David Lister: Beware Conservatives bearing cash

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The Independent Online

There was an interesting moment at the end of Andrew Marr's TV show last Sunday morning when the Conservative leader David Cameron was sat next to two feisty actresses, Samantha Bond and Romola Garai. Party leaders always pretend to enjoy such shoulder-rubbing with glamorous, but probably they dread the thought, because the inevitable question is always asked. And indeed it was: "What's going to happen about funding of the arts?"

Happily for him, on this occasion he had an answer. And happily for him the two actresses fell for it. The Conservatives would, he assured them, restore the idea of lottery money going to the original "good causes". And this would mean an extra £50m for the arts.

Mr Cameron – unlike, it has to be said, nearly everyone else in the country – had clearly studied the speech given by his frontbench spokesman for culture, Jeremy Hunt, last week. Mr Hunt, in a speech marked by how unreported it was, addressed the question of the National Lottery and what the Tories would do with it, and he did indeed promise that it would once more fund those original "good causes", and that the arts would thus benefit by £50m.

So, it was good news all round; our two actresses and everyone else in the arts could go home happy. Except perhaps those of us who might just remember those early days of the National Lottery 15 years ago, those days when every arts venue seemed to get cash for renovations and extensions and restaurants. Ah yes, those restaurants. Was there an artistic director in the country who didn't suddenly fancy him or herself as a restaurateur?

But most important of all, in those early National Lottery days there were two rather boring sounding words – "capital" and "revenue" spending. It was decreed that all lottery money that went to the arts must be for capital spending – new buildings, new extensions and, of course, new restaurants; no lottery money was to be used for revenue spending – putting on productions, paying performers or paying staff. After all, if lottery money were used for revenue funding, then there was the huge and obvious risk that the normal sources of revenue funding – the Government and Arts Council – might coincidentally decide to cut their funding by, let's say, precisely the amount of money coming from the National Lottery.

It seemed to make sense. Yet I could hear no such distinction between capital and revenue funding in Mr Hunt's speech, nor in Mr Cameron's assurances to his new-found actress friends. So I can only assume that this time around, lottery money will indeed be used to fund normal arts spending, the normal daily costs of putting on productions and paying wages. And I can only assume that this might indeed lead to cuts in the arts' normal sources of funding.

All of which leads me to think that suddenly this extra £50m for the arts may not be quite the Christmas present it sounds. The Conservative leadership needs to spell out much more clearly where it stands on lottery funding and the arts. It needs to explain precisely why this time around it is not limiting lottery cash to building projects. Meanwhile, Mr Cameron should avoid actresses in the coming months.

The not so Lovely Bones

The film director Peter Jackson, he of Lord of the Rings fame, has huge numbers of admirers. But I'm afraid I'm not one of them. I only lasted for one sixth of the Rings trilogy, and this week I attended the royal film premiere of his adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones. It certainly wasn't without its share of tension, but overall I thought it a bit of a mess with Jackson playing lots of games with his computer graphics to re-create Heaven (the story is narrated by a murdered girl) and seemingly unable to make up his mind whether his film was fantasy, thriller, horror story or whatever. But hats off to him, it takes a certain sort of skill to coax a terrible performance out of Susan Sarandon, playing a cartoon caricature of a granny with a drink problem.

I did, though, rather enjoy Stephen Fry's warm-up act from the stage (or loyal address as it was officially described). Fry deliberately misread his script and announced the movie as a comedy about British bankers, "The Lovely Bonus". Actually, that might have been a better film.

So, Anna, will you join the fight against fees?

I'm delighted that my long-standing campaign for cheaper theatre seats and the abolition of booking fees was echoed this week by Sir Ian McKellen at the Evening Standard theatre awards. Sir Ian also called for booking fees to be abolished and for theatres to introduce affordable £10 front-row seats. There were loud cheers when he said this from fellow thespians including Sam West, Zoë Wanamaker and Anna Friel.

But is it time, I wonder, for actors and actresses to do something to further the fight, something a bit more than just making speeches and applauding? Perhaps they should start making demands of the producers and theatre owners where they are performing. Anna Friel, pictured, for example, is starring in Breakfast at Tiffany's at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London. Stalls seats are about £50 plus a £3.50 booking fee. Has Ms Friel made her annoyance known to the management? Did she say that she would not appear while the public was being treated in such a way? I doubt it. Applauding is a lot easier.

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