A 5 hour long debate in the House of Commons about culture revealed nothing more than our politicians don't know much about the arts.
Wednesday, 26 June, 2013
Monday, 17 June, 2013
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Last week the much anticipated, by some at least, televised "debate" in the House of Commons (the UK's legislative body) about the wide world of culture rapidly descended into the "not worth bothering with" territory that we, here in TheLab™, had predicted.
It's hard to determine what was more depressing about the whole affair. Was it the lack of MPs in the chamber, the never ending list of statistics or the hellish delivery of the politicians that seriously made you question just how they managed to persuade anybody to vote for them?
The debate itself was called by Harriet Harman, the Shadow Culture Secretary, and was attended, at the beginning anyway, by the Culture Secretary herself, Maria Miller.
Ms Harman got off to a bad start by getting the cost/return benefit of the arts wrong. Arts Council England (ACE) puts the number at £6 returned for every £1 spent, Ms Harman said it was £4. To be fair there are several different numbers floating around making similar claims and that only serves to emphasise how particularly useless those numbers actually are.
Ms Miller faired little better when she stood up to give her speech and started yapping about how great the arts were for the economy. If the arts are so great for the economy then why, as we asked last week, are they being cut? If you're trying to boost the economy and tackle the deficit you don't cut funding that makes you more money than you spend.
During the 5 hour long session nobody bothered to raise that particular point. Well, somebody might have raised that point but we gave up watching after 3 hours and Ms Miller had left long before that.
Before leaving though, the Minister also claimed that the coalition government was spending more money on the arts than the previous government.
Apparently this uptick in funding can be attributed to an increase in lottery money since grant-in-aid money has dropped by about 37%. What Ms Miller failed to mention was that the lottery funding had gone up because it was no longer being sucked away by the Olympics. Again, nobody appeared to raise this particularly salient point.
After the, constantly interrupted, speeches by the two main protagonists the viewing public were left with hour after hour of "back bench" MPs getting to their feet to list the various cultural things that go on in their particular region along with the never ending statistics we mentioned earlier.
For the most part it was like following the arts on Twitter, just a never ending list of things that have either happened or will happen and how unrelentingly awesome everything is.
Other than political point scoring there were no detractors in evidence during the debate. Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, who works at The Treasury, didn't bother to show up despite being very much against the arts receiving any special treatment in the latest round of cuts.
The essence of any debate is about stating your case, listening to the opposing argument and then you try, using debating tactics, to persuade the other person around to your point of view and vice-versa.
It's also completely depressing that the "debate" is still stuck on the "should we fund the arts?" argument.
During her speech Ms Miller mentioned the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), operated by Sadler's Wells Theatre and funded by Arts Council England and the Education Department.
If anybody in that room had even a basic understanding of what they were talking about they could have perhaps asked a few questions about NYDC. Such as; what is the point of kids being in the NYDC when the profession they may want to be a part of is so woefully incapable of discussing the creation of more jobs for professional dancers?
Where are these kids going to find work if they go through dance school after NYDC and enter the profession? How are they going to find the money to pay for their education, what about their pay and conditions when they do find work?
What about the artistic director's of NYDC being appointed from the associate artist pool at Sadler's Wells? Is the theatre operating a closed shop approach to appointments and where are the opportunities for the rest of the dance community to benefit creatively and financially from the largesse of the NYDC?
Some very fundamental points from just one small part of the dance profession that was never, nor will ever be, discussed by those in a position to enact real change. After all, another word for politician is "law-maker".
In many ways the debate in the House of Commons reflected the quality of the discussion about funding and other issues affecting the profession that those in the profession are having all the time.
It's often rambling, incoherent, mostly irrelevant and fails to address any real world issue directly. Talking for the sake of talking isn't working.
Even if there are folks out there with a real point to make they are often drowned out by more overbearing voices that get more time and space to express whatever happens to be bothering them.
If anybody is having a real discussion somewhere about anything that actually matters then please do let us know.
We are, as always, hoping for the best.