Letter from the Editor

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Well, I am clearly a dullard editor. For why? Because my brilliant wheeze of the week comes just too late. There has been a frantic bidding war for the Tamworth porkers. The Express wanted to buy them for pounds 1,000 but was outbid by rivals, and the price has reportedly now hit five figures. The nation has, momentarily, put down its cutlery to shed a fat and sentimental tear over the runaway pigs. Our resident bard, Martin Newall, produced a very fine ballad on the subject earlier in the week. Now, though, the Plain People of Britain wish - no, they absolutely demand - that there be a happy ending to the story, with Butch and Sundance given luxurious quarters and a handsome income before enjoying a happy retirement. Only then will the PPB settle down, relaxed, to enjoy a packet of pork scratchings and a bacon sandwich.

Here, surely, was a great opportunity for a ruthlessly amoral editor (Marr, A) to make a buck. We should have outbid everyone, splashing out pounds 50,000 or pounds 100,000, for the pigs. Then we could have announced that they were going to be turned into bacon butties and sold to our readers ... unless a kinder-hearted rival bought them back from us first. Given the sentimental weakness of the tabloid press, I could have made a packet, certainly tripling the investment, and earning enough to buy in a couple of dippy twenty- something columnists, a Paul Johnson essay on moral turpitude, and open a bureau in Brazil. Dammit. Why didn't I think of that earlier?

When I was nobbut a boy in Perthshire, I devoured the first glossy Sunday Times magazines partly because they published, week after week, illustrations from exhibitions that I'd never get to see. Then, for some reason, the fashion for visual art in weekend magazines passed. In today's Independent Saturday Magazine, however, you will find pages devoted to paintings from Manchester, Liverpool, Swindon, Plymouth, Cookham and other non-London galleries. Next week the paintings go on show at the Royal Academy, where a ticket to "The Art Treasures of England; the Regional Collections" will cost you pounds 7. Most of the time, though, you can see these and many other treasures free at local galleries.

Why the campaigning note? Because this will be the year when the principle of free access to public galleries and museums survives or dies. A holding operation has kept the British Museum free for now but its finances are precarious and there are those in the Treasury asking why the taxpayer should help. Many of the galleries whose finest jewels are in the new exhibition are in a parlous state too. Closing them off to casual visitors would be as bad an act of civic vandalism as shutting urban parks.

Though the phrase ``Victorian values'' came to be associated with Margaret Thatcher, there's more than a whiff of Victorianism about New Labour too. There's Gladstone as Blair's preferred role model. There's the belief in work and self-reliance preached from Downing Street, and even the more traditionalist morality of those middle-class converts whom the American sociologist Charles Murray defined a few years ago as "new Victorians". But of course most of the struggling regional galleries were also Victorian creations and remind us of another side to that era; the generous-minded and open attitude to the arts as an essential aspect of education. These are mind-altering substances which this newspaper firmly believes should be freely available on demand ... and yes, even to children.