David Lister: The pulsating battle to rule the arts

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The Independent Online

Who should be the next chairman of the London Regional Arts Council? There's a question that invites the reader to turn the page. But this seemingly arcane question has become intriguing, controversial even.

The post (thanks to a deal struck between Ken Livingstone and the Labour Government a few years ago) is in the gift of the mayor of London. The current Mayor, Boris Johnson, has chosen Veronica Wadley (his right), the former editor of the London Evening Standard, to take it on and steer the funding of some of London's most famous companies and venues.

Not so fast, says the Secretary of State for Culture, Ben Bradshaw. This happens to be the same Veronica Wadley whose paper supported Johnson for the post of mayor and campaigned against Ken Livingstone. In other words, Bradshaw sees this as Johnson rewarding Wadley for her support. Bradshaw then exercises his power of veto over the appointment (his right), and his view is shared by the chair of the Arts Council of England (the London arts board's parent body), Liz Forgan, who claims that Wadley was the "least qualified" of the shortlist, that Johnson is ignoring the fact that the majority of the selection panel were against Wadley, and appoints a temporary London chair (her right) until the mess is sorted out.

Enter Wadley into the debate. She asserts: "I am a better candidate because I would be an independent chair and not part of the arts establishment. I have a proven commitment to the arts. My background in the media means I bring no bias to sectorial interests and bring strong advocacy, communications skills and leadership qualities." Even if she does say so herself. Well, of course, I can vouch for the fact that all of us in the media have no bias, and we have great communication skills and leadership qualities. Unfortunately, sometimes in the midst of showing all those skills we wake up.

Re-enter Mr Bradshaw to say: "The idea that a Tory patsy running the London Arts Council would find money to fund a play like Enron – forget it."

Let's ignore the patsy bit, nice as it is to see that quaint old epithet. What takes my breath away is Mr Bradshaw's assertion that a Tory, patsy or otherwise, would not fund Enron. Presumably, this would be because the play is an examination of the greed that led to the financial crisis. When will politicians get rid of this absurd prejudice that the opposing party would let politics colour every aesthetic judgement? Wadley, to be fair to her, championed the arts at the Evening Standard, and would doubtless have jumped at the chance to fund a bold new play by a young, female playwright at the Royal Court.

It would be rather enjoyable to see the former Standard editor Wadley and the former Guardian women's page editor Dame Liz Forgan occupying two of the most important arts roles in the capital and going public at regular intervals with their mutual distaste. So in the interests of entertainment, and also because she has championed the arts, I'd vote Wadley.

But, of course, neither I nor anyone else gets a vote. Unelected and uncaccountable quangos run the arts. A panel can vote against a candidate, but a mayor can still try to appoint that candidate. The elected cabinet minister sits on the sidelines vetoing, accusing, fantasising. It would make a good play, one that Wadley would certainly fund.

Madame Fu's masterclass

Simon Cowell is never one to miss a trick, so I am surprised he has not already invited China's ambassador to London to be a judge on The X Factor. Her open letter about the contestants shows how compelling it would be to have a diplomat on the panel.

Madame Fu Ying wrote that "Stacey has been more and more brave"; "Lucie, from Wales, has a lovely voice, like the country she is from" and "John and Edward impress with their determination and spirit in the face of criticism".

The judges would not be able to compete with this sort of cleverly crafted praise with a touch of devastating criticism. And Madame Fu, an elegant woman, could be persuaded to don a different dress each week to keep Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue on their toes. It may or may not help international relations, but the ratings would go through the roof.

Fleming's flying visits hit the wrong note

The American diva Renée Fleming gave a recital with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall this week to open the South Bank Centre's International Voices series. I have been contacted by a disgruntled member of the audience, armed with stopwatch, who wonders if some of these recitals give full value for money.

The whole of the first half (40 minutes) was given over to the purely orchestral suite from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Fleming appeared only after the interval to sing a 13-minute piece. She then went off while the RPO played an overture. Fleming then came back for 15 minutes of singing, followed by a four-minute encore.

The total time the star was on stage for the sold-out performance was 32 minutes. The top ticket price was £55. But it could have been worse. A night earlier a concert was given at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, where the top ticket cost £60.