A couple of days ago I sent a brief email to my MP about the Minister for Culture. My MP happens to be PM, the Prime Minister, David Cameron. I said that his Culture Minister Maria Miller, who’d been under attack for falsifying her expenses and for making only a perfunctory apology to the House of Commons when ordered to do so by a parliamentary commission, needed to resign or be sacked. The fact was, I wrote, that she was a hopeless Culture Minister anyway, and though his personal loyalty to her was admirable, she now had to go. Just over 12 hours later she resigned. Magic?
Afraid not. But in her entire tenure of office I did not see her at a single arts event; nor did any of my colleagues. David Mellor, for whom this department of state was created when John Major was PM, can be an annoying fellow; but at least he rarely misses an opera press night. Mrs Miller seemed to have no interest whatever in any of the arts.
She has been replaced as Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport by a whiz kid, the 44-year old Sajid Javid, who is said to like Daft Punk and Manchester United – fairly minor qualifications for the culture gig. However, the former investment banker, son of a Pakistani émigré bus driver, is also said to have been impressed, while working in NY, by American cultural philanthropy. In any case, his main tasks are to do with the press regulation with which we in the UK are threatened, and with the renewal of the BBC licence fee, at present a universal levy on anyone who owns a TV set. The only thing we really know about his interest in the arts is that he has defended ticket touts. We’ll see. I, of course, want a Culture Minister who is an opera queen, a collector of contemporary art, a theatre buff, a reader of fiction and passionate about serious music. I suppose that’s a big ask – but that’s what we’ve got in the newish head of the Arts Council, Sir Peter Bazalgette, though he was formerly the television executive who destroyed our minds and ruined our weekends with Big Brother and other celebrity crap-shows. (In fairness I’ve known Baz for years, and knew that his business interests and what actually gave him pleasure were not entirely coincident.) The job of the Arts Council, founded by John Maynard Keynes, is actually to spend much of the dosh the Department of Culture, Media and Sport manages to extract from the Treasury, on the arms-length principle.
So a cautious welcome to Mr Javid, and I very much hope to see him at the première of the English National Opera’s Thebans on May 3 at the Coliseum in London.