Rees-Mogg: Review of Parliament’s art collection must not be subject to wokeism

A review of Parliament’s art collection should not be “overwhelmed by wokeism”, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.

Tory MP Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) urged the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art not to “edit, rewrite and impose woke contemporary interpretations of history” on the more than 9,000 works of art dating back to the 1840s, when the newly rebuilt Palace of Westminster was opened, in an upcoming review.

The committee, established in 1954, is a cross-party group of MPs, appointed by the Commons Speaker, to advise on the use and management of the Parliamentary Art Collection.

Conservative MP Richard Holden (North West Durham) later said the parliamentary authorities were “bending the knee” to a “woke political agenda”, an apparent reference to the symbol of protest adopted by American sports stars against racism in the US.

Coronavirus – Tue Jul 21, 2020
Coronavirus – Tue Jul 21, 2020

Mr Holden said: “We all want to see the very best of Britain showcased in this Parliament and the context of historical pieces.

“However, does (Mr Rees-Mogg) agree with me that at this time of the global coronavirus pandemic, Parliament can do better than following a panicked Labour-led Durham County Council in bending the knee to a woke political agenda?”

Responding during business questions, Mr Rees-Mogg quoted William Shakespeare’s Richard II, as he told the Commons: “We should take, as I said before, pride in this ‘royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, this Earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise. This fortress built for nature by herself against infection and the hand of war.

“‘This happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea, which serves it in the office of a wall, or as a moat defensive to a house, against the envy of less happier lands, this blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England’.”

He continued: “Had William Shakespeare lived in a later day, he would have said ‘this United Kingdom’ because that is what we should take pride in. And no, we should most certainly not be overwhelmed by wokeism.

“And you may wonder why I read that quotation today, well it is National Poetry Day, so I thought it was only appropriate that we have a proper quotation and we stand up for our great nation.”

Deputy Commons Speaker Nigel Evans remarked to MPs: “I hope this is going out on Sky Arts. Wonderful isn’t it?”

The Oxford English Dictionary website defines the term woke as someone who is “alert to injustice in society, especially racism” and has gained prominence in recent years, partly due to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Earlier, Ms Morrissey asked Mr Rees-Mogg: “Does my right honourable friend agree that a review of the Parliamentary Art Collection should be an opportunity to celebrate Parliament’s rich and central role in the nation’s history and heritage rather than a political exercise to edit, rewrite and impose woke contemporary interpretations of history on a place of such national importance?”

Responding for the Government, Mr Rees-Mogg told the Commons: “We should take such pride in the history that is displayed through the art in this House.

“It may be a slightly Whiggish view of history, but you go into committee room 10 and there is Alfred the Great defeating the Danes – starting our great island story.

“As you walk from here (the Commons) to the House of Lords, you see on the walls the whole process of the Civil War.”

He added: “It is something that we should be proud of, for we are a great nation, a successful nation, one of the greatest nations this world has ever seen.

“And we have done so much good not just at home but abroad, and we should be proud of that and we should recognise that how we have recorded our history, how forefathers have done, is something that we should not dispose of.”