You shouldn’t support the arts by supporting artists – Labour MP

A rather revealing complaint by Labour MP Gloria de Piero during the week. She had a go over how much the government is spending on purchasing artworks. If her complaint had been that a time of large deficit the government should be cutting this area of spending even more quickly than it is, that would have been fairly common for political debate with the usual for and against arguments on each side. Or, if her complaint had been about the choice of artists, that too would have been the trigger for a fairly common debate about whether modern artists are brilliant or talentless, mould breaking or rude etc etc etc.

But no, her complaint was that, as Paul Waugh reported, the government is spending money buying artworks that will then be displayed in public buildings and visible to visitors rather than giving money to arts organisations.

Yup, the complaint was that rather than directly supporting artists by buying their work, the government should be giving money to organisations. Not complaints about the sort of art being purchased, who it is being bought from or on what terms; just complaints about buying art rather than giving grants to organisations.

Support for individuals bad, support for organisations good. Rather a touch of the New Labour love of the client state there – get people dependent on organisations, make organisations dependent on public funding and bingo, you’ve got a coalition to support your view of what the state should do.

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  • So in your view Mark, only government approved art should be able to recieve government money?

    That’s a disturbing position to take.

    You don’t think that government should provide the canvas, and the artist the idea?

  • Of course, what she actually said was she didn’t think money should be spent on art for minister’s and MP’s offices. I guess a minister’s office is a public building but how many of us expect to see the inside of one? I expect most people would agree with her if they read what she said rather than rely on your gloss. That such a sensible and reasonable view prompts such dark suspicions in you and mutterings about labour’s ‘client state’ (a phrase invented by the hard right in order to suggest that any left leaning govt is in some sense illegitimate) reveals rather more your politics than it does hers.

  • AndrewR, yes the mutterings about a ‘client state’ are disturbing. THis is a hypothesis that Labour maintain their share of the vote by giving the unemployed and disabled benefits, support a national health service and fund local government. It’s an argument that doesn’t even come from the Tory Right, almost all of whom support to some degree the concept of benefits, universal healthcare and local government. It’s a Libertarian argument, not something one expects to hear from a Liberal.

    I wonder why Lib Dem Voice has been spending so much energy attack Labour of late? Rattled and looking for a scapegoat come the 5th is my guess.

  • Her point is a trivial one: £298,000 is not going to make much of a difference to very many libraries and cultural organisations facing cuts, whereas a small proportion of this sum to a number of artists is going to make a significant difference to their lives, not to mention the fact that they will be able to put on their CV that their work has been bought by the UK government and the filip that gives to their careers.

  • The other point you have missed Mark is that organisations can be used to help up and coming artists and purchasing artwork only helps a single artist. The truth is that both are probably needed and that in times of austerity perhaps helping the many rather than the (usually) already successful may be a better option.

    Also it does appear she was refering to art purchased for what are, in effect, private offices of public figures. the Lib Dems wern’t too happy when Speaker Martin spent a Kings Ransom on his apartment (technically a public building?) as I remember it….

  • @tonyhill

    actually £298,000 would make a huge difference to those organisations that have lost all their funding, such as

  • £298,000 might a difference to ONE organisation – so how would you choose which one?

  • @tonyhill Do you think the aesthetic preferences of government officials are the best determinant of which artist, or artistic community, should be the target of government funds?

  • The point I was making was that this is a trivial amount of money to be making a fuss about. One of my daughters works for a community arts organisation that has had its funding axed by the Arts Council. From what I could see it did a lot of valuable work in schools and the community, and our national cultural life will be the poorer for organisations like that no longer being able to operate. How you allocate scarce resources is always going to be debatable – we could have a really pointless argument about whether any government money should be spent on the arts when the health service needs anything available.

  • @neil bradbury, the client state argument is an argument that certain voters should be punished because they vote for Labour by having benefits removed, job securities diminished and pensions destroyed.

    THat is not Liberal, is it?

  • @neil bradbury

    what evidence do you have that people vote Labour because they are on benefits? The clinet state argument relies on a causative relationship between the two, not just a correlative one.

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