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UK Politics

The Prime Minister's has a speeding theme...but what about the rest of the Cabinet's?

Each new Government gets to decorate their offices from the Westminster art collection. Andy McSmith reports

Some people would question whether it is art at all. Visually, it is about as interesting as a railway ticket. The colour is an off shade of Liberal Democrat orange; the medium, enamel car paint on aluminium, with the words looking like a crude incitement to break the law.

Entitled 31 mph a crime?, the work is by Eva Weinmayr, a German artist, who specialises in creating arresting images from the discarded debris of London life.

This example is doubtless inspired by some ill-designed advertisement or poster she will have seen, by a group of motorist who care more about their right to speed than about the safety of others.

The picture is part of the government art collection and is destined to adorn the wall of the flat above 11 Downing Street, where David Cameron and his young family live.

One of the perks of being in government is that you can choose the paintings you want in your office – or in your grace and favour home, if you have one – from the vast collection built up by governments since the Victorian era. It is thought to contain 2,500 oil paintings, as well as countless more modern works, predominantly by British artists.

In her day Margaret Thatcher went for traditional art by Turner and Constable to beautify 10 Downing Street. John Major – or was it Norma? – liked Hockney. Tony Blair went for something riskier – Damien Hirst, the bad boy of BritArt. Gordon Brown and Sarah Brown went in for a safer, blander collection of landscapes.

Perhaps it is Samantha Cameron, who had a wilder past than her husband, who decided that the risky Weinmayr number is a suitable image to be seen in Downing Street.

"Good question that," a Downing Street spokesman said, on being asked why the Prime Minister is exhibiting a work that questions whether motorists should be expected to observe the law. He added; "Surely, the answer must be 'Yes'."

Through the ministerial keyhole...who favours art like this?

Victor Pasmore, Points of Contact No 27

Pasmore, who died in 1998, was an art teacher in London and then Master of Painting at Durham University. He executed a series of silk screen prints with the generic title "Points of Contact", several of which were up for auction in Bloomsbury two years ago at starting prices of around £500. So, think of a Cabinet minister who is not trying to be fashionable; who is not interested in being able to boast to visitors about the expensive painting on his wall; who may even be feeling that he is lucky to have this privilege at all.

Grayson Perry, Print for a Politician

Grayson Perry thought it was a great joke when the government bought his 7 foot 2 inch etching. The minister who has borrowed it no doubt thinks there should be a very big picture on his wall because he is a very big figure in government, but is he aware of the artist's own explanatIon: "As human beings we have a tendency to rationalise our impulses but that can lead to a lot of bullshit. As soon as one group feels like they have a monopoly on righteousness then we are in trouble"? Let us hope so.

David Hockney, Winter Road near Kilham

A moot point is whether this is an original Hockney or a reproduction. The septuagenarian artist has discovered that computer technology is now advanced enough for him to be able to create works of art on screen and print them off. In a sense, therefore, the original exists only virtually, in the computer's memory. But there is nothing virtual about the minister who borrowed it. He is the solid type you find out in the community, not picky enough to care that the work on his wall is a computer printout.

Unknown artist, William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer

When the artist finished it, he perhaps rewarded himself with an evening at The Globe, to watch a Shakespeare play being performed by the original cast. William Cecil was the greatest English statesman of his day and the painting was bought by the government 60 years ago, when the minister who now has it on his wall was a lad. Someone who thinks the words Lord High Treasurer describe what he used to be.

Thomas Gainsborough, William Pitt (1759-1806) Prime Minister

We would all like to be able to say we have a genuine Gainsborough on our office wall, but a portrait of a Prime Minister? A Tory Prime Minister, celebrated for achieving high office at an unfeasibly early age? You have to be a bit of a political obsessive to want William Pitt staring at you. Of course, if you were so intrigued by Pitt that you felt moved to write a biography of him...

Click on the gallery above to see which politician chose which of these pieces of art