David Lister: So much was missing from the Culture Secretary's first speech

The Week in Arts

Saturday 22 May 2010 00:00 BST

The new politics stops just short of the arts. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his culture minister Ed Vaizey would argue with that, of course. Mr Hunt made his first speech in the job this week. It did contain some refreshing thoughts, notably the emphasis on the importance of art and music teaching in schools, and helping philanthropy with tax concessions.

He also promised what he clearly thought were a number of radical initiatives. Among these was a pledge to cut the administration costs of the Arts Council and the many other unelected cultural quangos that drain money from genuine creativity, and a pledge to return the lottery to its first principles and use it to put more money into the arts again.

Sounds good, but beware culture ministers bearing gifts. The lottery promise is not all it seems to be. Yes, more money than at present will go to the arts, but one thing Mr Hunt has carefully avoided mentioning is that when the lottery was set up, only capital spending on the arts (new buildings, basically) was funded from it; revenue spending (the cost of wages, productions and general annual spending) was not allowed to come from the lottery. There appears to be no such safeguard this time around.

As for the Arts Council, few will argue against a cap on spending on admin. But what would be far more radical and, in the spirit of the times, more democratic would be for Mr Hunt to announce that he will break with tradition and answer all questions about the arts in Parliament. At present, ministers respond to the majority of questions with the infuriating reply: "That is a matter for the Arts Council." The Arts Council's meetings are, of course, closed to the public. Where's the transparency in that?

That would have been the first item in my fantasy speech for a new approach to the arts. Mr Hunt could also, though perhaps only in my dreams, have addressed my long-standing campaign about booking fees, charges that so annoy people who go to the theatre, rock concerts and other events. "From now on, all tickets will have printed on them the full price paid; booking fees, handling fees and web charges will be abolished." There's a sentence it would be have been great to see in a new minister's first speech.

Hell, it's a "new kind of government". Let's have a completely new kind of arts politics. So, while he has pledged to keep free admission at national museums, why not a hotel tourist tax to help to fund them?

Television, potentially the nation's most important provider of cultural fare, was completely absent from Mr Hunt's speech. That's quite an omission. A hint from him that he would insist on plays, not least classic drama, once again being shown on TV would have made my week.

These are some of the promises that would be in my fantasy first speech by a new Culture Secretary. Unfortunately, Mr Hunt has not yet truly embraced the spirit abroad for radical change. Maybe next week, Jeremy?

Whatever happened to researching roles?

The Cannes Film Festival turned out to be rather more glamorous and interesting than many had predicted. But it did contain one disappointment. I have to confess to being dismayed at the lack of detailed research by one actress. The beautiful and talented Gemma Arterton, a former Bond girl, played the lead in the new Stephen Frears film Tamara Drewe, which had its premiere at the festival. Miss Arterton played a music writer working on The Independent.

As the arts editor of The Independent, I would have expected Miss Arterton to research the inner truth of her role by taking me out to lunch or dinner or both, and plying me with favours. But she never called. She never wrote. She never sent flowers.

The new generation of actresses has forsaken method acting, and it's most distressing.

The James Bond debate continues

My suggestion on this page a couple of weeks ago that cinemagoers might be ready for a black James Bond received a number of reactions, for and against. One of the most interesting came from a reader who thought the next Bond should be not black but Asian.

The reader said: "Asians are the largest ethnic minority in Britain, twice the number of Africans and African Caribbeans. James Bond is obviously British. The intelligence services especially need Muslim recruits. So why is it only 'black' actors being considered for James Bond? Is it because the Americans are now less racist towards blacks but cannot stomach a Muslim Brit?"

I think that last bit about American attitudes affecting casting might be taking conspiracy theory a bit far, but the point about the intelligence services needing Muslim recruits is one that Bond producer Barbara Broccoli might want to reflect on. The franchise could look very different in 10 years' time.

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