Magazine article The Spectator

Culture's New Champion

Magazine article The Spectator

Culture's New Champion

Article excerpt

We all know that there are no votes in the arts, don't we. Well, don't we? No actor or singer, let alone a bus driver, is going into the polling-booth at the next election to vote Tory because Virginia Bottomley is a good chap at heart and will be looking after our interests - or vote Labour because Tony Blair has dangerous eyes and is bound to put culture on his agenda. Even with the party conferences coming up, heaven help us all, it would be naive to expect the unveiling of any exciting new arts policy from either side that will address, for instance, the crisis in regional theatre or recognise the huge revenue potential in properly supporting the film industry.

While Mrs Bottomley has no difficulty recognising a photo-opportunity when she sees one, she seems to have rather more of a problem with an arts policy. Labour is on show first though, at Blackpool, and true to the `no votes in the arts' philosophy will have nothing to say on the subject. This is the party that the majority of people in the arts world would think of as being potentially a real supporter of culture.

But, to be fair, what Labour hopes will become an intoxicating brew of a new arts policy is already bubbling away. So whether Tony Blair truly believes the arts don't win votes and therefore there is no point in taking up valuable conference time with the new policy, or whether that charming Old Etonian Mark Fisher, Labour's arts spokesman for the past ten years, has simply not finished writing it yet, is immaterial. The fact is that Blair himself is expected to put all his authority behind the new policy and to announce it himself at a suitably dramatic presentation some time before Christmas.

His thinking now appears to be that there is much political popularity and prestige to be won by championing the cause. And bizarre as it sounds, it was Rupert Murdoch's invitation to Australia some time back when the magical seed was planted. It was not the digger himself doing the planting of course. It was, remarkably, the then prime minister, Paul Keating, basking in the glow of his party's successful `Creative Nation' campaign. He advised Blair, `You've got to get yourself an arts policy.'

All this was music to the ears of Mark Fisher who was immediately put to work when his leader returned. The burgeoning policy quickly came to be called the cultural policy and the department that will administer it - if Labour can win the next election of course - is likely to be called the Department of Culture and Communication. …

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