Eyewitness Tate

Another view of the protests at last night's Turner Prize ceremony, where Susan Philipz took the awa

Laurie Penny has already reported on the protests by art students at last night's Turner Prize ceremony. Here, arts writer Lucian Robinson gives his account of events.

Having passed the boarded up windows of an otherwise pristine Millbank before arriving at Tate Britain and wondered whether any glass would still be left on the pavement from November's student marches, protest seemed to be already a thing of the past as I approached the gallery. But as I did so it became clear that something out of the ordinary was going on at Tate Britain for the 2010 Turner Prize, Britain's leading award for modern art.

Guests were directed by Tate staff from the Millbank entrance for Tate Britain, to the less prominent Atterbury Street side entrance. This was somewhat surprising, particularly as the invitation had specifically stated that we should enter the gallery via the Millbank portico.

As they neared the Atterbury street entrance they were greeted by a dozen protesters, wearing badges proclaiming "Arts Against Cuts", who handed them orange flyers that said, "The Turner Prize needs art schools" and "Education should be free for all, not a product for purchase."

After this, those invited to the ceremony were ushered through to the main building and directed to the Duveen galleries on the top floor of the Tate. The art establishment was there in force; Alan Yentob, Anthony Gormley, and Grayson Perry were all present. But what really caught people's attention was the noise booming from behind a temporarily erected barrier, some 15 meters away, in the Duveen galleries, on the other side of which police and roughly 200 protesters were clearly visible. Their main chant was "free education for all".

At 7:30pm, the time for the announcement of the winner came. A short introductory talk was given by Channel 4's Krishna Guru-Murphy and then Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate Modern, took to the podium. The sound, however, from the protest was deafening and he could hardly be heard by the invited audience.

Serota, acknowledged the protest (which, frankly, would have been hard to ignore) and spoke briefly about the need to preserve public funding for the arts, proclaiming that "Art should continue to be accessible to all no matter where you live or indeed whatever your wealth", yet somehow the surrounding landscape of bellinis, pristine reserved tables, uniformed waiting staff and absurdly perfect canapés, seemed to jar with this attempt to build a bridge of solidarity with the protesting students. This, and the fact that they couldn't hear him anyway.

Serota subsequently welcomed Miuccia Prada, the owner of the eponymous Italian fashion house, onto the podium, who then announced the winner of the prize (though, truthfully, this was once again barely audibly against the din of protest) to be Susan Philipsz, the Glasgow-born, Berlin-based sound artist whose recent weekend song cycle of madrigals in the City of London attracted much critical interest.

Philipsz then gave an explicit statement of support for the protesters, commenting in an interview for Channel 4 that: "I don't think we should cut grants, everyone has a right to an education ... and of course I support what they (the protesters) are fighting for."

Immediately after Philipsz gave her acceptance speech in the Duveen galleries, outside Tate Britain one of the other short-listed nominees for the Prize, Anjalika Sagar, half of the art duo, The Otolith Group, read a pre-prepared statement of support for the protests to about thirty to forty students gathered together outside the gallery:

We'd like to state our admiration and our support for the brave, bold and brilliant students and school children from the universities and state schools, privates schools and academies of this country; from Glasgow, Brighton, Leeds, Coventry, Sheffield, Cardiff, who are fighting back against the cuts to our education system. The students and school children of this country are an inspiration to us, in terms of ... how we think about what we do as artists. This is the winter of our discontent, and we will see you on the streets on Thursday.

One of the protesters, a fine art student at Chelsea College of Art and Design, Patrick Nicholson, 22, estimated that there were some "200 to 250 people" inside Tate Britain protesting. He described how lecturers, from Goldsmiths College, Chelsea and the Slade School of Fine Art gave talks on how to "decapitalise the art system" to a group of students who had "assembled at 5pm".

Another protester and student occupier of the Slade School of Fine Art, Margarita Anthanasiou, also aged 22, discussed the aims of the movement: "We want to raise awareness of the fact that there is going to be a 100 per cent cut for the arts and humanities, and to protest against this complete disregard for that part of education. We feel that essentially the government is stating that it (the arts) is unimportant for society, its secondary and therefore needs to be cut, which is mistaken. "

When asked whether the protests of the group "Arts Against Cuts" and the Slade occupation would continue until Thursday's parliamentary vote, Anthanasiou, without pause, replied: "We plan to continue occupying and protesting until the bitter end."

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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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