Damien Hirst for culture minister?

Should the Department for Culture, Media and Sport be hiring more artists?

Damien Hirst as minister for culture? Mike Leigh as his deputy? Elton John as head of the Arts Council? It sounds unlikely, but perhaps we could learn a thing or two from our Brazilian friends.

Yesterday the Southbank gave its Purcell Room stage to two of Brazil's most prominent artists -- the poet T T Catalão and the actor and director Tadeu di Pietro -- not to talk about their work, but to discuss funding, in their respective capacities as secretary for culture and citizenship and co-director of the National Foundation for Arts.

As part of Festival Brazil, a summer-long series of events celebrating Brazilian culture, the pair were in discussion with Alan Davey, head of the Arts Council for England, which is expecting a heavy cut in its funding. Catalão said the appointment of practising artists to ministerial positions has helped steer resources in the right direction and foster a better relationship between emerging artists and the state.

"The ministry of culture [in Brazil] has shone in its ability to debureaucratise funding for the arts," he told an audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

What we have achieved is a new relationship between the individual [artist] and the state, in which professional artists are encouraged to work within Points of Culture [state-funded arts centres].

We know to let go of control and trust artists and communities . . . [and] we measure success by their "multiplier effect", how they are influencing other centres for culture and how they are helping local people.

Davey said that there was much to be learned from the way Brazil has supported its artists:

In Britain artists have become marginalised from civic political life . . . We [the Arts Council] already employ some practising artists, but there is a reticence here about cultural identity and nationhood. We need to talk more openly about culture and politics and citizenship and the links between them.

Perhaps culture can help us realise the "big society".

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Leader: Mark Carney — a rock star banker feels the heat

Rather than mutual buck-passing, politicians and central bankers must collaborate in good faith.

On 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, the United Kingdom resembled a leaderless state. David Cameron promptly resigned as prime minister after his humiliating defeat. His closest ally, George Osborne, retreated to the safety and silence of the Treasury. Labour descended into open warfare; meanwhile, the leaders of the Leave campaign appeared terrified by the challenge confronting them and were already plotting and scheming against one another.

The government had not planned for Brexit, and so one of the few remaining sources of authority was the independent Bank of England. Its Canadian governor, the former Goldman Sachs banker Mark Carney, provided calm by announcing that Threadneedle Street had performed “extensive contingency planning” and would not “hesitate to take additional measures”. A month later, the Bank cut interest rates to a ­record low of 0.25 per cent and announced an additional £60bn of quantitative easing (QE). Both measures helped to avert the threat of an immediate recession by stimulating growth and employment.

Since then the Bank of England governor, who this week gave evidence on monetary policy to the economic affairs committee at the House of Lords, has become a favoured target of Brexiteers and former politicians. Michael Gove has compared Mr Carney to a vainglorious Chinese emperor and chided him for his lack of “humility”. William Hague has accused the Bank of having “lost the plot” and has questioned its future independence. Nigel Lawson has called for Mr Carney to resign, declaring that he has “behaved disgracefully”.

At no point since the Bank achieved independence under the New Labour government in 1997 has it attracted such opprobrium. For politicians faced with the risk, and the reality, of economic instability, Mr Carney and his colleagues are an easy target. However, they are the wrong one.

The consequences of loose monetary policy are not wholly benign. Ultra-low rates and QE have widened inequality by enriching asset-holders, while punishing savers. Yet the economy’s sustained weakness as well as poor productivity have necessitated such action. As Mr Osborne consistently recognised when he was chancellor, monetary activism was the inevitable corollary of fiscal conservatism. Without the Bank’s interventionism, government austerity would have had even harsher consequences.

The new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has rightly taken the opportunity to “reset” fiscal policy. He has abandoned Mr Osborne’s absurd target of seeking to achieve a budget surplus by 2020 and has promised new infrastructure investment in his Autumn Statement on 23 November.

After years of over-reliance on monetary stimulus, a rebalancing is, in our view, necessary. Squeezed living standards (inflation is forecast to reach 3 per cent next year, given the collapse in the value of sterling) and anaemic growth are best addressed through government action rather than a premature rise in interest rates. Though UK gilt yields have risen in recent weeks, borrowing costs remain at near-record lows. Mr Hammond should not hesitate to borrow to invest, as Keynesians have long argued.

The Bank of England is far from infallible, of course. In recent years, its growth and employment forecasts have proved overly pessimistic. Mr Carney’s immediate predecessor, Mervyn King, was too slow to cut rates at the start of the financial crisis and was ill-prepared for the recession that followed. Central bankers across the developed world, most notably the former Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan, have too often been treated as seers beyond criticism. Their reputations have suffered as a consequence.

Yet the principle of central bank independence remains one worthy of defence. Labour’s 1997 decision ended the manipulation of interest rates by opportunistic politicians and enhanced economic stability. Although the Bank’s mandate is determined by ministers, it must be free to set monetary policy without fear of interference. The challenge of delivering Brexit is the greatest any British government has faced since 1945. Rather than mutual buck-passing, politicians and central bankers must collaborate in good faith on this epic task.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage