Tag Archives: culture

The writing’s on the wall: some notes towards a Conservative arts policy

Who’d be a proper, MSM-grade journalist, forever digging through the muck for a tiny shred of straw around which to shape something that might plausibly resemble an actual, payment-worthy brick?

As the party of enterprise, at any rate, Conservatives really ought to applaud the efforts of the Sun hack who managed to extract from a speech by Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport Jeremy Hunt MP a story entirely worthy of being set alongside, last time I looked, articles discussing people having a shower in the Big Brother House, the Army’s discovery of UFOs flitting high above Shropshire, and the vexed issue of whether tennis shorts are ‘sexy’ (this latter complete with expository photos, to aid the uncommitted in their deliberations).

Admittedly, in this company the Hunt story suffers marginally from lack of colour. Titled Tory: Graffiti is so passionate (but Hunt enthusiasts needn’t worry, the usual ‘top Tory’ formula kicks in very soon thereafter), the point of the article — file under ‘Tory Gaffe’ — is to flag up an entirely unremarkable reference to the ‘thought provoking’ nature of at least some graffiti. The reference, in turn, was made in the course of Mr Hunt’s recent speech at the invitation of what ConHome described (only slightly breathless in its wishful boosterism) as ‘Peter Whittle’s increasing influential New Culture Forum‘, on the subject of Conservative cultural policy.

It’s a rich, if in some ways invariably depressing topic. Still, let’s get graffiti out of the way first. Continue reading


Filed under art, politics, Tory things

Pompeo Batoni at the National Gallery

He was dashing if slightly bookish — always impeccably turned out — owned a pointed brindle greyhound of delightful character, came across as refreshingly mature for his 21 years, and understood the hard-to-achieve magic spell that is companionable, genuinely sympathetic silence.

In short, he could hardly have contrasted more extremely with most of the men I knew at Cambridge, which may perhaps explain why, in the late 1980s and early 90s, I wasted so many pleasant hours in the Fitzwilliam, in a vast vaulted room where the quiet was all but hypnotic, just standing and looking, absorbing something from his taciturn company that seemed unobtainable anywhere else, but no less desirable for that. His name, I should perhaps add, was Charles Compton, the short-lived 7th Earl of Northampton (1737-1763), as portrayed in this full-length canvas by Pompeo Batoni.

A shelter, amid the flood of mortal ills
The Fitzwilliam was, in those days, as much my refuge as my nearest world-class art gallery. Those born after the early 1990s may find this hard to believe — having cut milk-teeth on a disregarded PalmPilot, lisped their first syllables into an iPhone, and, for all I know, employed some chunky plastic Bob the Builder-style Blackberry to precipitate their very first playground flame-war — but in the period of which I write, it was possible, by the simple expedient of moving from one physical space into another, to cut loose the chains that bound one, however irksomely, to the world of human communication. Continue reading


Filed under art

Who’s out of tune? Ms Hodge versus the Proms

In some ways it’s a pity that culture minister Margaret Hodge’s recent speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research has already been buried under the avalanche of denunciation that her comments regarding the Proms so generously invited, as there were other aspects of it which, while no less wrong-headed and dispiriting, might have at least generated a marginally more amusing script for subsequent public discussion.

For instance, does Ms Hodge genuinely believe, as she claims in her speech, that next year marks the ‘anniversary’ of Henry VIII’s accession? And would she please explain what she means when she says that one of the key achievements of this ‘well known figure in our history’ lay in — and I’m not making this up, it’s really in the text — ‘separating state and religion’? And does she ever worry that as aspirations for ‘our sectors’ go, ’embodying common belongings’ might be a less than inspiring battle-cry? And finally, does she actually agree with the somewhat bizarre little maxim, certainly included by someone amongst her remarks, that ‘traditions are only experiments that once worked’?

Well, the discovery of ‘a shared sense of common cultural identity’ (‘shared’ and ‘common’, no less) might seem a more galvanising proposition were government ministers to display a stronger grasp of language, history and tradition, almost as if these cornerstones of nationhood held any significance for them.

Instead, however, we are left with Ms Hodge’s comments regarding the Proms and the fuss that these have generated. Continue reading


Filed under culture, politics