The Good Soldier

Let’s talk politics! Now, we know what you’re thinking but stay with us, politics are important, sadly, so we’re just going to have to put up with them for the time being so listen carefully and we’ll begin.

If you want to be a government minister in the UK then there are five departments that you really want to be in charge of. The Home Office, The Ministry of Defence, Department for Education, Department of Health and The Foreign Office.

Why do you want those jobs? Because they have all the money and the Foreign Office let’s you hob nob with presidents and prime ministers, so lots of fun travel for the lucky person in charge.

The more money a particular government department has the more chances there will be for you, as minister, to wield a large amount of power and exert massive influence over a huge number of people. Giving yourself a nice little legacy, positive or otherwise, in the process.

The Department of Health, which runs the National Health Service, has a budget of over £95Billion every year. Compare this with the Department for Culture Media and Sport which distributes, on average, about £2.5Billion per year in grants to various agencies, including Arts Council England.

If you watch television news or read newspapers written by adults the big five are the departments that get all the attention, nobody gets famous running the DCMS.

On The Hunt

The latest incumbent at the DCMS is of course Jeremy Hunt, political climber extraordinaire. Press rumblings have him as leader of the Conservative Party when David Cameron, the current Prime Minister, gets bored with yelling at the middle east and goes walkabout.

If you ask us Mr Hunt comes across as a bit too much like a Thunderbirdsâ„¢ puppet, only less charismatic, but each to their own.

Needless to say you don’t go from DCMS Chief Bottle Washer to party leader along a straight, smoothly paved road. You have to climb your way to that job, throwing weaker folks to the side as you go.

So how is he going to get there?

Hunting for Cuts

Cue Mr Hunt’s announcement that he plans to cut 50% of the staff at the DCMS. Not cut the arts budget by 50%, but the staff who actually work for him, the cuts to grants come later. He did this weeks before any other minister has put forward their spending plans to the Treasury, the folks who control all the money.

Why do this? Well Mr Hunt is showing the rest of the party what a good little conservative soldier he is and he’s doing it with a department that is not, from a public perception point of view, terribly important.

The minister has also unceremoniously kicked the Film Council into oblivion, along with several other quangos, without so much as a meeting to ask anybody what they thought about it. Just hack and slash and prove how tough you are while telling the folks how fundamentally important to our survival the cuts are thanks to the mess the other guys left behind.

During a recent appearance on the BBC political programme ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ (catchy title! Ed!) Mr Hunt couldn’t seem to make up his mind about the health of the cultural sector. On the one hand he decried the Labour government’s lack of stewardship with regard to the arts whilst simultaneously discussing the great cultural legacy this country has built up over the last 15-20 years.

So which one is it Mr Hunt?

Hunting for Perception

From a perception point of view it costs Mr Hunt nothing to strip the DCMS down to the bone, and all the areas they fund with it. Arts Council England is the single largest recipient of DCMS funding after the Olympics.

We have mentioned before that you don’t win elections by standing up for the arts. You also don’t lose elections for cutting the arts down to almost nothing. Far too many people think that the arts sector is filled with ne’er-do-wells ensconced in fancy buildings having long lunches at the public’s expense.

There’s good and bad everywhere but if you know anything about the arts then you know that perception couldn’t be any further from the truth if you stuck it on a rocket ship and sent it to Mars.

Over £1Billion of the figure mentioned above is for the Olympics in London in 2012. After “the games” and the possible large scale cuts take place the DCMS will be almost gutted so will be of even less political value to Mr Hunt. He will have proven himself ruthless enough to move up the food chain when the next cabinet re-shuffle comes.

Hunting for Cause, Hunting for Effect

You think it sounds a little far fetched that a government minister would eviscerate an entire department for his own political purposes? Wars are waged and maintained for nothing more than ego and legacy building so stripping funding from theatre companies, dance companies, museums and libraries is child’s play for the seasoned political operator.

In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph Mr Hunt was talking about an “electoral mandate” that he doesn’t have. The vast majority of people in this country voted for different ideas and different policies by a factor of 2:1.

When we spoke to one of Mr Hunt’s “special advisors” that advisor told us that the country had given the coalition government a mandate. Overlooking the fact that we don’t vote for coalitions, we vote for political parties and nobody bothered to ask the voters what they wanted.

Recent economic reports show that the UK’s economy is growing, meaning we are no longer in a recession, but the government is unmoved and still maintains draconian cuts need to be made. Further proof, as if any were needed, that these cuts are driven by ideology, not fiscal prudence.

Funding the arts didn’t cause the recent financial crisis and cutting them won’t fix the problems. The amount of money involved is just too small to make any difference.

Mr Hunt is pandering to his party (the Conservatives, not the coalition) and their base voters for no other reason than it’s good for his career. The person responsible for the cultural well being of an entire country is using his position to climb a ladder, nothing more. Every time he speaks with that self satisfied smug grin on his face he sounds more and more disingenuous.

We’ll bet all the money in our collective pocket that Mr Hunt, sans any PR calamities or sex scandals, will be moving on as soon as the Olympics closing ceremony sets off its last firework.

Politics is perception, nothing more and at the moment the perception of Mr Hunt is right where he wants it to be.