Northampton is an island unto itself – a place cut off from the history and culture of the world, which only cares about its own backyard.
Before you comment, this is the view of Northampton's council, as far as I can see. It is the self-image implied by the council's decision to sell a beautiful and moving ancient Egyptian statue that belongs to its museums service. The limestone figure of Sekhemka was made in about 2400BC and shows two seated figures with the clarity, seriousness and grace that makes Egyptian art so powerful.
Its excellence apparently means only one thing to the authority putting it up for sale: money. The council believes it is worth £2m. This money, assuming the sale is a success, will be channelled into Northampton's "cultural quarter" to "better tell the story of our town".
This sale tells its own story – one of decline in intellectual ambition, cultural seriousness and global consciousness. Ancient Egyptian art is a wonder of human history. It is both African and a deep influence on Europe since ancient times. How magical that Northampton should own a piece of this heritage; how great that its schoolchildren have access to a masterpiece of Egpytian sculpture without having to take a coach trip to the British Museum.
And how sad to squander that treasure, to rationalise selling a piece of timeless beauty to pay for navel-gazing local "heritage".
It is disturbing, too, that news of this planned sale has so far been met by complacent silence. A similar plan by Tower Hamlets in London to sell a Henry Moore is opposed by a vociferous campaign of the great and good. Where are those voices now? Is it because this sculpture is old and foreign?
Moore himself would be horrified. He was a dedicated fan of ancient and "primitive" art, as were other 20th-century sculptors such as Picasso and Constantin Brancusi. The idea that Egyptian art was of no contemporary interest would have shocked Moore. The prospect of Britain becoming so ignorant that it did not care about a work like this lovely sculpture would have baffled his generation.
Councils must learn now that selling great art is no way to build for the future. It is a betrayal of that future.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010