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Chris Grayling, culture vulture – and NPG trustee

29 May 2020

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

This week, Boris Johnson carved out time in his busy schedule to appoint two new trustees of the National Portrait Gallery. One of these is Chris Grayling, the member of parliament who served as justice secretary under David Cameron and transport secretary under Theresa May, and who is fondly known around the world as ‘Failing Grayling’.

Cue plenty of consternation on Twitter. But Rakewell is at pains to point out that Grayling must know the institution like the back of his hand, having served as an ex-officio trustee while he was leader of the House of Commons and lord president of the council from May 2015 until July 2016. So he must have sat in on discussions about the NPG’s ambitious capital project, new acquisitions and so on, right?

It seems not. The minutes of trustee board meetings during Grayling’s first stint as an NPG trustee show that he attended only one of six board meetings held in that period, in November 2016. Perhaps he’s desperate to find out what he was missing out on!

There’s little information available online to confirm Grayling’s passion for museums. But museum-going is a private pursuit for many of us, so Rakewell is happy to give him the benefit of the doubt there. Still, a member of parliament with a strong interest in the museum sector will surely have spoken up for it prominently in parliamentary debates, won’t he?

Alas, the good reporters of Hansard must have missed these heartfelt interventions. Grayling has uttered the words ‘museum’ or ‘museums’ but twice in the House of Commons during his 19 years as a member of parliament. In December 2015 he answered a question about how proposed changes to the EU firearms directive might affect collections of historic firearms; and the previous month he said that he ‘would hope and expect our great national museums and other institutions to play their part in supporting our regions as well as being centres of national excellence.’ Well, it’s a start.

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