For years, whenever I set foot in Italy, our UK Conservative Party used to experience, with what became an almost gratifying regularity, some minor spasm of leadership crisis. These were rarely more than a surprise resignation or sly bit of positioning, admittedly, but welcome all the same, providing as they did enough good, unwholesome fun to avert post-holiday blues.
So having recently spent three days in Venice, gazing thoughtfully at scraps of Byzantine stonework and nibbling oddly-shaped Venetian biscuits, what did I find upon my return? Only that forensic Googling has usurped the traditional duties of selection panels, and that Mark Littlewood has been appointed as Director-General of the IEA. Ciao!
It’s this last piece of news, irrelevant though it is to the Tory Party’s sorrows, that’s done most to drive away lingering longings for the so-called Lesser Islands, motoscafi and lagoon-lapped leisure. Not least, it’s a bit of a shock. For who would have predicted, as the obvious successor to Lord Harris of High Cross, Graham Mather and John Blundell, a chain-smoking 37-year old ex-spin doctor for the Liberal Democrats, albeit one with a reputation within his own party as a right wing extremist, no shyness in waging the battle of ideas — not always figuratively, either — and sporadic links to Lord North Street’s ancien régime? Continue reading
When I find myself actually lingering amidst the garish neon colours and pumping Japanese techno-pop in the Oxford Street Uniqlo, whence I’d repaired to buy yet more summer-type T-shirts, just to enjoy another minute or two of air-conditioning, there can be only one explanation: Soho, like much of the rest of Britain, is in the grip of a heatwave. London’s peerless parks come into their own at moments like this, together with — as we have seen — the reliable air-conditioning systems of downmarket clothes emporia, cold showers, iced coffee, torpor and idleness.Since, however, weather on the wrong side of 30 degrees celsius is not exactly conducive to labouring over a hot MacBook Pro for any longer than entirely necessary, by way of intellectual exertions, the following observation will, I’m afraid, have to do. For anything else, it really is just too darned hot.
First, bless Marc Sidwell, whose excellent The Arts Council: Managed to Death, summarised in this Standpoint piece, appeared yesterday. Sidwell wishes to abolish the national Arts Council. While he may not have been the first to try to bring the curtain down on an organisation which, in the course of its 63-year history, has only become more vexatiously managerial, more socially instrumental in its motivation and more profligate in its deployment of taxpayers’ money, rarely can the case have been made so calmly, clearly and near-unarguably. If Sidwell seems to retain, for instance, a little more faith in the efficacy of the DCMS than I do, the sheer reasonableness of his message makes it all the harder to dismiss. Present at the launch of this well-produced and information-packed report was Nick Starr from the National Theatre, an earnest and likeable soul who struggled to explain why the Arts Council somehow needs to know the sexuality of its grant recipients whilst at the same time obviously not using the information to make funding decisions — just collecting data as an end in itself, presumably, as if that were somehow better. Also present was Ed Vaizey MP, Shadow Minister for Culture — typically urbane, jovial and who said absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been said just as plausibly by his Labour counterpart. All of which was, incidentally, just a little bit rather disappointing, as at a time when public expenditure is surely due to come under increasingly rigorous scrutiny, the sort of well-thought-out reforms advocated by Sidwell read less as tinkering for the sake of it, let alone as free market fundamentalism, than as a graceful response to fiscal necessity. In any event, consider Sidwell’s report very highly recommended. Continue reading