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Can Liz Truss hold on to her marbles?

7 October 2022

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

It has been a busy week for the new British prime minister. Not content with taking on the ‘anti-growth coalition’ (those pesky podcasters), Liz Truss also seems to have positioned her selves against the Greeks. While it is customary to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, it is quite another thing to be rude when you have already stashed the good stuff in your nation’s best closet.

Indulge Rakewell as we wade through the quagmire of recent discussions of the Parthenon marbles by Conservative politicians. It begins, of course, with Boris Johnson. As a student, he was only too happy to pen articles claiming it was insupportable for the United Kingdom to keep the sculptures. Indeed, his reverence for them was so great that he made a point of displaying in his office a bust of the leader responsible for the building of the Parthenon itself: Pericles. When it came to policy, however, Johnson was more reluctant to let other people have nice things and came out against the return of the marbles to Athens. Things became more complicated when former chancellor George Osborne, now chair of the British Museum, said on the Andrew Marr show that ‘there was a deal to be done on the marbles’.

This unexpected comment held out an olive branch to Athens and the promise that it would soon have its heart’s desire. But, equally unexpectedly, Truss has now told GB News that she does not support their return. It may be surprising that a prime minister has been so adamant in her position. Traditionally, both the government and the BM have enjoyed hiding behind each other to avoid declaring what they are actually going to do. Thank goodness Truss has cleaned up this mess (rather as the museum cleaned the sculptures in 1938 – and we all know how that turned out). She clearly learned a lot in her previous role as Britain’s top diplomat.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.