Chorus of disapproval: Artists attack Labour over funding cuts

Attempt to deny Tory claims about spending plans backfires

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Indy Politics

Labour is facing condemnation from supporters in the arts world after the party confirmed it would not reverse Tory cuts to culture spending if it wins the general election.

The Conservatives claimed on Monday that under Labour plans the party would spend an additional £83m cancelling previous cuts to the Arts Council budget – which funds theatres, museums and other cultural institutions around the country.

Labour rapidly denied the claim, saying on Twitter: “Tory dossier says Labour will cancel cuts to the arts budget. We won’t.”

The party may have thought it had put out one fire with its rapid response, but it quickly ignited another one among its own supporters who attacked Labour for a philistine approach to the arts.

Simon Blackwell, the producer and writer of comedies including The Thick of It, Peep Show and Armstrong and Miller tweeted a link to the Labour announcement, sardonically adding: “New year, election year, a time of wide-eyed hope and the promise of new beginnings.”

Referring to the party’s announcement, he added: “And you’re proud of that? Jesus.”

He later told The Independent: “It just seems bizarre that Labour’s boastful tough-guy stance on arts funding seeks to impress a demographic who will never vote for them, while alienating the demographic who do.”

Other critics included the young poet and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, who this year won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival. “Artists are the ones who try to keep public profiles on the values you represented, once upon a time,” she told the party.

The writer Neil Gaiman said the decision was “not something to brag about”.

David Lan, the acclaimed artistic director of the Young Vic, said recent cuts had made life difficult for the arts right across Britain.

“If I was starting now what I started ten or 12 years ago, I doubt very much that I would have been able to do it. It is much, much harder now and that is a big deal,” he said. “But what really worries me is that the damage done by the cuts will really only be evident in five or 10 years’ time, by which stage it will be too late.

“What I don’t understand is the intellectual consistency of the position which says we will invest in roads, bridges and housing and not the arts. What I hope is that we do get a Labour government but that we are able to change their minds.”

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, warned that cuts to local authority budgets in particular had put intense pressure on local museums, galleries and cultural institutions.

While not commenting directly on Labour’s announcement not to reduce arts cuts, Mr Deuchar said he hoped both parties would see the “underlying social and economic impact” of arts funding.

Labour’s shadow Culture Secretary, Harriet Harman, said her plans would be better that the Conservative alternative.

“What would be disastrous for the future of the arts is another Tory government which would continue to devalue creativity in education and which would take public spending back to levels seen before the Arts Council had even been conceived of,” she said.

“We would ensure that we reinstate the importance of arts in education and we would look creatively at how we can rebalance available resources more fairly across the regions.”