In what may be a stark indication of morale in the world of archaeology and heritage a survey undertaken in the wake of Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement of a snap general election in the UK, has revealed that just 2% of a sample of 100 heritage professionals, archaeology students and members of the public believe that the outcome of the election will be positive for the UK’s archaeology and heritage [Table 1]. Perhaps of even greater concern is that 40% of the respondents believe the outcome of the election for the sector will be largely negative and an even larger number, 58%, believe that the general election will make no difference to the world of archaeology and heritage, whoever forms the next UK Government on 9 June.
In a similar finding just 17% of the sample thought that environment, archaeology and heritage issues would form part of the debate during the general election, at either a local or a national level [Table 2]
However, the survey does indicate a desire on the part of voters with an interest in archaeology and heritage to take part in the general election and to try to raise issues of concern to the sector. A massive 85% of those responding to thePipeLine’s survey felt that independent bodies representing archaeology and heritage, such as the Council for British Archaeology and the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, should provide information about the various party manifestos as they impact on the archaeology and heritage sector [Table 3]. While the overwhelming majority of the sample felt that this information should remain politically neutral, 16% or respondents felt that such bodies should then proceed to endorse a political party. However, another sizeable minority of 14% of respondents, felt that such bodies should not engage with discussions about the general election at all.
The sample also provided a snap shot of opinion relating to the political priorities of the sector [Table 4]. Considered most important is the issue of the status of EU Environmental regulations post Brexit, which concerns 70% of the sample. Discussion of planning rules was endorsed by 65% of the sample, with specific mention being made of issues such as, what are argued to be, inappropriate planning consents around registered battlefields. Discussion of Heritage Crime in the UK, such as the issue of metal theft from historic buildings and damage to monuments was supported by 58% of the sample, while 56% also wished to see discussion of international heritage issues such as the UK signing up to international heritage protection conventions. Metal detecting was seen as an issue by 23% of the sample.
The survey also asked which of several high-profile single issue campaigns should be raised during the general election [Table 4]. Of these the question of archaeology education, highlighted by the decision of exam provider AQA to unilaterally end Archaeology A-Level, was supported by 61% of the sample. Of the rest, 38% felt the proposed Stonehenge Tunnel should become part of the debate, while 23% felt that the controversial London Garden Bridge, which is closely associated with the current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, should also be debated. Debate around the proposed development close to Old Oswestry Hill Fort and the proposed dredging of the Goodwin Sands by the Port of Dover was supported by 18% of the sample in both cases.
Among other specific concerns mentioned by respondents as worthy of debate by candidates at the general election were the loss of local environmental and HER officers; the sale of artefacts from museums and other issues related to Brexit such as the continuance of funding which currently comes from EU programmes.
To place the survey in a political context respondents were also asked about their current voting intentions regarding the General Election on 8 June [Table 5].
The sample was almost evenly split over whether Prime Minister Theresa May was right to call the general election, with a small majority of the sample feeling that she was wrong to call the election at this time. However, the poll possibly re-enforces a stereotype that archaeologists and the heritage community represent, broadly speaking, a left of center group of the population, with 17% of the sample identifying as voting for the Conservative Party and 30% voting Labour, as opposed to the latest national poll from Opinium for the Observer, published today, [Sunday 23 April] which places the Conservatives on 45% and Labour on 26%. Liberal Democrats [24% against 11% nationally] and the Greens [13% against 4% nationally] also polled at approximately twice their current national level or better.
Although the sample was not weighted to the regions and covers the UK as a whole, nationalist parties also appear in the data with Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist Party all scoring.
Overall, broadly left of center parties scored 71%while right of center parties totalled 22%, with UKIP scoring 5%.
Of the sample, 19% identify as activists who expect to be working to support a political party during the general election campaign.
Finally the poll asked about the hopes and fears of the respondents regarding archaeology and heritage.
Hopes broadly centered around increases in funding and the maintaining of at least the status quo in heritage protection legislation, especially in areas such as planning. However, hopes were also expressed for the re-introduction of the Archaeology A-Level and for a tightening up of who can actually call themselves an archaeologist. One respondent also hoped for regulation of metal detecting.
Fears expressed represent broadly a mirror image of the hopes of the respondents, with the principle concern being that heritage protection legislation and guidance, and the jobs which support them, would be seen as a barrier to growth by the government and reduced, with one respondent concluding with the fear that,
“Frankly anything that isn’t a tourist earner is fucked.”
Across the board many hopes and fears focus around Brexit, which is seen by many respondents as a major issue impacting on areas from environmental protection and funding to employment. This concern suggests that representative and regulatory archaeological bodied need to engage with the subject of Brexit urgently and must be seen to so engage by their members and supporters in the wider population, or risk a further erosion of confidence and morale. It follows that there are also opportunities for the heritage sector to build alliances across other sectors with similar concerns such as Higher Education and the wider research community.
On the wider political canvas of the general election, while sample of opinion discussed in this poll is not scientific, it does suggest that there is a potential political premium for any political party which can address at least some of the issues and concerns of an archaeology and heritage sector which includes not only thousands of professionals, but millions of individual voters in mass membership organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage. This would apply both at a national level and locally, especially where specific heritage issues are in play.
- The sample was taken between 18 and 21 April 2017 and consists of the first 100 responses to an on-line survey, publicised through mainstream archaeology and heritage groups on Twitter and Facebook.
- Of those polled, 33% identified as archaeology or heritage professionals, 10% as students taking an archaeology or heritage related subject and 51% identified as members of the public who had an interest in archaeology of heritage. Others identified specifically retired heritage professionals and archaeology graduates in alternative employment.
thePipeLine will be undertaking further surveys as the UK General Election Campaign progresses.
All data copyright thePipeLine, released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0).