Wednesday 9 April 2014

Open letter to Sajid Javid, the new Culture Minister

Dear Sajid Javid

We've never met, but that's because I work in 'Culture' and you have spent most of your adult life so far in banking.

It's very difficult to see from your Wikipedia entry or from the kind of information put before us by Huffington Post (see my previous blog) how you're qualified to do this new job at the Ministry of Culture.

My experience within the cultural field, whether as a writer, performer and broadcaster, or as a keen consumer, is that this country is very ambivalent about 'culture'. That's to say, it's very convenient for politicians to make loud noises about the importance of this or that big cultural figure - Shakespeare, Beethoven and the like - but very difficult for them to acknowledge or support the thousands of ways all of us create and consume culture in small groups, locally, and - more recently - in digital forms.

This is not just about money - though that is of course important - it's about an attitude to people. Either we think that everyone has the potential to produce art, or we don't. Either we think that everyone is entitled to have access to all kinds of art, no matter how pricey that art was to produce, or not. As yet, we don't know which side of this divide you sit.

But while we're on about money - this is a peculiar time, isn't it? You're an ex-banker who made millions during the fatal bubble of the early 21st century. You were at a bank that has been fined for rate-fixing. You know all about this kind of money.  The fact that people like you got up to all sorts of greedy lending and fiddling is why we're in the crisis.

And yet the party you belong to keeps telling us that the reason why we're in the crisis is because 'we' spent too much money on health, education, social services, benefits and - yes - culture. Anything that was paid for out of taxation seems to have caused the crisis, according to your party. Lies, all lies, but that's the sort of 'culture' we have to put with from your party.

So, I'm very curious about how you're going to explain why 'Culture' will have to take a hit from the Treasury even as you are someone who benefited from the false boom, the very same boom that caused the crash...and to continue the chain...which is what has given your party the excuse to slash public services and cut waged and unwaged people's standard of living....and further enrich the mega-rich.

Perhaps you're mad keen on culture. Perhaps in between making all that money,  you were hanging around galleries, theatres, cinemas, concert halls, comedy clubs, libraries, dance studios, painting classes. Perhaps you've seen how people manage on a shoe string, perhaps you've seen the awful conditions backstage in many theatres, perhaps you know about the crap wages that most people in the arts work with. Perhaps you know about the terrible crisis we have in libraries, depriving people of access to knowledge and culture.

If you do, you'll know it's a very, very different world from the outrageous, lavish, crazy world you lived in while you were at Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Banks.

No matter you are of working class origin and your cultural background is a million miles from the Etonian toffs, you are now part of the class (yes), that runs the ludicrous world of the mega-rich gamblers who have caused millions of people across the world to lose their jobs and welfare.

So I'm not holding out any hopes.

Michael Rosen