune. One example is the refugee’s charity – International Rescue Committee that received £23m from the EU. It’s chairman, David Miliband, recently spoke out against Boris Johnson and in favour of the EU. Doubtless the fact that the £23m from the EU helped cover his £400,000 annual salary was a factor. The trouble is that whilst many larger charities are non-government, they are not non-Establishment. It is difficult to see how an organisation can call itself an independent charity if it relies on government finance to fund itself.
Perhaps we need a new Disruption? One where the cosy cabals of the elites are challenged by the re-establishment of a democracy based on an equal, educated and engaged electorate who genuinely get to choose our own leaders. Or maybe we should just get on with eating our cake and let our betters run the show?
• David Robertson, www.solas-cpc.org