One of the joys of having a Wednesday to work from home is watching the weekly car crash that is Prime Minister’s Questions. But since the Dark Lords of Austerity took office, I’ve come to dread PMQs not for what it consistently offers for debate—the NHS, education, housing, David Cameron’s vanity photographer—but for what it doesn’t: namely, the arts.
The arts did get a look-in at this week’s session, but the singular exchange on the topic will hardly breathe hope into the sector. It began when the honourable member from Watford crowed about Warner Brothers’ recent ‘investment’ in (for which, read ‘takeover of’) Leavesden Studios, a key cog in the Borg-like machine that is the Harry Potter franchise. Jobs for Hertfordshire, then. No bad thing.
The MP then asked the PM if he’d spend some ConDem energy wooing “British investors to invest in British films made here.” By way of response, His Prime-ness offered that the Harry Potter films were a “tip to filmmakers that we’ve got to make films that people want to watch, and that will have a benefit beyond themselves and also encourage people to come and visit our country.”
A tip to Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows, Antonia Bird, and other venerated but small-scale UK filmmakers: start shooting some Potter-esque pap, or hang up your clapper. It is not stretching this analysis (much) to say that in the ConDem playbook, the only worthwhile art is that which makes squillions and helps tourists part with their cash.
Of course, we knew all of this. What was telling that no MPs challenged the PM’s reductive view of the arts... not even the Labour MPs, who appear ready to challenge virtually any ConDem utterance. In fact, no one seemed very interested in the discussion at all. It may be that one PMQ session is an insufficient litmus test by which to gauge high-level political interest in the topic. But it’s hard not to conclude that there is a dearth, not to say absence, of MPs ready to publicly fight the case that the arts are critical to British socioeconomic success, and not just as marketing tools.
Surely the sector could do more here, starting with wooing sympathetic MPs and arming them with studies supporting the conclusion that by slashing the arts with such viciousness, the Coalition is doing its utmost to ensure that fewer JK Rowlings, let along Mike Leighs, are likely to emerge in the future. Being sympathetic and study-laden isn’t enough, though: they need to speak out. Now that would make for lively midday viewing.