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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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.