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Adrian Hilton is a conservative academic, religious and political commentator, journalist and author. On his Daily Mail blog he is currently campaigning for Ann Widdecombe to be awarded a peerage. Follow Adrian on Twitter.

I
caught sight of a tweet yesterday by the Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet
Harman. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, critical of the Culture Secretary Maria
Miller, who had apparently cast the “‘shameful slur that arts community ‘disingenuous’ & their concerns ‘pure fiction’”. I enquired of the context and, to my
surprise, Ms Harman responded swiftly with a link to an article by the Culture
Secretary
which appeared in the Evening
Standard
in November last year.

I
don’t quite know why it’s taken a quarter of a year for Ms Harman to decide to
get upset about this, but – I think for the first time in my life – I find
myself agreeing with her. If this article was written by Maria Miller personally,
she seems purposely to perpetuate the myth that Conservatives are basically all
philistines who don’t quite “get” the Arts. If it was written by a
civil-service aide, he (or she) deserves something of a reprimand – even after
the space of three months.


You
don’t dismiss artistic royalty like Sir Nicholas Hytner, Danny Boyle, Stephen
Fry and Stephen Daldry as the “Arts lobby”. It’s a rather distasteful derogative:
as Minister for Equalities (as she also is) she would never refer to Sir Ian
McKellen, Peter Tatchell and Stephen Fry as the “Gay lobby”. The juxtaposition
is manifestly scornful and insensitive: tagging “lobby” onto anything these
days is a purposeful defamation – a bit like the “right wing” epithet so
favoured of the BBC.

Artists
tend to begin with the act of creation: theirs is the language of dreams and
imagination; of rainbows, harmonies, movements and metaphors all wrapped up in wonder
and magic. But Maria Miller begins with “spending plans” and “budget cuts”,
like most Tories do. She may be right that the Arts are not “at risk” under this
Government, but you don’t persuade artists of this truth with blasts of
economic rhetoric.

And
then she writes: “We have worked with the Arts Council to ensure that frontline
arts organisations have their budgets cut by no more than 15 per cent over the
next four years”.

What
is this “no more than”? Is it morally right or well-grounded to talk of “only” or “no more than” when cuts of 15 per cent mean the curtailing or diminishing of
around 200 worthy artistic projects which in turn will mean the pruning or
complete snuffing out of some very talented artists? For theatres, this is the
difference between staging six plays in a season, or five. For orchestras, it
means replacing a European tour with a UK one. 15 per cent may seem a modest
and reasonable figure when set against a police budget cut of 20 per cent, but
it’s not the sort of discourse that persuades most artists. Law enforcement
keeps you safe; the Arts give you life.

Personally,
I’m acquainted with the realities of the economics: Maria Miller doesn’t need
to persuade me (or probably any ConHome reader) of how generously the Arts are
funded (to the tune of £2.9 billion); how philanthropy is encouraged; or how reforms
to the National Lottery funding formula will pump about £90 million back into
the creative world. But to berate artistic concerns as “pure fiction”; and to
accuse artists of being “disingenuous in the extreme” is just crass politics.
Harriet Harman is right to ask for an apology.

You
simply wouldn’t hear the Minister for Women and Equalities talking of women or minority
groups in such strident terms. Consider: “Much of what we’re hearing from the LGBT
community is pure fiction”; or “Accusations from women that this Government
neither likes nor supports them are disingenuous in the extreme”; or “It is
perhaps not surprising that the Muslim lobby is becoming more vocal”.

The
skilful politician will use language to bring order out of chaos; to speak
reason to the cacophony of splintered voices. In a democracy, the political
discourse demands sensitivity to diversity, and that demands the learning of
new languages. Sometimes that is literal, as with Panjabi, Arabic or Polish,
for example. At others it requires the intelligent use of words: the language
of economic modernism and logical positivism is simply bewildering to the
relativist postmodernists who cling to subjective experience and multiple
realities.

And
I’m not saying that artists lack the intelligence to grasp basic literacy and
numeracy: it’s a question of communicating sensitive truths about the world in
an objective way. Language is a cultural creation: it shapes the way we think.
Meaning is therefore a social construction, and the intelligent communicator
will be able to distinguish between the word, the meaning, and its likely
reception.

For
the conservative, the Arts are intrinsic to and inseparable from our common
humanity. Culture is worth conserving because it is linked closely to our
identity – individual and in community. All the world’s a stage, and that same
world is a text, or a canon of intertextuality. Since language is bound up with
culture, it is difficult to escape its limits or demands. But it makes no sense
at all to impose upon actors, musicians, poets and playwrights the stark
language of economic oppression and political exploitation. When did you last
hear an arts minister talk about freedom, creation, inspiration and cultural
consciousness?

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