The Week In Arts: Estelle Morris and the art of being a minister

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The Independent Online

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is another country. They do things differently there. This week, the department's Arts Minister, Estelle Morris, announced that she wouldn't be standing for Parliament at the next election. In the newspaper interview, in which she revealed this, she went on to say that she didn't feel that the Government explained its policies very well; and she added that, even if she were one day appointed to the House of Lords, she would definitely refuse to be a minister again.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is another country. They do things differently there. This week, the department's Arts Minister, Estelle Morris, announced that she wouldn't be standing for Parliament at the next election. In the newspaper interview, in which she revealed this, she went on to say that she didn't feel that the Government explained its policies very well; and she added that, even if she were one day appointed to the House of Lords, she would definitely refuse to be a minister again.

In my naivety, I assumed that any one of these three things would mean she was also standing down as minister for the arts. Here is a woman on her way out of Parliament, unhappy with the Government's presentation of policy, and implying that she does not enjoy being a minister. Were this a Treasury minister talking, I suspect she would stand down.

The interview between the Arts Minister and Matthew Parris of The Times makes salutary reading for anyone interested in the arts. The discussion is taken up with Miss Morris's previous role as Education Secretary. It is as if her present portfolio never existed.

But that's being an Arts Minister for you. It's not just Mr Parris (and even, it seems, Miss Morris) who hesitate to talk about it. Few others in the population really understand what it is. Come to that, few Arts Ministers do either. David Mellor, one of the best ministers in charge of the arts, once told me he was not prepared to spend half of the year arguing with the Treasury for money and the other half watching powerlessly as the Arts Council spent it in ways he disliked. So he thought laterally and set up a series of special funds which he could control.

Others think less laterally and remain powerless. If Estelle Morris is asked in the Commons about the behaviour, funding or performance of one of our national arts companies, she has to reply: "That is a matter for the Arts Council." And there ends the matter. For the Arts Council meets behind closed doors and rarely explains its decisions.

So perhaps there is a real role for Estelle Morris in her last months as a minister and an MP. And it's a role she wants. Be a minister who explains policies. Next week you could start by telling us the Government's thoughts on: years of crisis at the English National Opera; how many months you think the RSC should spend in London; the imploding of the strife- torn Royal Academy; and high theatre ticket prices.

An inspired leader's global triumph

On Wednesday, John Humphrys interviewed Mark Rylance, the artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe, about the Globe's benefit performance of Romeo and Juliet for the Samaritans.

It would have been mighty odd if Humphrys had asked him: "By the way, do you intend to resign?" (Mind you, if it had been a politician, he may well have thrown in the question for a bit of fun.) But I suspect he was less than chuffed when Rylance, right, put out a press release an hour later to say he was stepping down.

He will be enormously missed. It's easy to forget that there were doubts about the whole enterprise when it began a decade ago. It was anticipated that only diehard tourists would stand in the open air in the English weather for three hours of Shakespeare. And there were fears that recreating a Shakespearean playhouse might seem gimmicky. But with innovative, entertaining productions, cross- gender casting and a vigorous education policy, the project has genuinely increased understanding and appreciation of Elizabethan theatre.

Rylance, a charismatic actor and an inspired leader, has made Shakespeare's Globe a triumph.



  • The theatre world has been scandalised by the departure of director Bob Carlton from the salsa musical Murderous Instincts after the American producer Manny Fox bawled him out in the interval of a pre-West End performance in Norwich. The scandal is that Mr Fox did the bawling out in front of the audience. But perhaps the flamboyant, cigar-chomping Mr Fox is ahead of his time. The same theatre world often expresses the view that public and press would benefit from knowing more about the strains of putting on a show. Here, in front of an admiring audience, was pure theatre: its tension, its human interaction, its crisp dialogue, its tragic climax. Much more of this and they will be queuing for returns.

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