Time for Labour to Get Up off Its Arts Policy Labour's Cultural Stance Is Nothing to Bragg about, Says Arts Editor Te Rry Grimley

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Mr Tony Blair had his cage rattled this week by Sir Simon and some other representatives of the cultural great and good, but it was all done in a most civilised way.

A meeting at No 10, which we were apparently not supposed to know about, was called by Mr Blair on Monday in an attempt to bridge the yawning credibility gap which has opened up between the Government and Britain's arts world.

This gap is based on a now widespread feeling that an arts policy which consists of inviting Noel Gallagher for canapes at Downing Street might be a touch lightweight at a time when the Arts Council's budget has been slashed by tens of millions of pounds , orchestras like the Halle are facing bankruptcy and music, drama and art have been thrown out of primary schools by David Blunkett.

Reports suggest that Mr Blair has been stung less by disillusioned pop stars biting the hand that patted them than by Sir Simon Rattle talking about the betrayal of a generation through the destruction of music education. There are 150,000 fewer children learning a musical instrument today than there were five years ago.

Monday's 90-minute discussion, which also involved former National Theatre director Sir Richard Eyre, Lord Bragg, and Neil MacGregor, director of the National Gallery, was reported to be "level, calm and good tempered".

Sensible as this may have been in the circumstances, I do not feel bound by these parameters. Ask me to suggest some adjectives to describe Labour's performance on the arts so far, and "disastrous", "cynical" and "philistine" would immediately spring to mind.

Of course, disappointment is always greater in direct proportion to expectation. And, evidently still insufficiently cynical about politicians, I had indeed expected something different from Labour.

There were some specific grounds for this. In opposition, the Labour Party was identified with some innovative thinking about the arts as economic generators, employers and forces in urban regeneration. In local authorities where Labour was not in opposi tion, such as Birmingham, some of these ideas were even put into practice.

So - naively, as it turned out - I expected that a Labour Government elected with a resounding mandate to re-think and regenerate Britain would include in its programme an arts policy firmly built on these experiments.

Certainly there was never any question of Labour doubling the arts budget. Even though the principle of state funding of the arts has (until now) been broadly accepted since the Second World War, our secure status as a nation of philistines in comparison with our European neighbours is demonstrated by the fact that we spend pounds 16. …