Recently I was invited in to 10 Downing Street to discuss arts policy. It was nice to be the first arts writer to have this invitation extended in the run-up to the election.
But it was a lot nicer to see during my visit that the government, and not least the Prime Minister, seem to be taking the arts seriously. Whatever may or may not be wrong with the country, the arts have certainly been going through a golden age in the past few years, with attendances soaring along with public and critical acclaim. The government certainly can't claim all the credit for that; but it's entitled to grab a little of it.
But one thing, one really rather small thing, will prove to me in the coming election campaign how seriously the government, and come to that the opposition parties, take the arts. The test will be if the arts get so much as a single mention from the party leaders. In all the election campaigns that I can remember in my adult life –and certainly the last few – this has barely ever happened.
Each morning of the campaign we are likely to have, as we have had before, a morning televised press conference, by the Prime Minister and the opposition. These will be devoted, with no points docked for repetition, to the economy or education or health or defence with maybe by way of a change, one for the environment or crime. Never in all the years I have watched these daily briefings has there been one on culture. Not once in any month-long campaign.
Why? The arts have been one of the few undisputed success stories over the past five years. They are a major export, and they are also rather important to the nation and how the nation perceives itself. Surely there are enough reasons there for one day in the whole election campaign to be devoted to the arts.
It's an odd thing about New Labour that it has always been coy about talking about the arts, especially what one might term the high arts. While Tony Blair embraced Cool Britannia and delighted in being seen with film or pop stars, I shall always recall being reliably informed that when he took his family to see King Lear at the National Theatre, the theatre was asked not to let it be known that he had been there.
Gordon Brown's best service to the arts in the coming election campaign could be a very simple one, and doesn't even have to involve promising hard cash. He just has to engage. He just has to devote a day to culture. It's not a lot to ask, but it would be a significant break with tradition. And what a day it would be – the whole country debating the state of our culture, with Cameron and Clegg of course having to engage too.
If I am invited back to Downing Street to discuss the arts after the election, I'd love to be able to start the conversation by saying how much I enjoyed the "culture day" during the campaign and how refreshing it was to hear all the party leaders devoting time to the arts. Why on earth should that sound far-fetched?
The truth behind that concert cough
At the Royal Philharmonic Society's annual lecture this week, Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise, a history of 20th-century music, put the cat among the classical pigeons when he urged that audiences at symphonies be allowed to clap between movements. He said of the tradition of restraining applause: "The underlying message of the protocol is in essence, 'curb your enthusiasm. Don't get excited'."
He added he would much prefer to hear a smattering of applause "than be subjected to that distinctly unbeautiful, unmusical, coughing, shuffling, rustling noise which is quite literally the sound of people suppressing their instincts."
Oh no, it's much more than that, Mr Ross. Coughing between movements is the way that classical music aficionados signal to other classical music aficionados that they are seasoned concert-goers. A bout of throat-clearing at the end of the third movement means you really know your music. It is a concert-goer's mating call, the courting ritual of the classical world. Take that away from them and you will ruin their evening.
Slapped down by Sandy for being a man
I was delighted to see that Sandy Powell won an Oscar for her costumes on The Young Victoria. But I couldn't help but wonder who sat next to her and whether that person fared any better than I did when I sat next to Ms Powell at an awards ceremony.
It occurred at the Evening Standard Film Awards some years ago. Ms Powell was a prize-winner, and gained some notoriety for her acceptance speech in which she castigated the Standard for what she perceived as the paper's anti-gay stance. She was discouraged from attending the party afterwards.
I was placed next to her at the awards dinner; but when she sat down in her rubber evening dress and saw me there she took fright and exclaimed that she couldn't possibly be photographed sitting next to a man. It was important that she be sat next to a woman, and I must move immediately. Well, I've had worse brush-offs since. And at least I can boast that I was dumped, and very speedily dumped, by an Oscar-winner.Reuse content