To be a driving instructor, you have to know how to drive. To lead the British Army, knowledge of battle is essential. To practise as an architect, the best part of a decade is spent passing exams and attending college. To run the British medical establishment, you have to be middle aged, middle class and white, as well as achieving numerous qualifications. But to be an Arts minister, in charge of spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, deciding via funding which theatre companies will thrive and which will close, which galleries will be boosted and which organisations will wither - with the result that hundreds of people may become unemployed - you need absolutely no qualificationswhatsoever. In fact, the less you know about the arts, the more blinkered your views, the better. The new Tory Arts spokesman is Boris Johnson, a fine appointment in this tradition. He immediately stated: "The job of politicians is to stay out of the arts as far as they possibly can." When asked 20 questions about c
To be a driving instructor, you have to know how to drive. To lead the British Army, knowledge of battle is essential. To practise as an architect, the best part of a decade is spent passing exams and attending college. To run the British medical establishment, you have to be middle aged, middle class and white, as well as achieving numerous qualifications. But to be an Arts minister, in charge of spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, deciding via funding which theatre companies will thrive and which will close, which galleries will be boosted and which organisations will wither - with the result that hundreds of people may become unemployed - you need absolutely no qualificationswhatsoever. In fact, the less you know about the arts, the more blinkered your views, the better. The new Tory Arts spokesman is Boris Johnson, a fine appointment in this tradition. He immediately stated: "The job of politicians is to stay out of the arts as far as they possibly can." When asked 20 questions about contemporary culture, Mr Johnson got more than half wrong and proudly announced that the last concert he'd attended was Sister Sledge in 1986! When I once dined with Boris and a well-known modern art collector, it was painfully obvious that Mr Johnson's knowledge of BritArt could probably be inscribed on his bicycle bell.
For decades now, the post of Arts minister has been a dumping ground for nice people who political leaders of the day don't know where else to put. A list of forgettable Tories, such as Richard Luce and Stephen Dorrell, under Maggie and Major; then under Tony Blair we got embarrassments like Kim Howells, with his need to grab more headlines than the organisations he was supposed to be helping. He followed Chris Smith, the first truly cultured Arts minister for decades, a man who actually read books and attended the theatre of his own free will, but was browbeaten out of office because he failed to come to grips with the Wembley fiasco. And now we have as Arts minister one of my favourite women in politics, Estelle Morris, whose very first statement on her appointment was along the lines of "I'm sorry I haven't a clue". The job was her prize from Tony for being too nice to stand up to the playground bullies in education.
The sooner various political appointments are made cross-bench and put out to non-party members, the better. Why can't the post of Arts minister be like chairman of the BBC, open to all? Then Boris, Estelle, me, Charles Saatchi and Kim could all apply. After all, I've run a lot of television, edited a national newspaper, I collect modern art, write about the stuff, and live in a modern house I actually commissioned and paid for. I'm a great consumer of the arts and champion of creative people - but, of course, that doesn't seem to be any kind of criteria for the manifestly important job of running the arts in Britain.
In his witty six-point plan, Boris waffles on about SpellCheck and teaching Latin; sending the Greeks a copy of the Elgin Marbles; and getting Damien Hirst to hold a summit and explain to us all what he means. All good knock-about stuff. But if I were to offer any of that on an application form to run the arts budget of any local council in the UK, I wouldn't even get an interview.
In short, Boris, you are not as funny or as ironic as you think. There are questions of fundamental importance about arts funding in Britain - about whether we should expect our museums to use all their meagre acquisition funds to purchase Old Masters. About whether the Government's drive for "accessibility" ends with a patronising dumbing down, and whether too much money is spent in the South. Should the English National Opera only receive a subsidy if it promotes British conductors, designers and directors? The list is endless. Mr Johnson talks about the need to arrest "the decline in verse" via a poetry Olympiad. Like all politicians, he is woefully uninformed. As the BBC2 television programmes featuring Daisy Goodwin demonstrate, the public in their millions adore poetry.
And so, Mr Johnson is once again casting himself as the Monsieur Hulot of the Tory party with his dim-witted "plans". Don't be deceived, however. Boris is far smarter and much better known than most of his fellow MPs. In short, one day he'll make a great party leader - but can I make a plea for politicians to leave running arts policy to the experts?
Naomi Campbell's victory over the Daily Mirror is to be applauded - although neither party in this dispute has behaved well. Campbell is a spoilt, self-centred person, who freely admits she is prone to tantrums. So am I but, luckily for me, I am not attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and so I don't have to worry that a Daily Mirror photographer might spring from behind a car and capture me on film. I am also not a gorgeous woman with an amazing body who looks great in a swimsuit and whose image in that little bit of fabric will sell thousands of newspapers. The Daily Mirror was only ever interested in Naomi because she was a beautiful black woman with a fabulous figure. Although she lied about her drug addiction, whether she's famous or anonymous she is completely entitled to seek treatment and help in private. What public good is achieved by secretly photographing her entering or leaving counselling sessions? The person this action would impact on most would be Campbell, and one can only conclude that the Daily Mirror gets a perverse pleasure from making it harder than ever for a drug addict to get back on an even keel. Once again, the idea that a well-known person might seek medical help, and want to do that in private, must be respected. Newspapers need to understand that by relentlessly intruding on private grief or illness, they alienate their readers and bring a privacy law closer.
So Digby Anderson thinks that Middle England and all its traditional values have vanished. He's written a report for the Social Affairs Unit detailing exactly how standards are dropping and we are all turning into louts. He moans about lack of table manners, our appalling estuary English accents (must mean me), and the fact that 50-year-old women are wearing "youth" kit (definitely me). He claims that the very class that would have opposed strikes and hated hooligans behaves like the uneducated masses it once despised. There's only one word for his "findings" - twaddle. Digby is in love with an era that never existed, and he has a rose-tinted view of the past that's about as realistic as those old Hovis ads. Britain is bustling, noisy, a bit untidy and raucous - but it's the best place on earth.
I'm sorry, but not surprised by the demise of the Savoy Opera - I went to see The Marriage of Figaro the other week and the place was half full. And for all the fuss about reaching new audiences, the people there looked suspiciously like the same people I see at the ENO or at Covent Garden: nice, middle-aged opera lovers. This was a brave experiment, and all the more sad because the singing was generally excellent and the whole evening a delight. I hope that it will be repeated, hopefully outside London.Reuse content