Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Thatcherite Banker running our Arts, Media, Sport and Culture? Be scared, be very scared.


Of course we must give Sajid Javid time to get his feet under the desk as our new  Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities. But his decision to hang a portrait of Margaret Thatcher in his offce - and pose with it - doesn't bode well! Whatever her other qualities the Blessed Margaret was not a great patron of the Arts, she had no interest in Sport and she had a dismissive contempt for the Media, unless they towed her line. And many would say that gender, racial and sexual equality  hardly moved forward during her time in office.

As far as the Arts is concerned the model most often favoured by extreme neo-liberals like Mr Javid is the American one. In the US the Arts are supported not by the State but by private enterprise. So, for example, the Metropolitan Opera is funded by business and wealthy patrons and ticket sales.This is a prefectly resonable model - Glyndebourne here is not dissimiliar. But it is not the only way and across Europe, including in Britain, our main Arts institutions receive public funding to cover part of their costs. So the main Opera, Ballet and Theatre companies are supported by the taxpayer. This means that they are free to pursue excellence not with a disregard for commercial concerns - far from it - but without them being all dominant.

Mr Javid is a businessman, and a very successful one. He knows how many beans make five. But the world of the Arts is not just about counting beans. If it was then the BBC would not exist - at least not in its current model. In Australia a neo-liberal Prime Minister, not unlike Mr Javid in his oiutlook, is moving to disband the Australian equivalent of the BBC the "Australian Broadcasting Corporation" (ABC). Whether it actually happens we shall see but the threat is there. Some on the Right want to do the same with the BBC of course and the Corporation now falls into Mr Javid's in-tray. Be scared, be very scared!

As far as sport is concerned commercial considerations forced live cricket off our free-to-air screens. An unholy alliance between a neo-liberal businessman at the top of the England and Wales Cricket Board (Giles Clarke), the Murdoch media (Sky) and a right of centre Coalition government meant that we have to pay through the nose to watch live cricket on television. No doubt Mr Javid would have welcomed this free enterprise deal - will he want to apply these principles to other sports we presently get without having to pay directly for it? Don't hold your breath.

To have Sajid Javid, a Thatcherite, in the job that he is now in may not be Mr Cameron's cleverest appointment. But, as I say, lets give him time. But watch him very carefully indeed - The Arts, the BBC and our sporting heritage are Jewels in our Crown. Dont let a Banker bugger them up! 


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