Focus on the Creative Industries Series: The Coalition’s contempt for the arts isn’t pragmatic. It’s ideological.
By Alex Shattock.
In the latest instalment of our Focus on the Creative Industries Series, Alex Shattock argues the axing of the UK Film Council was an ideological decision for the Coalition Government.
Modern conservatism is so radical it can hardly be called conservatism at all. You can call it Thatcherism, neo-liberalism, Randism- whichever label you choose, it is dangerous and we need to be aware of it. The new intake of 2010 Conservative MPs are perhaps the most prominent example. ‘Britannia Unchained’, a book by five of the new bunch- Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss- argues that we need to roll back welfare, workers’ rights and the minimum wage in order to free the market and prevent “an inevitable slide into mediocrity”.
This isn’t the inclusive conservatism of Disraeli, or the house-building consensus politics of Churchill or Macmillan. This is ruthless, free-market fanaticism. And the proponents of it won’t be happy until we have a negligible state apparatus, the only purpose of which is to turn what little tax there is into business subsidy.
There are two strands of thought within their partisan philosophy that relate directly to the arts. Firstly there is the idea that the individual must pay for everything. The second, related idea is “if it doesn’t make a profit, it’s worthless”. Taking them both together: the state should not be funding the creative industries. And if the creative industries can’t support themselves, if they can’t sell themselves effectively enough to make a profit, then they don’t deserve to exist.
One victim of this philosophy was the UK Film Council, one of the Labour Government’s most popular and successful quangos. It funded over 900 British films between 2000 and 2010, including This is England and The King’s Speech. According to John Woodward, Chief Executive of the Council, the Coalition axed it “without notice or consultation”.
The Conservative right were happy to see it go. Julian Fellowes, writing in the Telegraph, berated the “anti-commercial mindset of the film élite”. To people like Fellowes, films that are profitable fund themselves, and films that aren’t profitable shouldn’t be made. “Show business is just that: a business,” he crowed. “Cut the Film Council and end this 1970s navel-gazing”. But the 1970s brought us films like A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and Monty Python and the Holy Grail: films that weren’t commercial super-hits, but went on to become cult (and even mainstream) cinema classics. The 1970s was also the decade Margaret Thatcher carried out her threat to slash state funding to the UK film industry, which inevitably let it slide into mediocrity.
But most people in the industry knew that axing the Film Council would be a terrible loss. Many campaigned relentlessly to save it, like Julie Walters, Clint Eastwood, James McAvoy, and Pete Postlethwaite. Following the dismantling of the Film Council, the producer Tim Bevan (Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, Atonement, Frost/Nixon) has stated he will no longer work on films that are funded by the UK government. Last month, the cross-party Select Committee on Culture released a report damning the decision’s “deeply disturbing modus operandi”.
The death of the Film Council is just one example of the Coalition’s unremitting attack on UK arts and culture. Funding has been slashed repeatedly over the past three years. Budget cuts have forced local councils to sell off community artwork. Over 200 libraries were closed in 2012.
Many people say we can’t afford to keep funding the arts under austerity. It is understandable why, when faced with cuts of over twenty percent, local councils look at community artwork as the first thing to go. But in times of austerity, we can’t do away with our artistic and cultural heritage. We need it more than ever. Trips to art galleries and the cinema are among the few worthwhile, entertaining things a person can do on a small budget. Man cannot live on cut-price booze and branded cigarettes alone, however much the Coalition would like him to.
Alex Shattock is a Young Fabians Member.