I’m past the ‘moping about in my dressing gown with the curtains drawn’ phase. Now I’m just trying work out what to expect from this Conservative government. What does five years of the Tories mean for the arts? For live music? For culture? Enter John Whittingdale. He’s the new Culture Secretary. This would normally be a vibrant position supporting all that’s good in society but his job description under the next five years of Tory rule will probably be “presiding over huge cuts as the government seeks to eliminate the deficit”. Depressing. Whittingdale’s a peculiar chap. A real mixed bag. He consistently seems like he’s a man fighting the good fight but then goes and does something bloody stupid.
1) He intended to study astronomy at university but instead went to work for the Conservative Party and eventually found the cold, withered bosom of Margaret Thatcher, working as her political secretary. I don’t think I could think of a more efficient way to rid yourself of wonder for the universe.
2) He likes punk. His favourite bands include Sham 69 and The Buzzcocks and he once admitted he still had “one of those waistcoats with patches all over it and a Motörhead skull on the back”. Incredible, right? “ONE OF US!” I hear you shout. But wait, he’s also a man who voted ‘very strongly’ against same-sex marriage and gay rights. That’s undeniably un-punk. And undeniably uncultured.
3) He was an apparent bringer of justice during the phone-hacking scandal a few years back and even stood up to that crevice-faced profit-octopus Rupert Murdoch, summoning the shrivelled prune to answer questions at the inquiry in person. But Whittingdale’s courage in front of business moguls was overshadowed when he voted against the equal pay bill.
So, he’s not a supporter of equality in any sense. He also voted strongly for the Iraq war and strongly against the fox-hunting ban. So he’s bloodthirsty, whether it be humans or animals staring down the barrel.
It’s hard to speculate on what his appointment means for the music scene. He did call for the abolition of the “discriminatory and completely unnecessary” Form 696 – a needless bureaucratic safety assessment form that the government forced small venues to fill out, which just ended up being a way to discriminate against ‘urban’ music. And he’s called for the removal of the “linkage of live music with public disorder”, which puts him above the ignorant old council scrooges that used to shut down my band’s shows back in St Albans.
Perhaps there is some hope for us if he can keep the needs of the people above the supposed ‘need’ for cuts. And if he can put his homophobia and sexism to one side, of course…
His former Culture, Media and Sport Committee once talked about “the extraordinary success of the UK’s creative industries”, commending those that “contribute over £36 billion annually to the UK economy”. It is perhaps telling that his measure of success here was purely economic. I presume promoters will continue to be given a hard time, funding for the arts will continue to drop, venues will continue to be knocked down for flats or offices and we’ll all keep asking: “What’s the point of living or working in the city, if there isn’t any culture?”