Magazine article Art Monthly

Editorial

Magazine article Art Monthly

Editorial

Article excerpt

PMQs

Imagine a scenario in which public figures, including from the arts, are allowed unprecedented freedom to ask the prime minister hard-hitting questions on the public's behalf. Moreover, he not only agrees to answer these, but also allows both questions and answers to be published. Last November the Guardian newspaper, regarded by many as the UK's only remaining left-wing broadsheet, arranged just such a scenario, publishing the results in its Saturday magazine under the challenging sounding banner: 'Mr Cameron, we have a few questions for you ...'

With so many burning issues to address, especially in the light of the then recent street riots, student protests and public-sector strikes, it must have been difficult to know where to begin. Fortunately the editors had no such hesitation: 'Do you wish you were less posh?' the prime minister was asked by comedian David Mitchell on behalf of the nation. 'No.' came the answer. 'You can't change who you are.' Indeed. Perhaps the opening salvo was merely intended to lull the PM into a false sense of security. But no, instead there was much more in the same vein. Another questioner, for instance, wanted to know whether the prime minister would send his son to Eton, while the paper's editor - the only questioner to address the prime minister chummily as 'David' - asked him whether he thought every child in the UK 'should have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument' - this in a country where child literacy levels have been falling since 2001. The litany of trivia went on: there were questions about his favourite line from literature (from Shakespeare's Henry V's speech at Agincourt), the last novel he read (Skippy Dies by Paul Murray) and the work of art which had the most 'impact' on him (Guernica). Filmmaker and fearless restaurant critic Michael Winner wanted to know - on a scale of one to ten - how happy he had been since becoming prime minister, while DJ Tiny Tempah wanted to know whether Cameron went rapping when he visited Ibiza (no he didn't) and journalist Simon Hattenstone playfully attempted to trap Cameron into admitting to have smoked cannabis ('Good try') and so on. Even that scourge of politicians Jeremy Paxman preferred to take aim at a soft target by posing a question about the prime minister's coalition partner Nick Clegg - remember him?

In response to TV presenter Adrian Chiles's question, 'What is the most tedious thing about being PM?', Cameron replied: 'Waking up on Wednesday morning and realising it's prime minister's questions.' Guardian readers might have said the same on opening their copy of the Guardian Weekend magazine that Saturday morning. There were honourable exceptions to this line of questioning from, among others, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who tackled the prime minister about rising child poverty, economist David Blanchflower, who raised the topic of youth unemployment, and broadcaster Jon Snow, who asked Cameron why he abstained on the vote on Palestinian statehood. However, it was the issue of funding cuts to education, especially in the arts and humanities, which aroused the most passion - at least from the questioners. Novelist Salman Rushdie accused the government of philistinism while filmmaker Mike Leigh demanded to know the moral justification for the cuts. …

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