By Jim Pickard
The National Gallery, Hadrian’s Wall and the whole of Bath will be free from bombardment from opposition forces – up to a point – under proposals to give heritage buildings special protection in the event of a war.
This unlikely proposition was in a draft bill published on Monday by the culture department. It marks the belated signing up by the UK to the Hague Convention of 1954, which aimed to prevent a repeat of the widespread cultural devastation – think Dresden – which took part in the second world war.
One successful prosecution has already taken place under the convention when a Yugoslav commander attacked Dubrovnik’s Old Town in Croatia during its 1991 siege. Meanwhile the UK will not be allowed to store any military hardware among the crypts and chambers of its favourite heritage sites.
And, in return, it will have to avoid striking at the cultural centres of its enemies during wartime.
Cynics might point out that the 100 or so signatories to the convention are among the least likely to engage in warfare with the UK in the future. The converse is also true.
The bill is one of two faintly surreal initiatives this week from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The other is a briefing on Thursday morning in which Sir Brian McMaster, an arts grandee, will seek to explain the meaning of the word "excellence".
He was given his brief by James Purnell, culture secretary, who wanted to change the previous culture of arts groups winning funding through box-ticking of issues such as access. Instead, Parnell wants funding to bear closer comparison with the quality of the groups’ work.
The only problem … how to define good art. How do you compare the worthiness of the Chapman Brothers, for example, with Tracey Chapman?
W3C, the computer in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when asked about the Meaning of Life, came up with the answer "42". No doubt Sir Brian will come up with a more extensive – but not necessarily more sensible – answer.