Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Blair - the art lover in hiding

I know I'm a little late on this one, but sometimes you need to let things fester a while, just like Tony Blair. Ten years and no significant speech about the arts from the Prime Minister (I think we can ignore that Cool Britannia shenanigans early on in the premiership for the self-congratulatory spin it was). Just months away from his departure he claims the past decade as a golden era for culture. Media pundits all over the place are remarking on Blair's legacy speeches. There is, it is true, something potentially rather pathetic about an ex-leader of a country and it must be all but impossible to discuss your future plans whilst still in the hot seat, with commentators ready to accuse you of taking your eye off the ball. So why has the speech at the Tate had as much impact on the arts sector as cold porridge slapped onto a cold plate? It's true that courtesy of the Lottery and increased allocations to the Arts Council, the arts has had a genuinely significant financial boost since 1997, but whether it is government prudence at work or the huge Olympics deficit, the Arts Council is having to satisfy a Treasury looking for 5% year on year cuts over the next three years. Even looking at the arts from a purely fiscal point of view, considering the huge payback it makes into the economy (£13 billion in 2004 according to Blair), the £420 million subsidy it receives would win five gold stars simply in value for money terms. Perhaps this speech might turn this unfortunate tide, but then again, Brown wasn't the speaker....

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