David takes on the Philistines as Hockney displays his true colours

David Hockney, our best-known living artist, last night warned the new Prime Minister that Britain doesn't need a government of "bossy prefects", and airily suggested that Jack Straw should make legalising marijuana a priority.

"Many more of my friends have died from alcohol than drugs," said the 59-year-old artist looking unusually boyish in a green knitted waistcoat and white golfing cap.

"But I bet Jack Straw will be serving drinks tonight. But what do I do? I would prefer a joint really. What am I supposed to say?"

Hockney was speaking to The Independent at one of the most purely enjoyable occasions on election night. It was the opening of his first commercial exhibition in London for 15 years; and with the light flooding in through the glazed roof of the gallery on to his vibrant paintings of flowers, he briefly forsook contemporaries such as Kitaj, Lucian Freud, Sir Anthony Caro and Allen Jones and film stars such as Lauren Bacall - all on the guest list - to tell us his personal manifesto for change.

He said he had only voted once in his life, for one of Tony Blair's predecessors, Harold Wilson, and an era that ushered in libertarianism, homosexual law reform and artistic innovation. He hoped, though did not expect, to see again a government encouraging such things. "I'm a bit dreading Jack Straw really," he said. "He is about my age and 30 years ago they were saying 'well you can't legalise marijuana', they don't know the facts. Thirty years have passed and now they do."

Hockney recently declared: "Parliament are Philistines, people who are not concerned with beauty, not concerned with the things I am."

Last night he added: "There's so much energy and creativity about, but it has to be supported. Yet on an official level we're a Philistine country."

He mused for a moment then said: "Mind you it could be worse. Have you ever been to New Zealand?"

Hockney did plead for the new government to pay attention to the physical appearance of public buildings. "Years and years ago when they used to pull the buildings down in Bradford I would say why don't they spend more money and make them more attractive?"

But he did express optimism in one area unrelated to politics. Painting is making a comeback, he said. "We've gone through the photography era," he declared. "The young artist will move back to painting. It is happening."

But will members of the new government attend any of their exhibitions?

9 David Hockney: Flowers, Faces and Spaces is at the Annely Juda Fine Art Gallery, London W1 until July. It contains his new paintings of flowers and portraits of himself and his family.

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