Richard Evans, Director of Beamish, one of the largest independent museums in the UK, took over as Chair of AIM at the conference last week. In his first contribution to the AIM blog, he reflects on the result of the referendum about Britain’s membership of the EU, which overshadowed the second day of conference.
A strange cloud descended over the AIM conference on its second day – when many a bleary-eyed delegate awoke to what seemed like the surprising news of our Brexit. Some of us hadn’t slept at all.
So far we don’t seem to be very sure this cloud is actually going to produce any rain – for some it appears to have a silver lining – but for others, me included to be honest, it looks pretty dreary – a depressing and at times threatening narrative.
Of course AIM would never presume to try and tell you, our members, how to think. Imagine such a preposterous thing. The fact that the conference clashed with the vote was pure coincidence. We did warn Cameron it could affect turnout if he went for June – but somehow our letter was lost in the post.
Maybe I was bumping into the wrong people at conference – but what I will say is everyone I met on that Friday looked thoroughly “upset”. Rather stronger language was in fact used. The tone and simplistic populism of the debate had saddened so many. Is this really our country now – our home? What next?
There do seem to be lots of risks on the horizon. A possible recession putting even further pressure on public finances, risking further reductions in funding for museums. A leadership crisis in government (and it seems HM Opposition) resulting in a damaging divorce – and possibly the break up of the UK itself.
Most importantly perhaps for most of us – UK consumers could lose confidence – saving more for those rainy days. Putting those day or overnight visits to our museums off for a bit.
Let us hope not. We are an optimistic and resilient lot. And in the interests of balance a low pound does make the UK more attractive to international tourists. Hopefully our near neighbours aren’t so upset with us that they won’t come and visit. A strong pound could also perhaps make holidaying abroad less attractive for UK residents, boosting the ‘staycation’ market.
In the end – my suspicion is not all that much might actually change. We shall see. Call me wrong if you like – but if we can agree that the Free Market is essential for so many reasons it seems we may well end up in a Norway-like situation. Paying in and accepting the rules of the club as we need to play the game – just not willing or able to vote at the AGM where those rules are set.