ARTS : Lottery on the line

The lottery was born of the 1980s culture of celebration. So what is there to celebrate now, asks Anthony Everitt

The row about the National Lottery is off the point. The Churchill papers are a large (if slightly malodorous) red herring and the film director David Puttnam's call for a widening of good causes is significant more for its destabilising effect than its content. The lottery raises complicated issues and, because so much money is up for grabs, the babble of conflicting interests has become deafening. But fundamentally the story is a simple one, and to tell it we need to begin at the beginning.

In the early 1980s, a culture of celebration was born. Sport, the heritage and the arts became a tool of economic development and urban renewal. Hosting great events such as the Olympics and the World Cup were sure- fire ways of spending a fortune on capital development without taxpayers cutting up rough. The Greater London Council was abolished, but not before politicians of every persuasion noticed how cleverly it had used the arts to gather political support. In 1984 the French committed the equivalent of £800m to doing up the Louvre museum, to general applause in due course, and further millions were spent on the Bastille opera house and other Parisian arts facilities.

In this country, local councils led the way - commissioning art, building new concert halls and generally using the arts for a new marketing wheeze called "city imaging". Glasgow's year as European City of Culture inspired the Arts Council to develop its own copycat scheme. History books were scoured for anniversaries to mark. Then someone noticed the impending millennium - the mother of all anniversaries.

At which point, enter David Mellor and the Ministry of Fun. Having decided to surf the celebration wave, he saw that two things were necessary for success - strong political leadership and pots of money. He could provide the former (in spades), but the Treasury was highly unlikely to cough up the latter. The National Lottery was the ideal solution, for it meant that his new Department of National Heritage would have its own independent money supply. It was an astonishing coup, which the Treasury has neither forgiven nor forgotten.

And then everything started to go wrong. Mellor fell from grace and, to get the lottery legislation through, parliamentary managers had to make a significant compromise. The distributing bodies were not to solicit applications or decide on their own priorities. This was to guarantee fair treatment for all, but it meant that leading from the front was out.

Meanwhile the celebration boom has gone sour. Sheffield lost a fortune on the World Student Games and Birmingham was accused of diverting resources from education to its refurbished city centre. Splendid new arts facilities are felt to do more for the affluent than the poor. So far as can be judged, few are excited by the prospect of a millennium festival. There is a suspicion that lottery funds will favour expensive projects promoted by the great and the good.

The Government has gone too far to be able pull back, but problems are crowding in on every side. The arts do not like the restriction on capital spending, the charities world is worried by the charities board's recently announced priorities, and heritage grants will inevitably benefit the rich from time to time, seeing that they own a good deal of the heritage in the first place. The one hope is that the distributorswill be patient and brave.

The real danger lies with the Millennium Commission, for if it fails to deliver the goods it could pull the whole house down with it. Its philosophy of celebration is already looking out of date and despite public consultation it has garnered few ideas to capture the imagination. Between now and2000 it could have as much as £1.6bn to spend. The stakes are alarmingly high; people in high places are already wondering aloud whether the three culture quangos really need quite so much cash, and vultures friendly to the Treasury are gathering in the hope of rich pickings.

Stephen Dorrell, the National Heritage Secretary and chairman of the Millennium Commission, has no option now but to double the odds. He and his commissioners must do a U-turn. Instead of being responsive and open to all comers, they must decide a clear, simple to explain and exciting policy. In a sense it hardly matters what it is, but the minister must place his personal reputation on the line and sell it for all he is worth.

The lesson of history is that the celebration culture only works when a charismatic leader promotes it. Ask Ken Livingstone or Franois Mitterrand - or David Mellor.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea