Why do our politicians seem to hate the arts?

Perhaps it's because they can be difficult to understand

Share

As so often, it’s for the leaving of a job that the occupant saves her best lines. Liz Forgan, outgoing boss of the Arts Council, has bitten the hand that fed her, by suggesting that the Government is about as keen on culture as cats are about having baths. Even Michael Gove (Education) and Maria Miller (er, Culture) would be happier, Forgan suggests, to be seen at the Emirates Stadium than the ENO. Football is a much better look, frankly.

She is spot on. Even though British culture is revered across the world; even though it provides jobs, inspiration and joy to millions in the UK, you will never catch a politician actually attending an arts event. I have never bumped into an MP, let alone a minister, in a theatre foyer. If they do go at all, they creep in after the house lights have been dimmed, as if they had a problem parking, and were late. 

It used to be just the left which was nervous about being seen bothering the Crush Bar. Lord Gowrie, one of Forgan’s predecessors, told me Labour politicians would rather have their eyes poked out than be seen enjoying Mozart. Under Tony Blair’s watch, the arts were absolutely a four-letter word, more so even than God. Can anyone ever remember seeing Blair at any cultural event? He only insisted on turning up at the opening of Tate Modern because a) the Queen was there and b) the opening of the Dome had been so awful. There was only one politician happy to be seen at arts events, and that was Chris Smith, who was gay, and was therefore expected to hang out with luvvies.

Honorable mention must also go to John Major, who insisted that culture be included in the lottery as a Good Cause. But of course Major, son of a circus performer, had no problem with showbiz. If the lottery were invented today, I seriously doubt the arts would make the cut. 

Why do politicians hate culture? Is it because it is difficult to understand? Only a complete moron would suggest the arts live in a rarified zone of smartypants speaking Latin and reading Cuneiform. And the rules of football are quite difficult too (offside, anyone?) At the Olympics opening ceremony, Danny Boyle had no issue with our culture. Who was there? Shakespeare. Elgar. Blake. Dickens. Milton. E L Travers. J M Barrie, and Paul Weller, to name but a few. British culture was quite rightly given as much of the glory as cricket, the Health Service and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The politicians had to watch it, and applaud, uneasily.

Pretending to be a football fan is probably an easier role to manage for members of this “we’re-all-in-it-together” Government, because football doesn’t brook dissent. Great art picks holes in the status quo; it asks questions, it poses challenges. It is about beauty and love and life and tragedy, about boredom and disappointment and despair, sometimes all on a single canvas – an awkward portfolio for an MP to tuck under his or her arm.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

£450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

Senior Fund Administrator - Edinburgh - £22 p/hr

£20 - £22 per hour + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Fund Administrator, Top Four ...

Nursery Nurse

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a better wo...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on