IF THE snowballing omniscandal around the Murdochs should put paid to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's career this week, there will be celebratory whooping in the corridors of some arts institutions. But not, it seems, the National Theatre. I had presumed Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the NT for the past nine years, would have enjoyed Hunt's discomfiture, after Hunt's confrere George Osborne proposed a cut in tax relief on charitable giving which would hit the National -- and indeed a huge chunk of the artistic and charitable sector -- hard.
But no. "On this issue Jeremy Hunt has been straightforward and supportive," says Hytner, 56. "I don't know but I'm guessing that his public silence about it signifies this is not a policy in whose creation he was involved. I am assuming he is working to reverse or mitigate this policy; I believe Jeremy Hunt's commitment, and a golden age of philanthropy is a cornerstone of his policy. My hunch is he was shafted by the Treasury."
Hunt's Department for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is accused of being a "back channel" in government to the Murdoch empire during its attempted purchase of BSkyB. It is also mooted for the chop. Does Hytner think it would be missed? "Our relationship is with the Arts Council, and I am an unequivocal supporter of the Arts Council," he says smoothly. "A strong DCMS has seemed to result in a strong Arts Council. I think there should be a Cabinet minister who has specific responsibility for the arts, broadcasting and the creative industries, but I am no expert in the minutiae of government."
He does not blame Hunt and the DCMS specifically for either the Coalition's cuts in arts funding or the attack on tax relief but does say that the Government as a whole can't have it both ways. "Either you provide for all these things charities deal with adequately out of tax, or you actively encourage people to donate money to causes both fashionable and unfashionable," he says.
"We are a very small part of this issue.
The bigger part is charities that work really hard outside the spotlight, who are even more dependent than we are on large-scale gifts from those wealthy individuals who want to give away a great deal. The easiest thing would be a reverse [of the policy] and I think there is a lot of pressure from backbench MPs simply to say it was a mistake. It plainly was a mistake and they should be big enough to say so."
Hytner is a good spokesman for the arts because he cuts to the quick of the issue and seems less likely to be partisan, or automatically at daggers drawn, with a Conservative-led government than some of his predecessors. Indeed, at one point in our discussion he upbraids me for supporting the assumption that the National's management are "card-carrying representatives of a particular kind of metropolitan liberalism", when actually "what I hope we have been, politically and socially, for many years, is sceptical of any kind of certainty".
He is also a good spokesman for the arts because he is extremely good at his main job. His National has been innovative and flexible and inclusive in the best sense. A list of its hits would take more space than I have here, but he has just opened One Man, Two Guvnors in New York (which this week got seven Tony nominations including best director for Hytner) and is about to transfer his award- winning production of John Hodge's Collaborators from the National's studio theatre, the Cottesloe, to the vast, main-stage Olivier. We have met primarily to discuss his plans for the summer, when culture will jostle for space with Jubilee and Olympic celebrations.
The National is staging three plays as part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, as well as mounting several auxilliary activities that will feed into a new future for the venue.
First up is Hytner's own …