There should be a term in anthropology for what happens to a certain type of Tory male in middle age. The type who after decades of espousing often unpopular causes suddenly attempts to ingratiate himself with the masses. Ordinarily this breakdown expresses itself in a desire to legalise drugs, but it can take other forms.
Anyway, the moment that George Osborne was made chairman of the British Museum I expected what has come to pass. Osborne has long been a prime candidate for a Tory midlife crisis. He always had too much of the ‘pleaser’ about his personality, despite not being remotely pleasing. But someone who has had a whole stadium’s boos ring in his ears – as Osborne did during the London Olympics – is prone to seek to make a plea deal later.
And if you become the chairman of the British Museum, there is one rather obvious way to try to please. The Elgin Marbles practically sit awaiting the arrival of such a figure. So it is that Osborne has been negotiating a deal to send the Marbles to Athens in the promise that Athens will send some never-before-seen-in-London treasures this way in return.
I know a little of this to-and-fro. Some years ago I was giving a speech at the Onassis Centre in Athens and my hosts arranged some sideline activities. One was to go to the Parthenon and then be shown the new museum that the Greeks had built to host the Marbles should they be returned. My guide seemed to be under the misapprehension that I was a figure of great significance. Specifically, she seemed to be under the misapprehension that it might somehow be in my gift to return the Marbles.