I met Ed Vaizey on Thursday, the Oxfordshire MP and shadow arts minister who turned out to be as personable as everyone says he is (you’ll be able to read what he said in the next British Archaeology). Having never in my life voted Conservative, I struggle with exactly what I will do when the general election comes round, but I find it difficult in my heart to support the current government. Still, on what I’ve heard Vaizey say, and on what he said to me, I’d prefer him to the present arts minister, not least for his publicly standing up for the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Slightly mischievously, I asked Vaizey how long he thought there had been people in Britain (he’d been telling me how he supported a Museum of British History that began with the Romans). His answer (I’d expected something like it), was… 10,000 years. Now I know us archaeologists keep changing the story – when I wrote my first trade book, it was 500,000 years, and it’s currently 700,000 – but that’s a long way off.
Yet I don’t blame Vaizey. He’s an educated man, a journalist and broadcaster with an Oxford degree in history who, as the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins has pointed out, engages actively with the arts world. If people like him have little understanding of our deep past, the blame has to lie largely at the feet of archaeologists. We should be writing the stories and books, making the films, teaching the classes, that make the multicultural millennia of our islands’ story part of our story now. Clearly we’re not there yet.
Like me, Vaizey had applied for a place on the plinth. Sadly, he didn’t get one (yet). A potential minister prepared to put himself right into the arts that way – even if, as he admitted, he had no idea what he would have done – has my vote.