The Culture Secretary is wrong to knock ethnic minorities

Jeremy Hunt's comments show he does not understand the reality of art in modern Britain.

"Public money will no longer be given to arts organisations simply because they hire a high proportion of women or ethnic minorities, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned," reports the Daily Mail.

And here were we at the Asian theatre company Tamasha, labouring under the misapprehension for these last 21 years that the Arts Council fund us because we stage plays the British public want to see! The implication in the minister's speech that artists such as ourselves only receive money because of our gender and race is cynical in the extreme.

The claim of a "box-ticking" approach to funding artists from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds promotes the notion that artists from minority groups are nothing but jumped-up quota-fillers. We would expect it from the Mail but when we start hearing it from the Culture secretary, it's alarming.

Hunt told the delegates at the Media Arts Festival that, "The days of securing taxpayer funds purely by box ticking - getting cash simply because a diversity target has been hit - are now over."

Under Labour, the arts were charged with challenging social exclusion, celebrating diversity and reasserting Britishness. At Tamasha, we've encountered our fair share of box-ticking theatres, wanting to collaborate with us purely to get Asian bums on their seats, but it comes with the territory. We're wise to it and don't collaborate with those theatres.

Yet the suggestion that artists of colour have been enjoying an Arts Council-funded joy ride demeans us and shows how little Hunt understands the reality on the ground.

Now that the critical pendulum is swinging away from the Arts for social ends back to the "purer" criteria of intrinsic artistic excellence, we are seeing a retrogressive new conservatism at work. After all, who decides the criteria for judging artistic excellence?

Cultural diversity is not important in and of itself, but because it allows us to contrast different values and beliefs and take positions on them. The arts offer a special forum in which to engage in political dialogue and debate that can help create a collective language of citizenship. We see that most clearly in our work in schools.

Ironically, in the very same speech Hunt urged arts organisations not to dump education outreach when the cuts come in. His headline-grabbing comments about funding women and minorities shows a lack of political and artistic vision. The box ticking was never of our choosing and nor was the labelling. Ministers come and go but we will continue to make plays with or without their interference.

Kristine Landon-Smith is co-director with Sudha Bhuchar of Tamasha Theatre Company

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition