Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Dominic Raab and the Tories' war on culture

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Dominic Raab's implication at prime minister's questions today that working-class people should not like opera is just part, not so much of the Conservatives' culture war, as their war on culture.

We are currently seeing a cull of arts courses in the post-1992 universities, which are the ones that students from poorer backgrounds are most likely to attend.

And this cull has received theoretical backing from David Goodhart, an Old Etonian whom I just missed seeing as one of the leading Trots on campus at York,* and my own MP Neil O'Brien, who went from a state education in Huddersfield to Oxford, but does not seem overkeen that others should follow his route.

Add to this the decline of subjects like music and drama in schools and there is a danger that a knowledge of the arts will once again become the preserve of the upper classes.

There was a good discussion of these issues in a Radio Four debate broadcast from a Leicester school in 2018. I am pleased to find you can still listen to it on the BBC website.

While we are talking about the arts, a word about Nadhim Zahawi and Philip Larkin.

After two years of Gavin Williamson, it's wonderful to have an education secretary who has his favourite poets and obviously cares about them deeply.

However, his reaction to Larkin and Wilfred Owen's omission from a GCSE poetry anthology - that it is "cultural vandalism" - turned it into one more salvo in the Tories' culture war.

Larkin and Owen have not been cancelled, it's just that there are many fine 20th-century poets and GCSE students cannot study them all every year.

I have a fondness for W.H.Auden and Edwin Muir. Is it cultural vandalism if they're not in this anthology?

Of course not.

* A few years before Goodhart, one of York's leading Trots was Peter Hitchens. These public school lefties are so predictable.

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