If there were a referendum on whether or not the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece or remain in the British Museum, the British public say that they would vote to return them to Greece, by a margin of more than two to one, according to a new MORI poll carried out for Regent Productions. This was part of development work being carried out by William G. Stewart for a television programme on the return of the Elgin Marbles, to be screened next year. Among Labour supporters, the margin was more than three to one and even among Tories, three to two.
Among Members of Parliament interviewed in July by MORI, by nearly two to one Labour MPs said that in the event of a free vote in the House of Commons on whether or not the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece, they would vote to return them.
The detailed figures are as follows:
Among the general public, when asked If there were a Referendum on whether or not the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece, how would you vote?", 39% said they would vote to return them to Greece, 15% that they should remain in the British Museum and 18% said they would not vote. More than one person in four (28%) said they did not know how they would vote. Support for their return was strongest among women (40% support to 13% against), middle-aged people - 35-44 year olds - (43% to 12%) and among Labour Party supporters (42% to 13%).
A plurality of MPs polled favoured their return to Greece by 47% to 44%. Among Labour Members of Parliament, 57%: 33%, among Tories 9%: 83%.
Fifteen per cent of the British adult population recall having seen the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. Among adults with a degree or post-graduate qualification, a majority, 52% said they would vote to return them to Greece and only one in five (20%) said they should remain in the British Museum.
The thrust of the Regent Productions programme is that the Labour Party in Opposition and the Labour Government in power have got themselves in a mess on the question of the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens.
In 1994 in the House of Commons (Hansard 14th Feb 1994) and in a Channel Four programme in 1996, Mark Fisher, then Shadow Arts Minister, committed a Labour Government to re-joining UNESCO and working out the orderly return of the Elgin Marbles.
Following a statement from Tony Blair's office to the effect that the Marbles would stay in Britain, William Stewart wrote to three former Shadow Heritage Secretaries, Jack Cunningham, Mo Mowlam and Chris Smith, asking for details of when the official policy changed. And who changed it. Were meetings held? Are there any minutes? No answers have been forthcoming.
Since Chris Smith became Culture Secretary he has told Mr Stewart that he cannot comment on anything decided while Jack Cunningham was shadowing Heritage; but he has said that while in Opposition the Labour Party considered the matter of the return of the Marbles. Well if it did, it did so without involving the Shadow Arts Minister.
Mr Smith has told Mr Stewart that discussions on the issue of the Parthenon sculptures will take place when appropriate and in the appropriate place. Regent's programme will seek to discover when and where is appropriate.
The underlying facts are that following Regent Productions' first programme advocating return of the Marbles, shown on Channel Four in April 1996:
- A phone-in poll carried put by BBC Audiocall on behalf of Regent Productions following the programme resulted in 99,340 calls of which 91,822 (92.5%) were in favour of return.
- An Early Day Motion (put down by Eddie O'Hara MP) supporting return, attracted 109 signatures - almost all Labour MPs.
- Also in 1996 a declaration at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (put down by Alf Lomas MEP) advocating return was signed by 252 MEPs.
- the recent MORI poll of the public shows overwhelming support for return; and Labour MPs continue to be at variance with official" government policy.
The surveys were conducted exclusively for Regent Productions among the general public, 1,823 of adults aged 15+ were interviewed on the MORI Omnibus between 4th to the 7th September 1998 in 151 constituency sampling points nationwide. Interviews were carried out face-to-face. Among Members of Parliament, 91 MPs were interviewed between 1st June 1998 and the 3rd August 1998, face-to-face in their offices.