Leading Article: Dorrell and the national identity

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN DORRELL, formerly of the Treasury, has been coming to terms with his new responsibilities as Secretary of State for National Heritage. Today, in his first major speech, he will outline the philosophy that will underpin his stewardship. The emphasis will be on the department's commitment to excellence and role as catalyst rather than benefactor.

Since he is a man of impressive intellect and liberal instincts, Mr Dorrell can be counted on to make his rag-bag of responsibilities look as coherent and inter-related as is possible. His department was originally created by John Major to harness the energies of David Mellor. To add weight to what had been the Office of Arts and Libraries, broadcasting and the press were detached from the Home Office; English Heritage from Environment; film from Trade and Industry; sport from Education and tourism from Employment. On top of that came responsibility for the National Lottery, which is in danger of seizing a disproportionate share of publicity.

Among these, as Mr Dorrell will point out, are some key sectors of the economy, generating altogether around pounds 50bn a year. Tourism alone accounts for 5 per cent of gross domestic product and provides roughly 7 per cent of all jobs. As for the press, broadcasting and the fine arts, they perform key roles not merely in enhancing the quality of life but in defining the national identity.

In other words, what looks like a pot-pourri portfolio adds up to a very substantial responsibility. The pity is that the most backward- looking element within it, the national heritage, was chosen for the department's title. Nothing could be more future-oriented than broadcasting and the rules governing media ownership. Equally, the quality of many people's lives is more affected by their access to live culture and to sports facilities than by more obvious symbols of the national heritage.

In a country suspicious of intellectuals, culture - in the sense of high culture - has tended to be seen as something Continental and alien. But the word is increasingly used in a broader sense to define an outlook or way of life, as in youth, yob or enterprise culture. Mr Dorrell is uniquely well placed to shape the culture of the nation, in both the narrow and the wider meanings of the term.

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