Britons should be proud of the nation’s history rather than “trashing” it, Oliver Dowden has said.
The Culture Secretary insisted there was nothing to be ashamed of in singing Rule, Britannia! at the Proms and said it was a sign of weakness for a nation to seek to “eradicate” its history.
Mr Dowden’s comments follow the row over the programme for the Last Night of the Proms and protests targeting statues and monuments to people linked to the slave trade.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, Mr Dowden said: “If you look at strong, confident nations around the world they don’t spend their entire time trashing their history, they celebrate their history.”
The Culture Secretary also took aim at the BBC, stressing that it had to be impartial and represent the entire UK rather than be “in thrall” to a “narrow outlook” based on the views of people from “London, Manchester, Bristol and Brighton”.
Mr Dowden told the conference: “We should stand up for our cultural values. Why on earth should we feel shame about singing Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory at the Proms?”
He acknowledged there were “dark moments” in the history of the UK but people should also celebrate its strength.
“Clearly slavery was a terrible stain on the British Empire, but it is equally true that we abolished slavery – we were one of the first nations to abolish slavery – and actually it is the case that the Royal Navy spent huge amounts of our national wealth, according to some estimates up to two per cent of our national wealth every year, patrolling the North Atlantic to stop the evils of the slave trade.
“If you look at our values, like the rule of law, like a free and open press, they defined the enlightenment and made our lives as rich as they are now.”
Mr Dowden said he was worried about a culture of “looking back in shame on our history”.
“I’m sending this message out very clearly to our cultural institutions: of course they should be talking about their history, I always say ‘keep stuff in place, keep your monuments in place and use them to explain our history, don’t hide it away’.
“Weak nations try and obliterate their history, we should look our history in the eye, confront it and celebrate our strengths as well.”
Mr Dowden said the BBC needed to stand up for the “values of impartiality” across its output.
“The BBC is a fantastic institution and is known around the world. But the BBC needs to represent the whole of the UK and everyone,” he said.
“It can’t just be in thrall to a narrow outlook that reflects the values of people who live in the centre of big cities like London, Manchester, Bristol and Brighton.
“I think they have got it wrong in the past because they have allowed themselves to be driven by those values instead of the values of the entire country.
“We saw that with the extraordinary situation of not being able to sing Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory at the Proms.
“Any normal person thinks that’s a complete outrage.”
Picture: File photo, dated 13/09/14, of members of the audience during the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London. (Guy Bell/PA).