Cool Britannia begins to go cold on 'bogus' Blair

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The Independent Online
Has Cool Britannia turned its back on Blair? A leading style guru has dismissed Labour's attempts to schmooze with the glitterati, while one of Britain's leading theatrical figures has again attacked Labour for not supporting the arts. Fran Abrams and David Lister report on dissent among those whom Blair would like to call his own.

In a bizarre twist of events, the head of a top fashion house gave a lecture to a right-wing think-tank last night to complain that the Prime Minister was trying too hard to be trendy.

Wayne Hemingway, chairman of Red or Dead, told the Social Market Foundation that attempts to "rebrand" Britain as the epicentre of coolness were just "sad."

"By simply inviting a few (mostly naff) pop stars and comedians to drinkies at Number Ten, the very people Blair is trying to impress will be turned off," he said. "It brings to mind those sad pictures of Harold Wilson with the Beatles and it certainly didn't enamour Harold Wilson to British youth."

Showing "corny repeated pictures of raving at the Ministry of Sound" to denote coolness was the 1990s equivalent of "god-awful" 1970s postcards of King's Road punks, he added. Most of Labour's young MPs were less youthful than his grandmother, and she died three years ago.

"Forward-thinking can live side-by-side with heritage. Let the parties of retired middle Americans with their sad anoraks and check slacks soak up our heritage while their grandchildren discover a more youthful Britain," he suggested.

Mr Hemingway believes there is a widespread backlash against the Labour government in the creative industries. Posing for photocalls is all very well, but nothing is being offered in return, he told The Independent.

"At the moment we are seeing absolutely tons of publicity saying 'Aren't I cool and trendy, there's no other government as cool and trendy in the world.' They have got to start proving it. It's very early days for Labour and we want them to succeed, but they've got to start proving there is some substance apart from drinkies at Number Ten."

Mr Hemingway's assault on new Labour's street cred is the latest in a string of attacks from the world of fashion, design and pop and the theatre.

First, Stephen Bayley resigned as creative director of the Millennium Dome project and took the Government to task for market-testing its ideas by focus groups.

Then last Sunday Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records and a pounds 50,000 donor to Labour before the election, told the Observer that Tony Blair was "all surface".

Ten days ago Sir Peter Hall, the theatre director, used an awards ceremony attended by Chris Smith, Secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, to bitterly attack the Government's Arts Council funding cut. Yesterday, Sir Peter accused the Government of "dumbing down Britain" by minimising arts teaching in primary schools. He made his remarks as he launched the theatrical world's own education initiative at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End of London.

"The other thing the Government has done is take music, art and drama off the priority list in primary schools, which I think is awful. This awful thing will lead to the dumbing down of the nation. So we shan't need any art galleries, theatres or opera houses, which of course would be a great benefit from a cost-savings point of view," he told an audience of actors and supporters.

Twelve leading directors and actors are giving their services free to offer talks and masterclasses to drama students and secondary school pupils hoping to enter the profession.

Afterwards Sir Peter said Labour's arts policy filled him with "utter dismay". A friendly peer had asked him "not to rock the boat", he disclosed. "But I said 'Where is the boat? I don't see a boat labelled Labour arts policy'."

It was important young people should have no illusions about life in the theatre, he said, adding: "Being in the theatre isn't about glamour, easy options and easy money - it's about hard work, crucial discipline and often no money at all."