Andrew Motion delivers fiery 'bonfire of the humanities' lecture

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Indy Politics

Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion last night accused ministers of adopting a “shoot first, aim later” policy towards cutting the arts.



In a keynote lecture at Oxford University, he singled out Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and Arts Minister Ed Vaizey for failing to protect the arts.

“”Jeremy Hunt ... from the word go has seemed more determined to get into George Osborne’s good books as a mach-money saver and quango-burner that to serve his sector well,” he said in the annual Romanes lecture at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

“Ed Vaizey ... does seem to have a genuine love of the arts but no ideas about how to defend them in difficult times.”

He added that he could not recall “a single remark has ever been uttered about the arts and humanities by our Prime Minister and his deputy”.

The result was wholesale closure of libraries, the axeing of bodies like the Film Council and the museum, Libraries and archives Council and the slashing of funds to the Arts Council (£118 million had been cut from its budget)..

In addition, music services to schools had been cut by local authorities and Education Secretary Michael Gove was introducing a new English Baccalaureate certificate for which an arts GCSE would not qualify.

“Really, for the last several months, hardly a day has passed without some new blow being struck against the values and activities and institutions of which we’re thinking today,” he added.

Cuts to university arts and humanities budgets meant that higher education institutions were now focussing on “practical skills, economic gain and the commercialisation of intellectual life instead of cherishing and teaching ‘universal knowledge’”.

“We don’t want our reputation in the world to depend any more on the speed with which we go to war or the eagerness with which we privilege bankers,” Sir Andrew added.

“We want instead to have a reputation for caring about the good quality of our citizens’ lives and to affirm that the arts and the humanities are the bedrock of that good quality.”

On the closure of libraries, he added: “To see this happening now when we are meant to be having a conversation about the Big Society – frankly, it almost defies belief.

“Whatever we decide that phrase ‘Big Society’ means, we can understand immediately how libraries would contribute to its value.

“The same phrase I just used comes to mind again: Shoot first, aim later.”

Sir Andrew praised academics campaigning for Oxford University’s senate to pass a “no confidence” motion of the policies of Universities Minister David Willetts.

“All power to you,” he said, “and all power to others involved in similar efforts, Tell national and local government what is valuable and why.”

The Romanes lecture is an annual event. It was first delivered by William Gladstone in 1892.

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