Friday, February 25, 2005

Teach yourself DCMS

Here is today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Art for all

As John Prescott’s career shows, you can survive as a minister without being fluent in English. But to last long at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport you have to master its unique language.

For, once there, you will be called upon to praise “the excellent work done by the north-east regional museums hub” or asked what discussions you have had “with regional cultural consortiums on policies to promote social inclusion”.

Fortunately, on Monday the Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay was on hand to translate. Social inclusion in the arts, he explained, refers to the fact that some of the poorest and most deprived children do not have access to quality classical music, the ballet or the opera.

Mackinlay wanted a manifesto pledge that every child will have access each year to a performance of classical music and other arts, including opera. Opera for all? That is the sort of socialism House Points is happy to support.

But it is far too committal for New Labour, and Estelle Morris, the arts minister, placed the problem squarely in the psyches of the poor. “We are determined … to give them the confidence to ensure that they access the arts.”

If MPs ever had the time (they tend not to be short on confidence) to look around them, they would find that they have more access to the arts than most. For as well as resembling a Victorian railway terminus and a public school (the buildings are magnificent but parents worry increasingly about the academic standards), the Palace of Westminster is a splendid art gallery.

There are murals depicting the sort of scenes from British history that every schoolboy used to know: “The English People Reading Wycliffe’s Bible,” “Sir Thomas More Refusing to Grant Wolsey a Subsidy”. There are busts and statues of great parliamentarians, cartoons by Hogarth and Gillray, and paintings and drawings by Van Dyck, Sir Thomas Lawrence and many other artists. And much of it is freely on show to anyone with business in the place.

The ethos of Westminster still betrays its origins as a royal palace. But its advisory committee on works of art has done as much as any regional hub or cultural consortium to bring the art to the people.

No comments: