Peter Whittle writes regularly for the Sunday Times, and has also contributed to the Spectator, The Times and the Los Angeles Times. He formed the New Culture Forum in June this year.
During an interview earlier this year, the National Theatre’s director Nicholas Hytner said that one thing he would really like to see there in the future would be a ‘good, mischievous, right-wing play.’
The underlying implication in Hytner’s statement – that such a production would be an unusual occurrence, a naughty aberration, a guilty pleasure – would certainly have confirmed those of us on the political right in our conviction that the cultural establishment in general stands firmly behind enemy lines.
But where are the alternative voices? Do not conservatives – or indeed those others opposed to the increasingly stifling liberal/ left orthodoxy – do these kinds of things? There is the rather complacent view, still cleaved to in the cultural establishment, that broadly speaking the right conserves, and the left creates, and that the most enduring art tends to be subversive. However where that leaves such giant figures as Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward, Graham Green or Edward Elgar, to name a few from this country alone, becomes a matter for debate.
It’s undeniable that if there are right-of-centre artists or writers out there now, they’re certainly keeping a low profile. It isn’t hard to see why. The Right may well have decisively won the economic battles, but in the Culture Wars in Britain, the Left has been victorious. In the past decade, the triumph of political correctness and cultural relativism in the arts, academia and large sections of the serious print and broadcasting media has meant that this orthodoxy has become even more entrenched. It sets the terms of debate, and has a massively disproportionate influence on what might be called the narrative of our times.
You don’t just have to pick on the BBC.
You will look in vain through the listings pages for a film about an
African dictator who uses Western aid to fund his lavish lifestyle, or
a drama set in the Thatcher era which doesn’t portray it as one long
orgy of moral corruption and greed. The recent series The Line of Beauty
depicted a world, after all, which would not be recognisable to most
people, certainly to those who bought their own council houses and
started up businesses. Stephen Frears’s film Dirty Pretty Things
highlighted the plight of immigrant workers and was rightly praised,
yet it is inconceivable that we would ever see a movie or TV drama
which looked at the loss of social moorings of a sympathetically
portrayed white couple in an area of mass immigration.
Other than specifically genre writers such as Frederick Forsyth and
George McDonald Fraser, you’ll have difficulty finding a voguish
‘serious’ novelist who, like Houellebecq in France, gives his
characters speeches which are blisteringly critical of Islamic
fundamentalism. And although much visual art has become so concerned
with self-expression as to be irrelevant in terms of a wider political
debate, public art, which has undergone something of a renaissance in
the past decade, has been co-opted for social uses, often to make a
point, along liberal lines, about social inclusion and prejudice, the
most famous example perhaps being Alison Lapper Pregnant in Trafalgar
More and more of us, and not just those who work in the arts and media,
are exasperated by the way in which this deadening hand has been cast
over debate. It is essential that we challenge the left/liberal
stranglehold. When we started up The New Culture Forum this year with
this as one of our main aims, it was also in the belief that in
protecting it’s belief system and in refusing to face up to the
possibility of increasing censorship from ‘offended’ groups, the
cultural and media establishment risked fragmenting society further by
essentially closing the door on the discourse which is vital to the
health of any democratic society. The Rushdie affair was a pivotal
moment here, but more recently we’ve seen echoes of it in the forced
closure of the play Beshti, and the caving-in, by the makings of the
film adaptation of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, to protests by those
who pronounce themselves ‘insulted.’
It’s ironic that those in the arts and media who profess to value
creative freedom, and the right to question, tend to go remarkably
silent when it comes to defending these things. At The New Culture
Forum, we hope to provide a forum for anybody who cares about these
issues, and who is interested in real debate which is not restricted by
the requirements of political correctness.