Hofesh Shechter

The way I see it: artists on politics

Does art make a difference?

You can't force changes in people's lives with art, but if they want a change it gives them a chance. It takes imagination and hope.

Should politics and art mix?

Art is way more real than politics for me. It's a very practical way of living, actually, even though I'm sure politicians feel the opposite and think art is just a game. If someone wants to mix them, they're welcome to do it. I don't entirely understand what the word means: when I think of politics I think of a man in a suit. Is that politics? Is the world politics, is a demonstration politics?

Is good art a product of inspiration or perspiration?

Unfortunately mine has a lot of perspiration in it! The germ for a piece, the inspiration, can happen in a millisecond. Everything around it is there to be discovered, and that requires a lot of sweat.

What inspires you?

I'm dealing with the question of freedom, in my life and in the way I live inside a world that claims to allow freedom to its citizens, when it obviously doesn't. Also, there's a collective question: why did you decide to live that way, to do that? The politicians come with answers, but artists raise questions.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be?

A scientist. I think it's the same, anyway, but we are much less organised. My research is a bit chaotic.

If you were world leader, what would be your first law?

In terms of my own small world, I'm thinking about the unbelievable price of public transport in London. But that's not a world law. I'd unite America and unite Europe, take all the borders off the map.

Who would be your top advisers?

Stanley Kubrick, first. I'd like to say Einstein - he was a really smart man, but he did invent the atom bomb. That wasn't his fault, but he's a bit too clever, you know. My friend Ramin Gray, associate director at the Royal Court. I'm  trying to think of people who can see the world for what it is. I'd have Banksy as well, just because I want to see his face. Er, that sounds like a really dodgy committee to me, but it must be better than what we have now.

What would you censor?

I wouldn't censor anything, but you know that is my answer, because if we believe in freedom of speech we really have to go for it. It seems that we believe in freedom of speech only as long as it serves what we want it to.

Who would you banish?

It's very harsh to banish someone. It's not fair to banish anyone in this imaginary world that I'm leader of. It's a really good world - we're just having tea together and playing Scrabble. I don't think I'm going to banish anyone today.

What are the rules you live by?

To discover the rules every day and test them and check them. Be flexible, adapt.

Do you love your country?

I never really felt at home anywhere. It's a positive thing to have grown up not feeling nationalistic in any way. A country is a virtual thing - it's a bunch of people, a lot of whom I've never met.

Are we all doomed?

If you saw my work, you'd think we definitely are. But we're going down with a smile.

Two works by Hofesh Schechter, "In Your Rooms" and "Uprising", will be performed at Camden Roundhouse, London, on 27 and 28 February.

This article first appeared in the 26 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Nixon went to China... Will Obama go to Iran?

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.