Letter from the editor

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The Independent Online
IT'S BEEN a great week for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. On Wednesday, our two titles were bought by Tony O'Reilly's Independent Newspapers Group. We are now guaranteed strong financial security, and we have an exhilarating brief to take the papers to the top of the market, to make them the best most intelligent reads around. Andrew Marr, who returned this week to the papers after a short absence, and I will be working towards this end together. Our partnership has raised more than a few cynical eyebrows this week, but I'm delighted at the prospect of working with Andy. As he said yesterday, we're two very different people, with different histories and prejudices and talents. But newspapers are big places and they need as much input as possible. From this week, The Independent has become a much more open and lateral-thinking organisation. It is immensely exciting to be part of it.

ON THURSDAY night, we took our campaign for tax relief on arts funding to the Royal Academy, where Melvyn Bragg chaired a debate on the pros and cons of adopting the long-established American system of arts support. There it is simple. Make a donation to your local theatre, the Metropolitan museum, or a poetry society and you can claim instant,uncomplicated tax relief. Here, we're bound up in interminable red tape and as a result our arts are suffering - in crisis, many would say.

But the arts should never be underestimated. As Jude Kelly, director of the west Yorkshire Playhouse, put it: "The Government simply doesn't understand how the arts can change lives. There was once a time when it was embarrassing to think that reading and writing - or women's rights - were essential parts of humanising and enhancing a society. No longer true. Now the arts need to be looked at in this way - they're as vital to well being as health, education and sewerage."

THEY'RE ALSO vital to communities. I grew up in Ludlow, Shropshire, and every year they perform Shakespeare inside the castle walls. The first play I attended was Macbeth - marvellous at night, with the floodlit grey stone walls providing a backdrop to the stage set. Milton's Comus was first staged in Ludlow Castle, so the organisers were inheriting a long tradition. Over the years, the festival has become the high point of the town's year. The Shakespeare production is now just a part of a fortnight- long celebration of all forms of art - painting, jazz, dance, pottery, book readings. Almost the entire town is involved. It is good for commerce, sociability and ultimately for community. Mark Fisher, Minister for the Arts, was present at our debate on Thursday and he warned us that we were in for "a very long campaign". I guess that spells gloomy news for us in next Tuesday's budget, but he did add that he welcomed campaigns like ours as they raised the profile of this important issue and, ultimately, would help keep the arts vital. So, to all our readers who have written in with their support, a very big thank you. We're not giving up the fight yet.

FINALLY, this week saw International Women's day. I barely noticed it this year, unlike in 1971, when 5,000 demonstrated for equal pay rights, childcare facilities, contraception and abortion. Nowadays, we don't seem to know what IWD is - or should be - about. I find this somewhat sad, but it is probably inevitable. Women have made enormous strides in the past 25 years. Maybe it is now time to let other more needy groups take over these endless "days". After all, if National Impotence day now shares its 24-hour slot with Valentine's Day, then maybe its time we admitted we've won.