Extract from article in the Guardian yesterday:
Nesta isn’t the only organisation steeling itself for the political transition. It’s a great time to be Tory. The planned restructure at the UK Film Council and its mooted merger with the British Film Institute are taking place with more than half an eye on an incoming Tory government; at the recent London Film Festival, both courted senior Conservatives with invitations to their gala events. As soon as his appointment was announced on Wednesday, Archie Norman – the new chairman of ITV – felt impelled to make a statement saying that he wouldn’t “expect favours” from an incoming Tory government.
The danger is that the Tories might follow New Labour’s example. Bradshaw’s rousing defence of the principle that funding for the arts could be conducted at “arm’s length” from governmental interference would have been more convincing had his party not sought to infuse arts organisations with the idea that innovation could be pressed into the service of immediate social and political ends – as if Twitter could renew people’s interest in politics, for example, or public art could solve social ills. That instrumental approach is now discredited. The only people who benefited were mediocre artists and apparatchiks who could talk the talk.
The Tories, quite rightly, are going to have none of it. The problem is that quangos and arts organisations are still stuffed with New Labour’s appointees, many in the invidious position of having to butter up the other side. Most are so deeply wedded to New Labour that they have little idea about who they should even be cosying up to, with the result that many of those lunches are going to waste. Over a cup of coffee one source, who has worked for Nesta, told me that the whole thing is “unedifying, like an episode of The Thick of It”.
There is no doubt that an incoming Tory government should defend both robust funding for the arts and the arm’s-length principle. A civilised country needs solid and independently minded support for its arts, particularly the difficult, challenging stuff – the real stuff of innovation – that commercial sponsors tend to turn up their noses at.
But the Tories should resist the temptation to replace New Labour’s cultural leaders with their own. Tories are known for their charm, after all, but not for their taste. The irony of this shifting of chairs is that Team Cameron is still running a shadow operation in opposition, and is much too small to have worked out the finer detail of which quangos it plans to cull. In the meantime, however, they might want to beware the attentions of fairweather friends.