Tuesday 5 April 2022

Why Conservatives don't get culture

 The problem with sweeping generalisations is that they are generally wrong. I am appalled by the lack of understanding of what culture is that seems to be rife in the Conservative party. There was a time when the opposite was true. Former leader Edward Heath was an accomplished conductor of Orchestra's.  Margaret Thatcher created Channel 4 as a public service broadcaster funded by advertising, but somewhere down the line, the value of culture seems to have become a blind spot for the Conservative party. A few years ago, Barnet Council decided to bid to become the London Borough of Culture. Can you guess who they chose as the lead partner in the bid? Brent Cross Shopping centre. We outlined why they'd got it wrong at the time.

Today the Cuture Secretary Nadine Dorries has been in the news. She has a plan to flog off what many consider to be Margaret Thatchers finest legacy, Channel 4. Apparently, she thinks it needs to be owned by a multinational to compete with Netflix and Amazon. What Nads completely fails to understand is that the whole point of Channel four is that it doesn't. The remit of Channel 4 is to do things differently. Over the years it has produced a plethora of amazing content that no one else would touch with a bargepole as commissioners, but which has proven hugely important. Without C4 we'd never have seen It's a sin, Father Ted, Friday Night Dinner, The Inbetweeners, Catastrophe and The Derry Girls to name a few of the iconic comedies. Can you imagine any other broadcaster making a comedy about three Roman Catholic priests in the middle of nowhere, with standing jokes about cups of tea?  As for their films, the list is really too long.

So what is it with the current crop of Conservatives and why don't they 'get it'? Of course some do, but the fact Ms Dorries is culture secretary demonstrates that there is a problem. A couple of years ago, I did a submission to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport inquiry into live music. For reasons I can't quite fathom an inquiry that was supposed to be about protecting live music venues in the UK ended up largely about the costs of secondary ticketing. It was a tragic waste of an opportunity, but it became clear that MP's were more interested in the cost of tickets than actually ensuring there were shows to go to. 

This summed up the problem. The benefits of music and culture are financially unquantifiable. As your loved ones coffin departs at their funeral, to the sounds of their favourite song, what is that worth. As you listen to the track you met your partner dancing to? The song your kid danced to at the school play? What are all of these things worth? The UK is a world leader in music. The industry brings in £5 billion a year to the UK coffers. As for TV production, our public service broadcasters make shows that are shown around the world, things no one else would consider. This gives new film makers, producers, writers, editors and crews the opportunity to hone their trade. Everyone has to start somewhere. What Dorries is proposing will simply mean that in twenty years time, we have a far poorer, less diverse and less interesting cultural environment. It is no accident that the UK has so many award winning people involved in creative industries. It is because with the BBC and C4 we have platforms that allow talent to grow and thrive. You simply cannot quantify that. 

As soon as you get bean counters and non creative people running cultural organisations, you destroy the heart and soul of those organisations. Of course Netflix and Amazon produce amazing shows, They will continue to do so, but why destroy C4, which costs the taxpayer nothing, on the alter of privatisation. Thatcher got it, why don't our current crop of Tories? 

The answer is simple. They are not creative people, how many Tory MP's have worked in the creative industries in a creative role? They simply see culture in terms of pound notes. They don't understand that every ticket sold at a music venue or theatre, is worth far more to London than the ticket price. There is the pre/post drinks and meals. There is the tube/bus/train fare. There are the tourists returning home saying London is wonderful. In terms of Channel 4, it is the money generated by the wonderful shows and films mentioned above and the legacy they leave. You can't and you shouldn't want to quantify it, so you can't measure it. 

And you may ask about what I've said "What do you know about the arts?" Well, I've run a successful studio for 43 years, I've had a successful career as both a child actor and musician, I've produced 2 documentary films, that were shown at The Edinburgh festival and The House of Commons. Thats all

No comments: