I am taken to task by the Guardian’s Media Monkey for celebrating Sajid Javid’s elevation (as per the poster above) a little too much – and not caring very much that the new Culture Secretary is no expert in the arts. It argues the following:-
Javid’s lack of cultural hinterland – his Who’s Who entry lists no recreations – was acknowledged but relegated to the 14th paragraph of Fraser Nelson’s Telegraph profile (“he will stuggle to talk about his great love of the performing arts … It is certainly an odd casting – Javid’s expertise is in finance”) and the 23rd of Andrew Pierce’s huzzah in the Mail: “His knowledge of sport may be scant – he claims to support Manchester United – and few of his friends have heard him talking about culture and the arts.” All irrelevant, apparently.
I did observe in my first Tweet on Javid’s promotion that sending Javid to culture is like sending Ben Bernanke to run Glastonbury. An image which the ever-inventive @GeneralBoles was able to conjure up more vividly…
— General Boles (@GeneralBoles) April 9, 2014
As I said in that Telegraph column, Javid has an excuse for not having an expansive ‘cultural hinterland’. He grew up in a household where it was a treat to hire a video for an evening – he wasn’t dragged off to the opera to learn how to mix with the intelligentsia, as the young Ed Miliband would have been. But I’m not saying Javid’s lack of luvvie credentials are irrelevant. I’m saying they are a positive. My concern is that he’d be wasted on that department, not that he’s not good enough.
The last thing you want in that job is a luvvie who thinks his job is to nick money from taxpayers (average salary £25k) and subsidise the pastimes of the rich. An impartial observer, like Javid, would ask why on earth Britain’s thriving arts need state funding at all.
The government’s arts budget has been chopped right down, and the luvvies then said it would be a disaster. Instead, Britain has entered a golden age of the arts right now. The Globe theatre, for example, is laying on the best Shakespeare in the world right now – it requires zero subsidy and indeed makes about a million quid in annual profit. The Globe demonstrates the falseness of the choice between commercial successful and artistically brilliant.
Each week, The Spectator’s peerless arts sections review the very best – and often, broadcasting excepted, most of the best art is laid on by independent gallery owners or theatre groups and financed entirely by audiences and independent sponsors. No need for the government.
Javid is the sort of hard-headed radical who may conclude that there is no need for a Culture department and that a lot of money can be saved in returning things to the pre-Major days. Here’s hoping.
UPDATE Kate Maltby tweets that The Spectator was behind state funding for arts in the 1950s. Maybe. But Kingsley Amis had it right in 1985 when he offered, in The Spectator, this definition of the Arts Council:-
Grants and bursaries from this detestable and destructive body in effect pay producers, painters, writers and such in advance. This is a straight invitation to them to sod the public, whose ticket-money they are no longer obliged to attract, and to seek the more immediate approval of their colleagues and friends instead. The system encour- ages a habit of thought whereby ‘creative’ people can be divided into artists, who deliver serious, important, innovative, dif- ficult stuff and so of course have to have financial help, and entertainers, whose work is easy to understand, enjoyable and therefore popular — you know, like rock music and John Betjeman’s poetry, and whose very title to the label ‘creative’ is shaky. Thus an organisation created to foster art and bring it to the public turns out to be damaging to art and cutting it off from the public. Only those in the trade profit.