David Lister: There should be room in the arts world for people of all political persuasions

The Week in Arts


I don't really want to end the year by blowing Tracey Emin's trumpet, as she's no slouch when it comes to doing that for herself.

But you had to feel for her this week, when she revealed that she had been abused and made to feel an outsider by the art world, because she was a supporter of the Conservative Party.

The art world would not just dislike the fact that its very own enfant terrible was a Conservative; it wouldn't begin to understand it. Conceptual artists are not meant to be Conservatives. Neither are actors, playwrights, novelists or rock stars (until the millions or the drugs really kick in). It's against the natural order of things.

Opera singers can fraternise with the Tories, dancers, too, maybe the odd mime artist. But those at the cutting edge of contemporary culture have to be on the left. It's why only one in a thousand "political plays" is written by a Conservative or anyone right of centre, why there are no rock festivals to support coming out of Europe, why the right has never produced a Billy Bragg, much less a David Hare.

Emin has moved the goalposts and it's disconcerting for many in the arts. In a small way, I slightly know what she means with the outsider talk. I'm not a Conservative voter, but I have in recent times argued that this government shouldn't be demonised for making cuts to the arts, as the sector wasn't totally devoid of scope for some economies. I also voiced the opinion that we should have a sophisticated rethink of free admission to national museums and galleries, perhaps to find a way of continuing to let UK residents in free and charging tourists.

On both occasions, arts world worthies made clear that this was not right thinking, or even worse, it was "right" thinking. I've long found it disappointing that the one area in British life where one would hope for real debate and openness to different views and genuine independence – the arts – can be an area so homogeneous, so in thrall to a party line that attending any arts conference is often to hear speaker after speaker saying the same thing to ever more rousing applause.

The arts are going through a golden age; there's no doubt about that. But if there is one way we could make it even more golden, it would be for this country's culture to represent and speak to all sides of the political spectrum. I would love to be surprised by some different viewpoints on stage, or on canvas or in song. The Royal Court could put on a right-of-centre play; the ICA could hold a debate about coming out of Europe, and Tracey Emin could be allowed back into polite society. The arts (and artists) are too big to be limited by one political ethos.

Let's hear it for the little people

The latest BBC version of The Borrowers received only middling to poor reviews. Nothing against the fine cast, but I have long wondered why the corporation hasn't repeated its excellent adaptation from a couple of decades ago featuring Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton – a cast to die for. That utterly superb version told the story from the perspective of the Borrowers, ie the little people, with the human beings as giant figures. The new version was told from the perspective of the human beings, with the Borrowers as tiny.

An insider tells me that the BBC never really liked the idea of telling the story from the Borrowers' perspective, and that is why it has been reluctant to repeat it. Now it has got its way and told the story differently, to little acclaim. Meanwhile, I still hope that it will repeat the other, utterly enchanting version for a new generation of viewers.

Another fine idea soon up for the chop

So who should we hiss and boo in appropriate pantomime style at this time of year? I nominate Westminster Council. First it threatened to introduce parking charges at night and on Sundays, which would have neatly decimated audience numbers for theatre, film, concerts and art galleries. It stayed its hand after an avalanche of protest, but still aims to impose the charges after next summer's Olympics.

But you can't keep a philistine council down. Now it wants to curtail the concerts in Hyde Park, as it has had 130 complaints from residents about noise. In the context of the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy some of the best rock gigs of the year there, and the hugely successful Proms in the Park, I don't think 130 complaints is excessive. Most of the concerts are over soon after 10pm. But carry on Westminster. End the Hyde Park concerts next summer, and then impose the parking charges. You might just achieve your ambition of making London one of the hardest capital cities in which to enjoy the arts.

d.lister@independent.co.uk // twitter.com/davidlister1

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