The political campaign group known as Led by Donkeys projected a film yesterday on to the façade of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) questioning the Conservative summer fundraising party held last night at the South Kensington institution.
The film shown said that “the code of conduct for board members of public bodies like the V&A [issued by the government in 2019] says trustees should be, and be seen to be, politically impartial and not occupy a high-profile role in a political party”. Led by Donkeys says that the chair of the board, Nicholas Coleridge is a Conservative party supporter, while Ben Elliot, a museum trustee, is also co-chair of the Conservative party. The latter also founded the luxury concierge company Quintessentially.
The code of conduct for board members also states that “holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner”. On being reappointed as chair in 2019, Coleridge declared, as required, that “he makes £10,000 donation a year to the Conservative Party”, says the website for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
In May, Coleridge offered a tour of his favourite V&A objects to the highest bidder at a fundraising event for Women2Win, which campaigns to increase the number of female Conservative MPs. A V&A spokesperson says “no special access to the museum was offered”.
Meanwhile, Third Sector, a publication covering the charity and voluntary sector, claims that the Tory fundraising event raises conflict of interest issues because “the V&A is an exempt charity and is subject to both government and Charity Commission guidance which states that ‘even the appearance of a conflict of interest can damage a charity’s reputation, so conflicts must be managed carefully’.”
Tristram Hunt, the director of the V&A, tweeted: “Private venue hire is an important income stream to ensure the V&A stays free & open for everyone & the collections cared for. Political parties are very welcome to rent out spaces on commercial terms. Personally, I hope the Labour Party might one day be in a position to do so.”
A V&A spokesperson adds that the event was a standard corporate venue hire of the museum’s spaces. “None of our trustees were involved in the process of contracting the event. All rates charged for this event were in line with those advertised publicly online, with no special discounts or dispensations,” she says.
“The V&A is partially funded but depends upon other forms of income generation to sustain our programme of exhibitions, events and education work, as well as maintaining our collections and galleries. This income generation includes corporate hire of our venue spaces as well as our membership programme, our temporary exhibitions, retail and sponsorship,” she adds.
Some contributors on Twitter queried however the decision to host the Tory party at the museum. “Just about to renew my V&A membership but have actually pressed pause on that after seeing this video,” said one post. The Politico daily newsletter (London Playbook) reported that “the grand prize at the auction was a dinner with Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron—yes, all together—which went for around £120,000.”
Meanwhile, members of the PCS union branch at the V&A joined a picket outside the London museum during the Conservative Party gala. The demonstration was organised by PCS Culture Group to demand a higher pay rise than the 2% to 3% proposed by the UK government for public culture sector workers, according to Museums Journal.