British Museum Names Former Chancellor George Osborne as Board Chair

June 25th, 2021

The British Museum has announced investment banker and former Evening Standard editor George Osborne as the new chair of its board of trustees, raising an outcry from those who remember the sweeping cuts he made to the UK’s arts budget when he was chancellor of the exchequer. Osborne, who was unanimously elected to the unpaid post by the museum’s seven-member board, will join the board September 1, succeeding Sir Richard Lambert in the elevated position on October 4.

“Together with my colleagues I look forward to working with George to continue to ensure that the British Museum is the most innovative, accessible, and inspiring museum of the world, for the world,” Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said in a statement.

Others in the British arts world were less sanguine. “After what he did to Britain itself, there’s something truly outrageous about the fact that George Osborne is now chair of the British Museum,” tweeted Guardian arts editor Alex Needham. “In a just world he would be pelted with rotted tomatoes every time he left the house.”

Osborne, in 2001 the youngest Conservative MP ever elected to the House of Commons, in 2010 became chancellor of the exchequer. That same year, as part of the austerity measures he implemented to deal with the government’s debt in the wake of the global financial crisis, he slashed the budget of the Arts Council England by 30 percent, cutting museum budgets by 15 percent. However, in 2015, a year before leaving that office, he was characterized as having “spared” the arts in a spending review, specifically setting aside funds for the British Museum, among other institutions.

“All my life I have loved the British Museum,” said Osborne in a statement, additionally describing himself as “thrilled” to head the institution’s board. “To my mind, it is quite simply the greatest museum in the world. It’s a place that brings cultures together and tells the story of our common humanity.”