Truly we are in strange times.
Earlier this year, I did the tour of the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, I would recommend it even though it’s part of the standard London tourist trail. The story of the building is fascinating. How and why it got built. The person to thank for it is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the husband and consort of Queen Victoria. This forward-thinking German was a great supporter of public education.
The legacy of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations of 1851, was the Hall and the Museums in that quarter of London. The Crystal Palace was the first World’s Fair. Albert died suddenly in December 1861. Much of the money, coming from the Great Exhibition, that was allocated to build the Hall was spent on his memorial.
On the South Bank of the river Thames lies the legacy of the Festival of Britain. This took place in the summer of 1951. We need to remember that Britain was still in the grips of post-war food rationing at that time. The plan was to celebrate the centennial of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Unlike the Great Exhibition, the Festival of Britain was about promoting British architecture, arts, science, technology and industry. In late 1951, as Churchill was returned as MP, his first move was to clear the South Bank site believing the project to be socialist propaganda.
So, the history of great exhibitions and festivals is a chequered one.
The next World’s Fair is planned for 2020 in the UAE. A site has been chosen between the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 132 Counties, including the UK, have announced their participation in the 2020 World’s Fair.
Today’s Conservative proposal for a 2022 Festival of Britain is strange to say the least. Apparently, funds have been allocated and, in Party conference week, the PM is hoping to appease Brexit supporting MPs with this retro-adventure. Unsurprisingly, Social Media is lighting up with ridicule. Some see Theresa May dressed up as Britannia and handing out goodies to all commers.
Whatever the merits of large exhibitions and festivals surely it makes more sense to have a greater presence in world-wide events than it does to build domestic palaces? If Brexit goes ahead or not, Britain must market what it does. The audience is the world. Shows of nationalism are unlikely to archive any positive or useful goals. Just more division.
This light-weight Conservative proposal is misguided and wasteful.