Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Riot Reaction

This is an opinion I wrote for this month's edition of Kensington & Chelsea Today - it was originally written about a week after the riots had taken place.

"Tougher sentencing, curfews, social media blackouts and increased police powers. These are some of the proposed responses to the recent unrest across the country.  These short-term ‘knee-jerk’ reactions may be popular in certain circles for a few weeks, but they will not help to address the social problems that have helped to create this situation. Not every area affected, or every person involved, was as a result of these social issues, but if we do not do something about them, then other areas could be affected as well.

Consumerism is a driving force behind so many peoples’ lives. It has almost become an ideology for too many, ignoring the reality of their situation. Like the American dream of the early 20th century, everyone looked forward to the day when they would be rich. For a generation we have been told that we can be famous, we can be wealthy, that we can be whatever we want to be.  But with rising unemployment – especially among young people – the chance of that dream becoming a reality is fading. And all the while, we are told that we are all in this together. When people see that this does not seem to be the case, it can cause resentment towards those who are not as affected by what is happening. Problems arise when these resentments are not addressed, and it only takes one action to push somebody over the edge. It is easier for others to follow once one group has stepped over the line.

When looking at the handing down of tougher sentencing, it is important that the punishment fits the crime, and that accountability is held across the board. Former members of the Bullingdon club – known for their wild parties – and a Deputy Prime Minister who once burned down two greenhouses full of rare plants tell us that those who commit offences must be held accountable, having themselves received no punishment. It makes it hard to believe that fair justice will really be done.  It is fairer sentences, not tougher that is what is needed here. If exorbitant punishments are handed down by the courts it will only serve to increase resentment towards the police and further damage trust in the justice system. It is easy to seek to make an example of someone, to scare those who might follow a similar path, but that doesn’t make it right. The sentence for burglary during a riot must be the same as that for any other burglary. I am not sure that stealing a £3.50 case of water would receive a 6 month prison sentence if it were not for the riots and politically motivated advice to ignore sentencing guidelines if the actions took place during a riot.

Social media is another soft target. It connects people more easily and more efficiently than ever before. All you have to do is log into your BBM, Twitter or Facebook accounts and you can interact with people immediately, and more widely than by texting or phone calls. I know this, because I use mine to interact with people as far apart as America, India and Japan. Yes, it can also be used to pass on information about where the police are, where there are shops with expensive goods, and where there is already violence taking place.  But while my city was caught up in the chaos of that weekend, I and many others, kept communications much closer to home – we contacted our friends and families to make sure they were alive, safe and unaffected. Using the hashtag #riotcleanup, people all across the country grouped together with others in their communities to pick up the pieces of their shattered neighbourhoods.

In a country where we are told that personal responsibility is the defining factor in behaviour it is illogical, naïve and possibly illegal to think that closing down access to social media will be of benefit. If personal responsibility is important, then judge each person by his or her actions. If those actions are illegal, then it is the individual’s responsibility, not the fault of the technology that they used.

If you tell one section of society that they are fat, lazy, stupid and criminal long enough and loud enough, then eventually they might start to believe you. When everyone assumes you break the law and contribute nothing to society, where is the social constraint that prevents you from doing exactly that? Society is broken, but it was broken long before these riots, and unless proper, long-term action is taken, it will be broken long after the glass shop fronts have been repaired.

We need to ensure that these events so not repeat themselves. That will not come about through draconian sentences, water cannons, rubber bullets or evictions from social housing. It will come about through an examination of every level of our society. Through stimulation and investment in less wealthy areas, to ensure that aspirations can be met. We must expect a higher standard from those above us. Our political and commercial leaders must lead by example, both in their words, and in their actions. And above all, we must rise above the temptation for retaliation, retribution or revenge. This is not a political problem, it is a social problem, but it does have political causes. We need to make sure that we are not just looking out for those at the top, or those in the ‘squeezed middle’, but everyone. The culture of blaming those below us must end. We must make our society stronger; make our country fairer, more balanced and tolerant. We must not forget that there have been victims of these events, and we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to ensure that there are no more."

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Earlier today I put a question up on my Facebook and Twitter account asking if anyone could explain why they held the beliefs that they do. I was planning on writing something about how I came to believe what I do: spiritually, politically, the whole deal. Out of the responses I got two stood out to me. They were the shortest responses that I received.

Can anyone give me a reason for why you believe as you do, whether it be political, spiritual, whatever?
Because I want to nice
 I can't really think of better ways to explain beliefs, whatever they may be in.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Men, Women, Left & Right: The Problem With Generalisation

Today I read two things, written by two very different people in very different places, both of which annoyed me quite a bit. The first one was this by Julie Bindel for The New Statesman and the second one was by Damian Thompson at the Telegraph. The one thing that both pieces shared is their willingness to lump people into blocks, so that they can be easily defined and derided. Whether it be “the Left” or “Men”, (or in my case, both) grouping everyone who falls under those respective umbrella terms so that they form a nice big target diminishes your argument, as well as helping to alienate people who may have agreed with some of the points you are making.
Firstly, Mr Thompson. “The Left” is a big group. We disagree with each other. A lot! You only have to look at the one supposedly left-of-centre party, The Labour Party, to see that. In the last decade we have seen Blair vs. Brown and Miliband vs. Miliband, and that is just on which individual is leader of the party. There is nothing we on the left do better than in-fight, backstab and name call. We disagree with each other almost as much as we disagree with various different factions on the right. There are many on the left who do not agree with UK Uncut (I am not among them). Ignore the fact that events over the weekend had little to do with UK Uncut and more to do with the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot by the police. Ignore the accusation that “criminals used social media to co-ordinate their actions, just as the Left does” as if there are not plenty of right wing viewpoints represented on Twitter – that Mr Thompson uses twitter to regularly promote his articles doesn’t make him a member of UK Uncut, a lefty or a criminal does it? To throw everyone on the left into one group is a lazy generalisation that trivialises his argument even more than an opening line of “I suppose I’ll be accused of exploiting the Tottenham riots and London-wide looting for political ends”. By the way Damian, you are exploiting them, but then, that was the point, wasn’t it? What happened over the weekend was not right, but it was understandable. This is what must be discussed and considered over the next few weeks – looting, burning down people’s homes and businesses is not acceptable, because it is illegal. But it is not as if the emotions that caused the protest were not present long before this weekend. The lack of trust between residents of Tottenham and the police is not something that is new. Add in the extra pressure of an economy in trouble, high youth unemployment and a government that shows little regard for those at the lower end of the income scale, and it only takes one action to spark people into action. Do not blame social media. Do not blame everyone on the left, or young people. Look at what created the increase in tensions, as well as whether or not the police actions were justified. It is important that people realise that it is possible to understand without condoning, to sympathise without supporting and to acknowledge the problems without trivialising what people are going through. Mr Thompson failed at that. What happened was not a PR disaster for UK Uncut, it was an actual disaster for those whose neighbourhoods were vandalised, whose livelihoods were destroyed and whose homes were burned down. Please do not use what has happened to them to try and score political points or make jibes at other commentators. That’s just crass.
Being lumped into one big group with everyone else who defines themselves as a man was actually more of a problem than a mass political generalisation. I would define myself as a feminist. I am very uncomfortable when feminist writers of any stripe generalise “men” as one large blob. We do think differently, and there are some men whose attitudes towards women disgust me. I do not want to be branded as one of them simply by virtue of being heterosexual and being a man. One of the arguments made regularly by feminists is that men should not all see women as sexualised objects, there to provide sex, food and babies. They are not. Much in the same way as not all men are beer drinking loudmouths who cannot control themselves when they see a pair of legs in a short skirt. I think that men have a vital part to play in the feminist movement – and hopefully proper gender equality for everyone. This is something that I would like to believe Ms Bindel also agrees with. It is important that men do not accept the idea of “fun feminists”, partly because it is a terrible name, but mainly because it is another example of women pandering to men. Doing it in a slightly different way is not feminism, it is simply reinforcing the social gap between the genders, and this time it is doing it with a female seal of approval. This is not feminism, and I would hope many feminists agree with me. Therefore, being told that if “men” agree with a type of feminism then it has failed, I find to be a real problem. Do you mean me? Do you mean those men who agree with real gender equality, who want to end the acceptance of misogyny that is prevalent in our society? I would hope not. I am not saying that feminism without men is dead, but I do believe that we can get involved, that we can make a difference, and if we want gender equality across the board, then both those of every gender should be encouraged to get involved. I am a feminist. I am not the same as those who laugh at rape jokes, who blame the victim for domestic violence or see women as nothing but objects for sex. I don’t want to be grouped with people who do. It could cause arguments.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Expected. Still a shame.

My old college, Rose Bruford has announced its Tuition Fees for 2012. They will be charging the maximum 9,000 for degree courses. I cannot say I that I am really all that surprised, given how lowly Higher Education in the Arts seems to be valued by the current government. It is still a shame though.

I can understand the college’s reasons behind charging these fees – through a combination of the tough position that the cut in HE subsidy has placed on the finance department, and through a desire to not be seen as a ‘lesser institution’ by charging less than the competition (for context, Central School of Speech & Drama has also announced that it will be charging 9,000 a year). These circumstances may mean that this is the right decision for the College, but it is the wrong decision for students.

My fear is that the increase in fees will put off students. The refrain that is mentioned in reference to the Arts is that it in an industry you work in for the love, not for the money. This may be true, but finishing training in thousands of pounds of debt may deter talented prospective students from applying. I paid a maximum of 3,250 a year for my tuition at Rose Bruford, and recently received a letter from the Student Loans Company informing me that I currently owed them somewhere in the region of 26,000. I am starting a Masters in October that has tuition fees of 8,400 and for full time study I need to be able to pay around 25,000 over the year to cover living costs, rent, repayments, food, travel and other expenses. Assuming that there are some expenses I am accruing that will not be faced by undergraduate students, it is possible that a Stage Management graduate – like myself – who graduates in 2015 could be leaving College with a debt of 40,000 from the three years of training. When a Stage Manager can earn somewhere around 450 a week, it makes that debt, before interest and other expenses (like rent and food) seem quite intimidating. I do not want to see talented, driven individuals who could contribute to one of the most profitable and valuable industries in the UK, to be put off applying through fear of the debt that they will be placing themselves under. With cuts to Arts Council budgets and a government desire to support the Arts through philanthropy, the uncertainty faced by recent graduates makes spending 9,000 a year just on tuition seem an even more substantial risk.

College will still need to take in the same number of students in order to balance the budgets. With some students being prevented from looking for places because of their financial situation, will there be a need to accept less talented, skilled and inspired students so that the money keeps coming in? I hope that this does not happen, because not only will it reduce the quality of the graduates that College is training, but with several drama schools being in a similar situation, will there be a lower standard of graduates entering the industry.

If, and this is a very large if, this does come to pass then the ability of the industry to continue to produce quality product will come into question, and this would then have an effect on the contribution that the Arts can make to culture, and to the amount of income generated in the direction of the Treasury. I do not want to see a shrinking of the artistic spectrum caused by the reliance on philanthropy and having to justify to wealthy benefactors that a production is a good idea – and I think that this potential over-commercialisation of the industry could lead to less risk taking and less invention. I also do not want to see the range of product on offer to be limited through a lack of talent. This would not be too evident for the first few years, as the older generation will still be there, but if there is a reduction in the talent pool then in the long term the variety of output could also be reduced, as groups and individuals may not have the abilities needed to create a wider, more varied range of productions.

I hope that it does not come to this, and I do think that these are worst case scenarios, and I hope many of those applying for places in 2012 will be doing it out of love for what they do, and will take their places in spite of the financial burden that they will be placed under. If ability to afford the tuition becomes the defining factor in prospective students decisions, then I think there could be trouble.

I guess we will have to wait and see.

Monday, 16 May 2011

So what ... for summer?

I like summer. I always have. Quite a lot of people do. In the crowd of people who like summer, I am on the "insane fan-boy" end of the spectrum. There are many strange and complex reasons why, but thats not what this is about. This is about what I am actually going to be doing this summer - or to be more accurate, what I am waiting to do once summer is over. I am going to be going back to college. This is not news, but it is a set-down date, and something that I have been planning towards for a while now, right down to making budgets of how much money I need to earn to be able to pay for it, and how many spirit-crushing dinner shifts I will need to work to make it possible for me to throw myself back into education. I am pretty confident the water isn't over my head on the practical preparation side of things - at my head, maybe, but at least I can breathe without needing a bamboo reed (though any further additions to the I'm-hiding-from-real-life fund are always appreciated).

Now that I am, tentatively, set in terms of what will be happening from the back end of September onwards, I'm quite keen to get started, partly so that I am able to avoid the late August panic and over-thinking which is by this point in my life a routine part of the year. But while I want September to get here, I also want to have a summer, and be able to enjoy it (while sticking to my brilliant money earning schemes). I've been that focused on what will be happening at the end of the summer that I have done a solid job totally ignoring the chance of having any kind of a life. There are also some at least reasonably important decisions to be made. Among them are:
  • Do me and Erykah commit to at least another 12 months in our current place? (If we do stay then I may also need to make sure I find someone to rent my dad's place so that my stepsister doesn't move there - and yes, I am just that petty)
  • Should I try to find something more accurately fitting the description of 'proper job' or continue with what I have now, as I know that I will be able to fit it around my college commitments come the autumn? If I do stick with what I have, I certainly need to invest in some new work clothes - this is entirely for vanity, I'm tired of wearing things that make me look like I borrowed clothes off someone bigger than me. Seriously, I look and feel more than a little silly - which is an achievement when dressed all in black.
I'm sure you will agree, these are not exactly uncommon points. But they are points that I have neglected, through laziness, desire to avoid having to make a decision, wanting to continue to see that girl I met at work who I kinda like but blah blah blah. Every cliché in the book.

Then there is the insightful and awkwardly accurate comment from a relative of mine that I seem to be lonely, and spend an awful lot of my time alone, or only interacting with people through my computer. This is true, and much more of a reality than I have ever really wanted to admit. It isn't really a pleasant experience noticing that a fairly off-hand comment in a conversation forces you to pay attention to the elephant quietly snacking on peanuts in the corner of the room, even though you are so aware of its presence that peanuts have been factored into your food budget. Pushed the image a little far, but I think you get my point. Especially since it has been that long since I had a proper social life, where things were not all planned out in advance and put in Facebook events to which I was then invited, that I do not really know how it all works. So, real-world friends, at some point can you explain how real friendships work, how their social interactions are observed, then shall we go do some of them?

So what am I going to do for summer? I'm going to try and actually live it, and when September arrives, then I will start to think about how the next chapter will pan out.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Emotional Disconnect

While trawling through some old stuff today I discovered a couple of things. Firstly, I have contrived to lose two of my favourite and most sentimentally valuable t-shirts, and secondly, I found some old notes from ex-girlfriends from a while ago.

Being the masochist that I am I decided to sit down and read them. They brought back some memories, mostly good, a couple more uncomfortable ones. What they did not bring back was a sense of real emotional connection. By that I don't mean that I cannot remember what I used to feel like - associating feelings with times, sounds or events is how most of my memories are stored in the dark recesses of my brain. What I could not connect with, and could not remember, was being the person to whom anyone would write these things.

I know as time passes people change, and I am aware that I have changed over the last few years, but it was a strange sensation not being able to feel that anything I was reading was intended for me. It is a peculiar feeling when you notice that in the space of a few years your self-perception has changed so much that you read things once meant for you, and feel as if you are reading words intended for an entirely different person, and feel as if you have invaded their privacy.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Masters 2.0

I have accepted the place on the MA Ensemble Theatre course at RBC starting in October.

Now after the fiasco last year (my reaction to which got picked up on by the college online account monitoring people), I am not in as strong a financial position as I was last year, so am having to plan out with much more care how I am going to pay for it.

I know how much it will cost me, and am attempting to persuade various family members to help me with it. This is not ideal, as I would rather not be in debt to the bank (loan), the government (undergraduate tuition fees) and every member of my family all at the same time. I think that the expense is worth it, otherwise I would not be putting myself or them through the effort of trying to work out how it will be paid for. This just means that the next few months will involve a lot of saving, scrimping, and avoiding any unnecessary expense more than I already do. I am pretty sure that it will not be a huge amount of fun, but the pay-off will be worth it.

One other thing I did discover today is that a person I went to school with, though they were in the year below me we did work together on at least one school play, is auditioning for a place on the same course. It would be quite strange if we both ended up doing the same MA (and she would be to my knowledge the 3rd person to go from Oakham to Bruford.

So that is the situation currently, and, as usual, it is all about the money.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Need a plan, and a whole pile of money

So, here it is:
I need to make up my mind by the end of March whether or not I am going to do the MA that I was originally planning on doing this year. There is no use going back over that whole debacle, but it does mean that I am in a bit of a bind this time round.

The main problem is this:
I don't currently have the money to pay for it, let alone being able to afford another year of being a full time student.

I feel confident that I can actually do the course, and that it will be a good thing for me to do, as well as something which will be interesting, entertaining and a challenge. If money was not an issue, I would be able to take my place with confidence of doing well. But unfortunately, money is an issue.
I am currently paying £450 a month in rent, plus around £100 more in various bills - gas, electric, phone etc. On top of that, I have to pay out another £250 a month in loan repayments for the loan I took out to pay for the MA before that all went sideways. Then there will also be travel costs and stuff like that to get to college and back again. Overall, I have roughly budgeted that I will need about £1,000 a month to be able to pay for everything. The course is 13 months full time, so even if there will be some fluctuation on how heavy the workload is, and I am able to find a decent part-time job on top of High Society and CCM (both of which can be busy, can be dead), then I will need £12,000 over the duration of the course to pay for stuff.

Of course, on top of this there is the cost of the actual MA itself, which is, at the moment £8,400. That means an estimated overall cost of the year of £20,000 - which is a hell of a lot of money that I certainly don't have.

Before I make the final decision, I am going to go and talk to Richard, who was the one that got me into the idea of doing the MA, and all of this stuff will be explained to him. In an ideal world, college would be willing to give me a bursary or some form of financial assistance to make it easier, especially since I am a graduate of RBC, got a 1st on my BA, and since they offered me a place, then didn't tell me what was going on until after I had made financial commitments to pay for it back in September. I am not expecting anything, especially given recent public statements from Michael.

So I need to be able to find this money from somewhere. I am not sure where, but somewhere. If anyone who reads this has any ideas, feel free to drop them in the comments section.

The next 18 months of my life will be defined by a decision I need to make within the next couple of weeks, so I need to start figuring things out.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

It's been nearly four months now

Before we start: this may strike some of you as whiny, self indulgent crap - others have been through worse etc - and if that is the case, then that is fine with me. But hopefully venting might help me to get over it. So here goes.

On sunday 31st October, at about 10:30pm I was on my way home from a High Society shift at Bluewater Shopping Centre. While walking along the road I live on, 2 guys pulled their bikes over (one behind me, one in front), pulled me to the ground and stole my phone and wallet. Doesn't sound like a lot, and didn't cost me anything of value (phone was going to be upgraded anyway, all stuff in wallet was replaced within couple of weeks). Apart from a bump on the head, a couple of scrapes and a bleeding mouth, I was physically unharmed and was able to scramble home and Sayem was able to get hold of my sister, who called the police and an ambulance. They checked me out, took a statement, all the standard procedure. Nothing has come of it, but they went and investigated anyway. In terms of what the police have to deal with, not a major issue, not a major crime.

The thing is - and this is the part that is more personal so if that's not something you want to read, stop here - that I have not forgotten what happened, and I know that it is still affecting me. I am still afraid to go outside anywhere near my neighborhood any time after about 3:30. I still look suspiciously at anyone wearing a hoodie or tracksuit bottoms (that is what the two guys were wearing). Even though it has been almost four months, I still don't feel comfortable being alone, outside, in pretty much any part of south London. I weigh up the fastest way to get around, whether it be to the gym, to Emma's place, to the station - including which station to use, which one will have more people so I am less likely to be targeted, that kind of thing. It has been nearly four months now, and while I am relatively confident when in central London of walking around on my own after dark, quite simply I am too scared to do the same thing in my own part of town. I am frightened of a part of London that I have been either visiting regularly or living in for the better part of the last six years.

What really bites, beyond the financial strain of paying for taxis from the station when on my way home after dark, is that I do not know how to stop it. I don't know what I can do to make it better, to feel comfortable and safe in my environment, and to not shake with adrenaline every time I make it to my own front door. There are more important things that I want to be able to do. There are more fun things I want to get involved in. Hell, there are really mundane things that I wish I could do like I did before without panicking or running away from some imagined attacker.

I don't know if it is a weakness, an overactive imagination or just part of the process, but I know that people have been through much worse things than my experience. There are people who live with much worse pressures, fears and problems every day, who are able to function, grit their teeth and push through it. I desperately want to be one of those people. I need to get over this. I need to move on with my life, and stop one minor event from destroying my already anemic social life, stop it from preventing me from finding a job that will allow me to actually pay my bills, and above all, I just don't want to be scared of everyone anymore. It makes it very hard to enjoy all the pieces of good fortune I have.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A view on the anti-cuts movement

I have attended several of the anti-cuts marches, demonstrations and events, from the protests against tuition fee increases to the march through London on January 29th.  At these events I have seen people from a variety of social groups, ages, races, but all united in their passion to defend themselves and their friends from the swinging axe of Tory ideology. However, the march at the end of last month was nowhere near as large as those in November and December. I do not think that there is a loss of opposition to what the government are doing, but I do fear that there might be a lack of direction, which is damaging the effectiveness of the movement

My approach to what is happening to this country is well served by this statement, attributed to either Harry S. Truman or Woody Allen: “Decisions are made by those who show up”. That is what we must now do. Show up. Show up by pressuring those in power, those who are cutting vital services with no consideration for the damage, pain and suffering that the loss of those services will cause, for example cutting benefits so that benefit cheats can no longer choose it as a “lifestyle”. Never mind all those who need those benefits because they cannot find a job, and have families to feed. Never mind hacking into public services, citing inefficiency, then setting unrealistic targets of expenditure reduction, when those most likely to be made redundant are not high-paid managers, but their subordinates. These ideological attacks on the public sector, on education, healthcare and the welfare state must be opposed. Here I will try to explain my personal opinion on how best we can go about doing so.

Every protest, march and event needs to have a clearly articulated message. Make sure that, as much as possible, everyone who is at the event is able to explain to passers by and observers what it is that they are fighting for. The tax avoidance protests by UKUncut is an example of how well this can work. People who see a protest are not always aware what it is about, and a number of them are shocked by what they find out, after we tell them about it. This needs to be spread to every event that is targeted at a government cut, or tax avoiders, or at a policy that will threaten the futures of a generation.

If people think that we are just there because we are young and want to make noise or cause them problems, we are failing to articulate our message – that these cuts affect more than just us. We need to get everyday people on the street to feel like they can get involved. Wanting to stand up against these cuts is not a feeling restricted only to those under 25. There are people of all ages who agree with what we are saying, and should not be ostracised because of their age. If they do not want to march with us, urge them to contact their MP, or to talk to their friends. We need to be seen to be standing up for everyone. The student protests against tuition fee rises was dismissed by far too many people as just being students annoyed at having to pay more. We need to spread the message that we are not just looking out for ourselves but looking out for others.

In terms of how to do this, when I went to the rally points for the marches I was handed several leaflets by various groups, SWP, Militant Student, Socialist Resistance among others. Often this is latched onto by the media as a reason to ignore us, or to say that it is just the radical left who are opposing what is happening. I think that we need to be able to produce leaflets that we can hand out to people who are watching us. This may require more expenditure, which I know will be tough, but it must be more than just different groups within the movement, looking inwards to those already on the streets. If we can get more information out to people, then they can form their own opinions. They may not agree with the action we take, but they might agree with why we are doing it. This is not a bad thing. There is not one way of protesting, and the variety of types of protests will keep up interest, and allow people to express themselves in a way that they are comfortable with. Not everyone wants to stand outside in the cold shouting for seven hours – and if they have an alternative way to get their opinion heard, then that is no bad thing.

Specificity must also come into play. At these events it must be clear what we are there for. It must not just be “we are anti-cuts”, it must be “we are anti THESE cuts, and here is why it affects YOU”. This will help us to demonstrate that we are not just looking for ourselves, and also mean that one of the politicians’ arguments will not be effective. During the protests against tuition fee increase, Nick Clegg said repeatedly that the protesters ‘did not understand’ what the government is doing. If we can demonstrate to people on the street, as well as whatever media we can talk to, that we do understand what the government is doing, and why we are opposing it, then that will be a good step towards gaining some level of respect.

We can also put pressure on the police to stop their violent attempts at suppressing our opinions. We have already had some highly negative experiences at their hands, from kettling people on Westminster Bridge to using CS spray on a peaceful protest. These are problems that we must address and make noise about in their own right. Where we must take a step forward is in engagement with the rank and file police. They will be losing over 10,000 front line officers when the cuts hit them. If they strike, march or protest we ought to be there with them. This may be hard to stomach, especially if you have been through the experience of being kettled before, but it is part of the message that we are looking out for more than just ourselves, and the police spend the majority of their time doing good work. Many of the rank and file police, including one British Transport Police officer I talked with at London Bridge station after the march on the 29th, support us, and what we are doing. They have more in common with us than with the likes of Sir Hugh Orde. If we can get them as onside as possible I believe it will help us.

That being said, we need to keep up pressure on the upper levels of police command to stop kettling at the larger events, as we all know that it will make the situation worse – it derives from the German word ‘kessel’, meaning ‘cauldron’. With the potential of ‘more extreme’ tactics being used against us, it is vital that we keep the pressure on the police to avoid brutality. It is also hugely important that as many people as possible at every event are able to record, film or photograph what is going on, especially police actions. They have their F.I.T. groups, so why can’t we have our own? They are much less confident of being able to push us around when they are on camera. Maintain, or even better, increase the level of evidence we have against what they are doing, and we will be able to show that we are not the aggressors, as it is often suggested in the media. We also have the support of some excellent legal people, and if they are involved in helping one of us, the more evidence the better. We can make it too hard for the police to bully us into submission, and too hard for the ‘small group intent on violence’ narrative from being trotted out by the government yet again. Yes there are small groups whose intention is to cause problems, but we need to make it clear that they are not part of our movement, and we do not support their actions.

It is also important that there are not only large-scale marches through London, but also small, targeted events focussed on local issues, local cuts and local problems. An example of this was the sit-ins in libraries all over the country to show how valuable they are to their communities. While the loss of libraries will affect people all over the country, the protest was at a local level, showing not just a general opposition to library cuts, but giving a human face to those who will be affected by the cut in their own community. The big society is meant to be about local communities taking responsibility, and this is where I think the movement needs to look next, at local community related actions, which will not only show how widespread the problems are, but also show that opposition does not just come from those holding banners and shouting their way through Parliament Square, but also those in towns and city councils across the country who will lose out on vital services, all in the name of budgeting.

If there are more local actions then it will also be possible to put more pressure on local councillors and local MPs, as they will have to see the faces of the people they are affecting, and not just watch a mass crowd outside Parliament via their televisions. They will have to justify to real people why they are hacking into the communities that they themselves are a part of, and why they are cutting services that people they know might use. Give a face to those affected by local cuts, give a voice to the opposition to local cuts and make councillors and MPs have to respond to real people who are really affected, and not just comfort themselves by thinking in abstracts and financial figures – and it is much tougher to vilify someone who wants to read a book than it is a student spray-painting a statue.

The final reason that we must embrace local protest is that they make it much more possible for the disabled to make their voice heard. The DLA cuts did not receive anywhere near as much press and publicity as other government actions, and part of this, I believe, is down to it being harder for those affected to make as much noise as those who are able to stand, sing and shout for hours on end. Many of the disabled, and those who provide them with care and assistance, will be hit hard by this government’s plans, and yet there is nowhere near the appropriate level of representation from that group. We must ensure that our actions are as accessible as possible for everyone, and local, closer to home events can help, since it will cut down on the effort and expense of travelling into a city centre, which can be exhausting before you even get there.

It is vital to ensure the government are made aware how wide-ranging the opposition their cuts are. Therefore it is important that we make sure our actions are as varied, informative and inclusive as possible. We can make our voices heard, and the voices of everyone who will be punished by this governments attack on the public sector, charities, communities, and everyone who is not as wealthy and privileged as them.

We can build this anti-cuts movement. The feelings are there, we must make sure that people do not become disillusioned with what is happening. It is vital to encourage people to get involved, and build momentum towards March 26th.

“It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.” – Robert H. Jackson

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Multiculturalism and Liberalism

Today (Saturday 5th February 2011) we have seem a member of the social, political and cultural mainstream decide that multiculturalism is a failure in Britain. It must be easy to define how multiculturalism has failed us as a wealthy, Oxford educated white man. The “doctrine of state multiculturalism” has been dismissed as being soft on extremists, so a new direction will be taken to combat terrorism: a Blair-esque “muscular liberalism”.

“The doctrine of state multiculturalism” has not encouraged people to live away from the mainstream. They may have chosen to do so, but encouraging multiculturalism is not about the minorities, it is about the mainstream. It is about encouraging people to realise that there are different cultures being followed by people living in this country. It is about realising that, while those cultures may be different, we can celebrate those differences, rather than talking about tolerating them. When we accept and welcome other cultures, there will be integration. Of course there will be fringe groups on the edges who decide not to integrate, but that should not mean that all those from a similar culture must be blamed or accused. As we would not expect to be judged on the sins of our fathers, we cannot judge people based on the sins of those on the fringes of their communities.

Since it is a lack of British identity that is being blamed for young, disillusioned people embracing extremist, potentially violent, views, it is important to define what is the British Identity that everyone is meant to fit in to? I do not think that defining that culture so that we can decide who is in it and who is not is possible or fair. Through the late 20th century the British identity involved becoming more multicultural, having West Indians, Asians, Arabs, Jews and others moving to Britain and becoming part of the culture. The notion that everyone in Britain will conform to ‘British culture’ is laughable. Those who felt that everyone must conform to the pre-war ‘British’ identity were the likes of Enoch Powell. No culture, British, American, Indian or otherwise is a finite, unchangeable quantity. Cultures are defined by those living in them, experiencing them and contributing to them, not by what part of the map they are in at the time. Vilifying one group, deciding that they need to change or lose part of their home culture will not help them to conform to your culture, it will simply cause them to resent you.

If multiculturalism is such a failure, then why are there so many kebab shops, curry houses, Chinese restaurants? Why do so many Brits drink beers brewed by Dutch, Belgian or German companies? There are different cultures here in the UK, and many of us enjoy interacting with them, even if we are not part of them. Knowing the difference between Sag Paneer and Aloo Gobi doesn’t make you Indian, but if you did not interact with Indian culture (even if it is just for the food) then you wouldn’t. It is a simple example, but the point remains. Or here is another example; if multiculturalism has failed, how is it that the Chair of the Conservative party is a Muslim woman? While I disagree with Baroness Warsi over a great many things, the fact that a Muslim woman could chair the Tory party would have been unthinkable without multiculturalism.

How can people be integrated when phrases like “muscular liberalism” are used to describe how he would like everyone to integrate? Is the idea that everyone will be integrated, by force if necessary? It is not possible to force someone to believe in what you believe. That has been tried before; The empire, the invasion of Iraq, American Cold War support for any dictator who promised to crack down on communism (even if that meant deposing a democratically elected head of state in the process). It is not about saying ‘you will agree with us’. Integration should come from a sharing of ideas, a sharing of ideals, and the realisation that we are not as different as we may superficially appear to be.

“Strengthening … security aspects” has also been proposed. Is this more of the muscular liberalism that is being proposed? Gathering intelligence on religious groups – I would imagine almost entirely Muslim groups – purely because they are religious groups is incredibly illiberal. We are already one of the most watched, scrutinised and observed populations in the world, and in order to make us feel more at liberty and safer the government would like to strengthen security again? National security will be used as a justification, as it always is, but at what point does the state intervention into our lives become too much. The government wants to scale down state involvement in our lives, shifting power “from the state and to the people”. Then how do they, and their Liberal Democrat partners, equate this with even more state monitoring of everything we do, say or believe. There are so many peaceful devout Muslim groups, are they to be spied on and then shunned because of the actions of a few extremists who even Mr Cameron acknowledges are “not the same” as devout Muslims?

One more thing:
In Egypt over the last 2 weeks we have seen many things: protests, a dictator desperately clinging to power and also a great example of multiculturalism in action:

In this picture, there are many Muslims praying. In the foreground there are Egyptian Christians linking arms to protect those praying from any attacks while they are observing the rituals of their faith. This is an example of multiculturalism at its best. Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt have their differences, but here they are united in their desire to rid Egypt of Mubarak. Being from different social and religious groups or cultures has not stopped them from joining each other in action.
(credit picture:!/nevinezaki)

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Being a lefty Chelsea fan

I've always found there to be something of a contradiction between my political beliefs and my support of Chelsea - especially since it was bought by Roman Abramovich.

On one hand I think that there are much better uses to which £160,000 a week can be put than paying John Terry's wages, and yet I have a season ticket so that I can go and watch a group of hugely overpaid people play a game. It is hyped, discussed, built up, dramatised and promoted more than almost any other occupation, but it is still a game.

These incredibly well paid people are professionals, and despite the behaviour of many of them off the field (this includes several of the current squad) they are skilled at what they do - though I am still at a loss to explain the 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland. The contracts football players at the top levels are on are a fairly solid proof of the most solid foundation of capitalism - people earn what the market will tolerate them earning, for the skills they have. But just because you can pay someone £10million a year (before bonuses), doesn't mean that you should.

From a political, and moral, point of view, there is something wrong when you have a Russian oligarch, who is not entirely free of controversy, hands over £50 million to a group of Americans, so that one Spanish player can move from Liverpool to London, and sign a contract rumoured to be worth £175,000 a week - surely there are better uses to which all this money can be put? I do not know what kind of tax avoidance is undertaken by footballers, but I am certain that, though many clubs like Chelsea are involved with a variety of charities, there is certainly more that could be done to help those not fortunate enough to be on multi-million pound deals.

The conflict between politics and football arises here, since despite everything written above, I am delighted that my team has signed Torres and David Luiz, because I love watching Chelsea play, especially when they are winning. Signing one of the worlds best strikers and one of the best defensive prospects in the game will help us do that.

I think that the contradiction is causes by how I think about Chelsea. When I use my brain, applying logic and reason to how I feel about the club, then I agree that there are better ways to spend all that money, and certainly no one person is worth handing over that much cash, no matter how skilled at his job he may be.

But when I think about how being at Stamford Bridge at the end of last season to watch us lift the Premier League trophy, all the other stuff goes out the window. I remember the elation, the joy of myself and everyone else who stayed in the ground singing, chanting, clapping and dancing as the trophy was paraded before us. I remember it being one of the best moments I have shared with my dad in years, both of us jumping up and down, clapping, cheering and generally making fools of ourselves. I remember the guy sitting in front of me, who must have been approaching retirement, who had tears running down his face. Those feelings make all the valid points about the excesses go out the window. For a fan, watching your team succeed is an incredible thing. It manages to make all the worries you have about your future, your job, finances or relationships disappear for a little while, so that you and 41,000 other people inside that small part of west London can go absolutely mental.

When I am asked by people who are not football fans how I can be happy that we have signed someone on a huge contract, making more money in a week than I might see in a decade, I don't really have an answer. That is what they have been paid. I don't think it is right that footballers earn the insane amounts of money that they do. But I still want my team to win.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The ongoing saga of the Olympic Stadium

We are still waiting to find out who is going to be moving into the Olympic Stadium after 2012. As someone who is a football fan (though not in any way supportive of any of the clubs involved in the bidding process) as well as an inhabitant of the Crystal Palace area, I have something of an interest in what is going on. Depending on what happens, it would very well be possible that the area where I live will be affected by the outcome in Stratford. As far as I can tell, the parties involved, and their proposals, seem to be:

1) West Ham: Their plan seems to involve keeping the Olympic Stadium much as it is, most importantly, keeping the running track so that the stadium can be used as a multi-event venue, in a similar way to how Wembley currently hosts football, concerts, rugby and NFL games. This option would seem to satisfy the criteria of the bid that won the Olympics, as it would allow UK Athletics to have a home venue, and would keep the promise about an athletics legacy post 2012.
For further reading:

2) Tottenham: The Spurs plan involves extensively rebuilding the Olympic Stadium, so that it is a football ground. This means that there will be no athletics track. This also means that there will not be a legacy of athletics at the venue. Given the issue of the legacy, and how athletics would be served by Spurs' proposed move to the Olympic park, they have added as part of their plan a redevelopment of the National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace Park, so that there is somewhere for UK Athletics to be housed, allowing Spurs to do what they like with the Olympic site.

One question I would have of this plan is why Spurs would move to Stratford to build a new ground, on top of the essentially brand new Olympic Stadium. Surely they would be better served staying in North London with their fanbase, and building a new ground closer to their home? There was a proposal to build a new stadium closer to White Hart Lane floated last year, but it would appear that this plan has been shelved in preference of the Olympic site move.

3) Crystal Palace: As the club named after the area (despite being based in nearby Selhurst since 1924) it would make sense for the Eagles to return to their original home in the Park. They have submitted a proposal for a move from Selhurst Park to the National Sports Centre . This proposal does include a commitment to athletics, and would allow the NSC to retain its athletics heretige, as well as giving Palace a move away from Selhurst Park. This would seem to depend, however, on the outcome of the bids for who would take over the Olympic Stadium - if Spurs bid is the winner, then the NSC would be redeveloped for athletics only.

Those appear to be the three choices at this moment in time. If the West Ham bid is accepted then it is possible that the Crystal Palace move to the NSC would be possible as well. This would be my preferred option, as it would mean that the Olympic Stadium is retained as an athletic venue and not knocked down and rebuild for football. It would also mean that there would be redevelopment for the National Sports Centre, and hopefully it would mean a bit more activity in the Crystal Palace area, given the increased numbers of people using services in the area. It might make some weekends a bit more crowded, but I think that, overall, for the area having Palace move back to the park is the best option. The main benefit of the Spurs plan is that there will be redevelopment of the NSC, which, whoever wins, is desperately needed. If there is to be redevelopment it needs to take athletics into account, which both the Spurs and Palace plans do, but I think that overall the best result for both UK Althetics and the Crystal Palace area is to have West Ham move to the Olympic Park and have Crystal Palace move back to the park.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Male feminism

Now, if you ask most people, especially most men, if it is possible to be a male feminist, they will say no. Some of them may assume you are gay.  I am sure that most of them will not know what feminism is. They may think it means you hate men, want them to be subjugated by women.  In fact I am pretty certain that they will think that – hence also the assumption that if you are a male feminist, then you are homosexual (the concept that you can be gay and not think ‘like a woman’ will most likely be lost on them). I know these statements may seem like I am pushing the lack of knowledge to an extreme, but I’m not really.

Take for example the recent Sky Sports issue, with Keys and Gray (in the interest of full disclosure, I cannot stand either of them) both ending up without a job because of their sexist remarks – incidentally, Sian Massey clearly knew the offside rule pretty damn well, since she got the decisions in the game right. They deserved to get fired. They did. Got what they had coming to them, and right now ought to stop trying to justify it, and just accept that they are wrong.

What has wound me up a bit more than that, however, are some of the responses. From Giles Coren and his ‘what about the men’ column, to the accusations that since Loose Women is ok, then misogyny is ok. If you want to read a pretty thorough trashing of that particularly moronic point of view, then this is top of the book list:

I was expecting arguments from male numbskulls that don’t get it. Lots of men don’t. I like to think that I do. What is even worse than that is the response from women. Here is an example, this stunningly bad piece of poetry from Kate Hopkins on Twitter (from the Apprentice apparently)”

“There once was a man Andy Gray. Who said what he thought every day. On one occasion [sic]. He caused an invasion. Of feminists who needed a lay!”

What particularly staggers me about this is that this woman was put in the eye of the media by appearing on a television show for people to try and get a job working for Alan Sugar, at what appears to be a reasonably high level. What Ms Hopkins has not gathered about these “feminists who needed a lay” is that without feminists, she would not be able to have applied for the job that got her on television, and made her name. Wouldn’t have happened. She would have ended up, at most, as a secretary or assistant. That is not to besmirch the hiring practices of any of Lord Sugar’s companies, but without feminists fighting for equal employment opportunities and similar equalities, this woman would not have been able to broadcast that incredibly closed minded piece of garbage to her, at time of writing, 1,485 followers.

The problem seems to be a pretty impressive lack of understanding about what feminism means. When I learned about the suffragettes at school it was about getting the vote for women, because they were subjects, and ought to have a say in who was running the country. I’m sure that, outside the hardcore sexist misogynist groups, no one will doubt that women ought to be able to vote.  But what I would like those who get all upset that ‘feminists hate men and are out to get them’ to realise is that feminism is not about making women superior to men. It is about getting women to be equal to men.

This is from

1.       The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2.       (Sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.”

“Rights of women equal to those of men”. That is it. Being a man doesn’t mean that you cannot want women to be equal with men. You may not believe it, but if you want women and men to be equal socially, politically, legally, then you are a feminist. Congratulations. It doesn’t in any way challenge your masculinity, or mean your dick will fall off. Some of your mates may laugh, some of them might agree. Those who laugh, challenge them on why. Expose the inherent sexism that we see all around us every day. If you make them defend an argument that says that women are in any way less than men, then if we are very lucky, they might hear what they are saying and realise how wrong they are. Or, at the very least, just like Keys and Gray, with their misogyny exposed, they might just shut up and leave the rest of us in peace.

Is the ecomony like your penis?

So it seems we can add a couple more things to the list of 'forces of stagnation' that Gideon is blaming for the economy being in bad shape - the opposition (who, surprise surprise, are opposing radical free market solutions to problems caused by unregulated free markets - here is an idea, get tax avoiders to pay their way), and the unions (who are not on strike, and are discussing strike action in opposition to cuts that might leave their members relying on benefits and government help that are about to be cut with maniacal speed by the ruling class).

This is only a few days after he blamed the last quarter's economic shrinkage on the snow. Little piece of information for you Gideon: the economy isn't like your penis - it doesn't shrink because it is snowing. The thing is, when the impact of the snow has been factored in, the economy was flat. No growth, no shrinking, nothing. Still doesn't look good does it. This is before the cuts start to hit. This was before the rise in VAT, and this was over Christmas, when people are meant to spend, spend, spend - especially knowing that many things would be cheaper before January (I did that, buying several books and DVDs because I knew I wouldn't be able to afford them if they were any more expensive). Now, I am no economist, so I cannot comment on the ins and outs of the markets etc, but surely if you have high levels of snow, then things that are used to deal with snow, such as boots, salt, snow plows or sledges might have seen something of a boost in sales. And lets be honest, it's not as if it didn't happen last year - the economy didn't shrink then. It happened the year before too, when things were in the toilet economically, and still no shrinkage. Maybe it is time to stop blaming things on the weather (listen to the Met Office, they are not too bad at the whole weather thing). Either that, or stop making excuses.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Previous thoughs on tuition fees

This is something I've had sitting around in a notebook for a while now, having originally written it around the back end of November, before the tuition fee changes were made. Just for a bit more context, I wrote this while sitting in a Starbucks at Fulham Broadway station, waiting for my dad to turn up for our tradition pre-match Nandos, before going to Stamford Bridge. I pretty much proceeded to ramble through most of what I wrote with my dad, which is when I discovered that he was a bit more of a lefty than he lets on, a nice surprise I'm sure you will all agree.

This may make it seem a bit dated (I will add some reflective bits, but it is pretty much directly from my book to here) but I wanted to put it out there anyway, in particular the idea of alternate ways to raise money, as an alternative to cuts and heaping debt onto the people rather than the government. Here goes:

"Oh, so the first protests of the coalition have happened. Only took a few months. Solid work guys. What makes this even more impressive from a Lib-Dem point of view is that it was from one of the groups that supported them - the students.

Now, I'll come back to that in a minute, but first I have to admit that I wasn't at the demo this morning [the first of the main anti-tuition fee demonstrations] or at the clashes that followed - and I'll let others discuss whether or not the escalation and police response helped or not. What happened later in the day must not be allowed to detract from is is the real reason so many people marched in the first place [despite the best efforts of the media, and the police].

Back on point: many who are either out of university, or have never attended, have chosen to describe students within the stereotype of lazy cheapskates who drink and party and stagger into the light several years later with a piece of paper and still no idea what they are doing. While some of that does happen, and there are some people who stay at uni as long as possible so to avoid having to grow up, I have also met plenty of students, both at RBC and other schools, who are hardworking, driven people, fully aware of the amount of debt they are accruing, but willing to take on that burden so that they can follow their ambition, their dream or their passion. For example at Bruford, I did not meet a single person who decided to go through the audition process to become an actor just for kicks, or for the fun of it and the social life - they did it because they want to become actors. The idea that budget cuts from privileged ideologues leave a solid number of graduates unable to pursue their chosen career is a travesty.

What is even worse than that situation, worse than the potential for further cuts, worse than Conservatives in parliament cheering at the Chancellor's gleeful attacks on those who need the states help more than anyone else, worse than all of that is the arrogance of politicians who attended universities at a time when it cost them nothing, deciding that in order to continue your academic career you have to have been born into, or raised into, money. Education ought to be a right afforded to every citizen, not a privileged for those who can afford it. This kind of policy may well have been feared from a Tory administration, but what is hard to swallow is their Lib-Dem appendages. That those very same Lib-Dems actively campaigned on a pledge to fight rises in tuition fees is all the more shocking. I'm sorry Mr Clegg, but saying that it is one of those things that gets lost as part of a coalition just doesnt wash. If it is something that you might possibly consider compromising on, don't make it the cornerstone of your election campaign - you have successfully ruined any chance your party had at being 'the honest party'. Not only have you lied but you have gone against what your own party once believed in. Why else would one of your PPCs join Labour and cite that as one of their main reasons? You have sold out, you have sold out your party, and you have sold out many of the people who once believed in you. All so you could sit at the top table. Congratulations.

Leaving aside the lack of progressiveness in the Coalition plans for education funding, what is also surprising is the short term-ism that their policy demonstrates. This is shown by this: if you pay for people to be educated, then the theory goes that they get into higher paying jobs. This means they earn more money. When they have higher income, they are taxed a higher amount than those on lower incomes [that is the theory at least, though with the HMRC collection issues and the tax avoidance unchecked there are some problems]. The only problem with this theory is that it takes a generation to come into play, and it appears that this government is not looking for the long term benefit for the nation, rather the short term benefits for the few.

In the current climate of deficit reduction, and with absolutely no schooling in economics, so I appreciate I may miss some details, here is my alternative idea: add 2% onto income tax. This may seem regressive, and its hard to get elected by raising taxes, but hear me out. In order to counteract the impact this would have on lower income households, I also propose a raising of the tax-free allowances., so that for those less fortunate, the higher rate is paid on a smaller percentage of their earnings. I think that they would be able to save money, and also, hopefully, some of those families who need benefits in order to make ends meet might be less needy of them. But like I said, I have no grounding in economics, and may just be being naive."

So that is what I wrote back in November. Some of it is a little dated, and with the looming impact of the disability benefits cuts, it seems like something of a moot point. But if you have made it this far, well done, and apologies for taking up so much of your time.

Friday, 14 January 2011

My favourite TED Talks

Now this may not seem like I've put a lot of effort into this post, because most of it will be made up of links to other people being much more intelligent and articulate than me, which I suppose is the point.

Here are some of my favourite talks from TED (more can be found at

Tony Porter': "A Call to Men"
I love this one because it helps to restore faith that there are men who can break out of the old fashioned idea of men being strong, emotionless and dominant - or as Porter terms it, the "man box".

Chris Abani:
Both of these two are really powerful. Having spend time in various bits of Africa, it's a continent that I rather like. Why, I'm not sure, but I like it nonetheless.

Naif Al-Mutawa: Superheroes inspired by Islam
I just love this as a concept. Also a great way to approach multiculturalism and integrating different beliefs.

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Revolution
This is the kind of education that I wish I could have had, focusing on skills and developing individuals rather than just people who fit into the system that is currently in place. On an educational note, if the link still works, compare Sir Ken's views and eloquence with the current Education Secretary, Michael Gove Which one would you rather have running your or your child's education?

James Randi
This just makes me laugh. Never understand why people believe in psychics and stuff like that!

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability 

Emmanuel Jal: The Music of a War Child
Incredible. The song at the end is also immensely catchy.

Right, that is enough for now. Check out the website if you want to see more. I spend far too much time on it. Good for the brain though.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year Resolutions

Now, really, I am not one for New Years Resolutions - much more being a fan of the "why make a plan at this time of year, its nothing special, just do it" way of thinking. On top of this, resolutions are made by people every year with the knowledge that they will be broken anyway, so who cares.

In any event, I do have certain goals that I want to achieve in the next 12 months. The idea is not to get them done as soon as possible, more to try any achieve them by the end of the year (some of them I do need to justify a bit, but you can skip over that part) . So here goes:

1. Get into proper shape - While I am now in better shape than I was 18 months ago, I still am not a huge fan of how I look. Therefore I am taking it upon myself to try and sort it out. Part of it is aesthetic, part of it is health, part of it is fitness, but the reason doesn't matter, just the result.

2. Become more politically involved - now this one I am not sure entirely the way in which I will achieve it, whether it be writing to my MP more, doing more volunteering, trying to get to the Labour conference, or similar ideas. Any suggestions are welcomed, and I think that especially with what 2011 will hold in terms of what the government are going to try to shove down our throats next, I think that involvement of any kind can help.

3. Don't get arrested or in trouble with police - this may seem odd, but with more protests being bound to happen this year, and with me planning on attending as many of them as I can, I want to not get myself photographed, harassed, harmed or arrested while protesting peacefully (that is one thing, I will never be violent while on protest, though I will defend myself or others while there).

4. Get a proper job - by proper I mean one where I can work out my pay by the week, not through counting the number of hours I have worked. Again, any suggestions or offers will be considered (yes, I am that desperate)

5. Decide about the Masters - this one is rather reliant on number 4, but I do need to make my mind up, and while the financial pressure is the main stumbling block, decisions will need to be made, eventually.

6. Be more social - I need to get out the house more, I need to meet new people, and see more of the people I already know, some of whom I actually really enjoy spending time with. For most of 2010 my social life was crap, and not just due to my general lack of social skills. I think that, even though money will be tight this year, I need to make a greater effort to see people I like, and make a greater effort to get them to want to see me too. How to do that, I have no idea, but I have 12 months to get it sorted.

7 Read more - If anyone feels like posting me some interesting books then get in touch, but overall I think that I need to read more. I might even see if there is a library somewhere near me (under the assumption that it hasnt been closed down before I get there).

Now there are a few others, but they really aren't all that interesting to read (which, looking at that list, must make them pretty dull), but in any case, if you have any ideas or thoughts about how to achieve these things, just yell at me.

My Dissertation (April 2010)

Here is my dissertation, that I wrote over 28 days in April of 2010. Some of it you may agree with, some of it you may not. If you have any thoughts, then please feel free to share them. If you make it to the end, I applaud you - and if anything I have said here is libelous, please let me know (before anyone tries to sue me)

An Investigation into Funding and Supporting the Arts in England


I. Introduction

II. The Arts Council

III. Further Funding

IV. The Olympics and London 2012

V. Politics and the Recession

VI. An Alternative

VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction

“The arts inspire us. They can be exciting, joyful, comforting, challenging and sometimes even bewildering. They bring people together, they raise our aspirations and they broaden our horizons. They are valued in the lives of individuals and communities across the country. The arts thrive on risk-taking. Artists rely on the trust, commitment and ambition of audiences and funders to support those risks.”[i]
I agree entirely with the above statement. The aim of this investigation is to look into the way in which artists are funded and supported. I will explore where Arts funding comes from, as well as examining the roles played by the different bodies involved in Arts funding. There are the bodies that distribute public money, such as the Arts Council and the National Lottery, as well as private backers and supporters, from small fringe theatre producers to major impresarios such as Cameron Macintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber. A large part of my focus will be on the work of the Arts Council, which I will be looking at in some detail due to the high profile role they play in supporting many organisations across the country. Under investigation will be their targets, aims, and the types of financial support they offer, and how this funding structure works. Along with this, I shall look at the interaction between the Arts Council and the government, whose money they distribute.
The other focus points of my investigation will be the affect of the London 2012 Olympics on funding for the arts, with the diversion of funds from various government sectors to pay for the Olympics, as well as the launch of the “Cultural Olympiad” and the impact that this has had on the Arts. Linked into this diversion of assets to the Olympic fund are the accusations of a London bias in terms of funding and support. This is related not only to where the funding was allocated before and after winning the Olympic bid, but also to how organisations outside London, which may not benefit from the increase in tourism, are viewing the allocation of further resources away from the regions and towards the capital, with its already large proportion of Arts funding.
I shall also be looking at the future of Arts funding, in particular the impact that the recession has had on the resources available to the Arts, and how the government’s actions have affected the sector. With the upcoming election, I shall also be analysing the different political parties stances to the arts, and how they could be affected after the election. I shall also be offering my personal ideas for how the funding structure of the Arts could be changed, in order to better benefit both those involved in the Arts, and those who enjoy partaking in it.
Though much of this essay refers to “The Arts”, I feel it is best to clarify the areas on which I am focusing. My primary focus is theatre as I feel that this is the area that will affect me more than any other. I am aware, and will look at, the impact of funding changes on other sectors of the Arts, such as the visual arts, sculpture and digital arts as well as music, museums and galleries, all of which are in receipt of public funding. Quite simply, I am concentrating on the theatre as this part of the Arts holds most interest for me, and it is where I see my career developing.

II. The Arts Council

The body that we now know as Arts Council England has only been in operation since 1994. In its previous incarnations it operated as the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1946-1994. Before 1946 it was known as the Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), and its primary role was to help boost morale during wartime. After the end of the war, with the government feeling that there needed to be a body to make the Arts more accessible to the public, the Arts Council was set up. As it was not, and still is not, a government department, “no minister directed its policies or decided to whom funding should be awarded”[ii].
The Arts Council distributes public subsidy to the Arts sector. It does not, contrary to some beliefs, run the arts. It has aims and objectives which it meets in the organisations that receive it’s funding, but is not in a position to directly control the output of those organisations who receive its support. In its National Policy the Arts Council “aims to transform and sustain theatre in this country, ensuring that a wide range of audiences has access to bold, relevant and exciting work”[iii]
The Arts Council has a set of targets, or priorities. While not every organisation needs to meet each one of these points, they do expect “all funded organisations to deliver the first two”[iv]. The priorities are as follows:
1. A better range of high quality work
2. Attract more people
3. Develop new ways of working
4. Education
5. Address diversity and inclusion
6. Develop the artists and creative managers of the future
7. An international reputation
8. Regional distinctiveness
In the autumn of 2007 the Arts Council announced a wide ranging set of reforms to its funding. The aim of the changes was to allow the Arts Council “to concentrate its funding on organisations of excellence while penalising the average”[v]. This reform, coming not long before Christmas, became known as the “Christmas Turkeys”[vi]. Around 200 organisations were told that their funding would be cut, while roughly 40, such as the Roundhouse in Camden and the Birmingham Jazz, received increases of close to double their funding. There were several organisations, such as The Bush and the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF), who initially had their funding cut or completely removed, but received reprises from the Arts Council after appealing and lobbying on their behalf by artists and supporters. This set of reforms, and the effects that they had, was one of the most bitterly contested and controversial moves in the Arts Council’s history, and even prompted a vote of no confidence in the Arts Council from a group of over 600 prominent figures, including Sir Ian McKellen and Kevin Spacey.
The Arts Council has two main avenues through which organisations can obtain funding. Firstly, there are the Regularly Funded Organisations. These are a group, currently 880 strong, of organisations that receive long term funding, usually over three years. The Arts Council believes that supporting organisations in this way “is the most significant way in which we achieve our outcomes”[vii]. The second avenue of funding is to apply for one of the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts, of which there are around 2,800 granted each year. I feel that, in order to analyse if this really is the best way to achieve the Arts Council’s targets, it is necessary to take a closer look at the funding structure currently in place.
The Regularly Funded Organisations received between them, in the 2008-09 financial year, a total of £332million[viii]. Out of total Arts Council expenditure of £572million that year, this works out at 58%, and an average of £377,000 for each of the 880 organisations. In contrast, there are around 2,800 organisations that received financial support in 2008/9 from the Grants for the Arts fund. Through this wing of their funding, the Arts Council’s payouts consisted, over the same financial year, of £68million, or 12% of the total Arts Council financial outlay. This averages £24,876 per organisation or project.
The main reason for the vastly differing amounts of money involved in these two types of funding is the time span of those funding agreements. Since the Grants for the Arts are for short term projects – with a company only permitted to receive one grant per financial year – there is always going to be a lower overall amount of money spent, in comparison to the Regularly Funded Organisations, with its three year funding plan.
While the difference between funding levels is hardly newsworthy or shocking, given the long and short term nature of the projects and their financing, what is interesting to look at is the changes over time in the funding paid out by these two sectors.
In 2004-05, the financial year before the success of the 2012 Olympic bid, the Arts Council’s total expenditure was £548million. The amount given to Regularly Funded Organisations totalled £246million, or 42% of total expenditure. The Grants for the Arts fund paid out £70million, which accounted for 12% of total expenditure. Compare this to the expenditure for the 2007-08 year, which is the final year of that funding plan, before the Autumn 2008 rearrangement. In 2007-08, the total expenditure of the Arts Council totalled £529million, a £19million reduction from the 2004-05 total.
It would be natural to assume that the amount of money paid out through the various funds would also be reduced, in line with this reduction of expenditure. However, the Regularly Funded Organisations received 60% of the total – which works out at a total of £317million – a £71million increase over the previous figure. In contrast to this increase, the Grants for the Arts fund only paid out £53million, which at 10% is a 2% and £17million decrease.
It is my personal belief that this current funding structure does not help the Arts Council to match its stated aims. In particular I feel that the current structure does not help with creating “a better range of high quality work”[ix], as well as limiting chances to “attract more people”[x] to the arts. I feel that the current structure limits new ventures and works against active involvement in the Arts, both in terms of participation and audience support. Also, with the current structure supporting the status quo as opposed to promoting new ideas, the range of innovative work available to the public is severely limited. Within the current funding structure, the reasons for these problems are threefold.
The first reason for believing that the current funding structure does not work is that the “Grants for the Arts” fund is woefully under-financed, especially in comparison to the Regularly Funded Organisations. It is my belief also that the Grants funds are being incorrectly allocated. I feel that the Grants for the Arts fund, and the method in which organisations can gain support from it, needs to be changed. Rather than funding one-off projects – though this should not entirely be discouraged – it would be far more beneficial in the long term to use the Grants fund as a form of ‘start up capital’. This way organisations, especially established fringe companies who have a well-constructed business plan, perhaps including proposals to expand their operations, can come to the Arts Council and gain funding without the need for the long term investment of becoming a regularly funded organisation.
With such a one-off ‘start up capital’ grant, these companies can not only continue to produce work, but can plan for the future and look at ways to become more commercially viable, so that they can become independent from Arts Council support. I believe that it would also better serve the public, as they would be able to partake of a wider and more diverse range of artistic endeavour.
Also, I believe that this would benefit the Arts Council. It would do this by allowing them, while maintaining their regularly funded sector, to be in a position to truly support the arts, by giving companies and venues the chance to become self sufficient. This would also bring the arts to a wider cross-section of society, purely because it would not only increase the quantity of work available to the public, but also increase the quality and variety, since companies can produce works better suited to the area in which they are based, rather than just giving the paying public the same stream of community theatre, Lloyd Webber-funded musicals, and Saturday night musical theatre talent shows on television. If the public is given a chance to attend a wider variety of artistic ventures it is my belief that they would do so. If all that is presented is the same limited list of options currently available, then while the UK may be seen overseas as a leader in the Arts, the only ones who will hold that opinion on these shores will be tourists in London, and those administrators who misplace audience figures for a sign of artistic integrity and quality.
While this argument may struggle to gain support during the current economic climate, I feel that it would be, in both the long and short term, the best option, since there will be more incentive for people to come and see a show, or visit a gallery or exhibition, if they know that it can be something powerful, significant, or just downright entertaining. This might also inspire the next generation of artistic professionals, might possibly plant that seed in a child’s mind that they might be able to direct a show, or become a sculptor, rather than believing that the only people it is worth emulating are the likes of Cheryl Cole, professional footballers or the latest synthetic, packaged creation from the production line of artificial Simon Cowell talent show offerings, which are a victory of style over substance. People look at talent shows and either sneer or believe they can do it. I believe that it is the obligation and duty of the Arts Council to offer an alternative to this Saturday night ‘glitz-fest’.
What is the best way to get people to feel that the arts are something they have access to? Simple. Make it something they can be a part of. I am not saying that theatre companies take amateurs into the acting company, as this would do more harm to the integrity of the production than it would do any benefit to the community. I feel that the best, and easiest way to provide people with a link to their theatres is to make it something that they can go to for a small amount of money, instead of theatre meaning a trip to London to see yet another musical whose marketing is based on which celebrity is treading the boards that week, regardless of their acting talent - for example Madonna in Up for Grabs, who was described as having “all the on-stage personality of a paper cup”[xi] and yet performed to sell out audiences, even when seats were costing up to £60 each. Instead, putting on a quality local performance, which is partially supported by the Arts Council, will allow people to see a good show, be entertained, educated and inspired without the massive cost of going to London to further line the pockets of a small group of producers who are only in the business for their bank balance.
This leads on to another issue I believe there to be in the current funding system – namely the funding of organisations which either do not need a generous level of financial support or need no financial support whatsoever to maintain their level of artistic output. For example “The Royal National Theatre will receive £18,715,431 in 2008/2009, £19,220,748 in 2009/2010 and £19,739,708 in 2010/2011”[xii]. Now while there is no doubt that the National produces some of the most powerful and technically accomplished theatre in the country, there is no need, in my view, to provide them with this level of financial support.
The problem with this approach, and the majority of financial support being offered to large, established companies, is that is can, if not actively reduce, then certainly not increase the number of opportunities for people to work in smaller venues, or in the words of Sam West: "If you cut funding to our smaller theatres then you will eventually starve our larger theatres to death."[xiii] One practical example of this is Catherine Jackson, writer of Mamma Mia! This is a show that has been seen in 34 different countries, by over 30 million people. She says that the Bush Theatre (which in 2008 was stripped of its funding, only to be reprieved on appeal from the likes of Pinter and Churchill) "welcomed and developed me. They made me a writer"[xiv]. It is venues such as the Bush that help to nurture the next generation of talent, and with the Arts Council’s target of developing talent for the future, the funding of these types of venues is something which, whatever the current climate, needs to be preserved.
When approaching this system with a view towards the Arts Councils objectives and aims, one part, which I believe is badly let down, is the idea of developing the next generation. Working in smaller scale or fringe productions is a valuable source of experience for directors, actors and technicians of all types and if the smaller companies where people are learning their trade are not able to grow and develop their reputations, then it can be tough for younger professionals, and trainees, to develop their skills.
The final problem with the current funding structure is the long process that organisations need to go through in order to receive financial support from the Grants for the Arts scheme. Once the application form has been sent to the Arts Council, they advise it can take “six working weeks to process applications for £10,000 or less, and 12 working weeks for applications for more than £10,000”[xv]. This can seriously limit smaller companies who, unlike major organisations, usually work to short timescales – and of course have smaller overall budgets. Having to wait for up to three months can have a serious negative impact on their decision-making, as they are unable to commit to a new production until they receive the Arts Council’s decision.
Having talked to a producer from one of London’s fringe theatre companies, I discovered that there was one part of the application that I believe is particularly troublesome, and that is finding a venue for the production for which they were applying for funding. The idea that one needs to have a venue booked (but not paid for) for a production before taking it to the Arts Council is laughable. Yet this is part of the requirement for funding.
The problem is that small companies, the kind who could really benefit from Arts Council’s support, will struggle to confirm a booking at a venue without payment, and without being able to offer a guarantee that there will be an end product to put in the venue. Venues will not set aside dates for a small theatre company on the strength of an application to the Arts Council for funding, when there is no guarantee it will succeed. Again, this is part of the application process. Since the process can take “more than twelve weeks”[xvi], this is a real stumbling block for fringe or small companies looking to make progress into a larger venue.
Having looked at how the money is distributed, it must be acknowledged where this money is coming from. The Arts Council distributes public money. That being said, it is not a part of the government. Much like other organisations that operate in a similar way, for example the Technology Strategy Board (which funds innovative technological research and development) it works on an ‘arms length’ principle, whereby it has independence to make its own funding decisions. While it does not have to follow government policy, it is required to account for its funding output to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and the minister most closely linked to the Arts Council is the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport (at the time of writing Ben Bradshaw MP)
The Arts Council has to, in its own words “be prepared to account for [it’s] decisions to government, parliament and the public”[xvii]. This accountability, I believe, has its strengths, as well as its weaknesses. The strength is that when a funding decision is made which those in government, or the ‘court of public opinion’, question, it is possible to find a justification as to why that decision was made. This transparency means that there can be some dialogue between parties involved in the allocation of funding, and it is possible to open up decisions to discussion.
However, it is possible to exert pressure on the decision makers if there is a particularly controversial decision, or if the Arts Council grant financial support to a group or product which certain interest groups believe to be either morally, spiritually or socially inappropriate, or just a waste of money. The problem is this: everyone involved in the arts, just like everyone in the world, has their own opinion on what is, or is not, quality art. The cliché line of ’everyone’s a critic’ is extremely relevant here. And I believe the possibility that vested interests or narrow-minded groups might pressurise the Arts Council in favour of, or against, a funding decision can hamper its work and threaten its independence.
It is in the nature of public funding bodies that they will upset people – some applicants will be winners, others will be losers. However, if the aim is to keep the greatest number of people happiest, then there risks being a lack of expression and innovation in the art world, because people who rely on Arts Council funding know that they will not get any funding if they do not toe the line in terms of the content they provide. If taking the path of least resistance is the safest way to ensure a successful funding application, then many organisations will be tempted to submit applications for bland, middle-of-the-road productions, rather than innovative ideas that push the boundaries.

III. Further Funding

Along with the Government, the other organisation that gives money to the Arts Council to distribute is the National Lottery, through the Good Causes fund. The National Lottery gives, currently, 28% of their total revenue to good causes, of which 16.67%[xviii] goes towards the Arts. This money is incorporated into the Arts Council’s total amount of money available for distribution, and it is then the responsibility of the Arts Council to decide where this money goes, alongside the money received from the government. This means that Camelot, who currently run the National Lottery, do not decide on the destination of their Good Causes money, but rather it is organisations such as the Arts Council and Sport England who are charged with distribution.
When looking at other sources of financial support it is important to consider private organisations - especially relevant being the private theatre companies. When one mentions private theatre, the first image that is conjured up is that of the West End, with its celebrity casts and spectacular technical achievements. While this certainly is a large part of privately funded theatre in the UK, especially in London, there are also other forms of theatre that do not rely on funding from the Arts Council.
Obviously there are the West End venues, and companies such as the Really Useful Theatre Company, the brainchild of Andrew Lloyd Webber, which has produced shows such as Evita, The Phantom of the Opera and Cats. Companies of this scale and influence do not need to receive any subsidy, and are financed by ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and investment.
At the opposite end of the financial spectrum are the fringe theatre companies, such as Lazarus Theatre Company. Companies on this scale operate on financial support from private producers, as well as occasional sponsorship from companies or small businesses. The budgets of these productions are small, and it is not uncommon for them to employ people on a ’profit share’ basis, where the employees, both technical and performance, will only receive money should the show make a profit. While these organisations are an excellent way for young professionals to gain experience and build a reputation, it can be tough for them to maintain a high standard of production without financial support.
One of the other important areas where the arts gain key extra funding is through philanthropy and business links with other sectors. The statistic that “the arts generate £2 from philanthropy, sponsorship and their own business ventures and box office for every £1 of public subsidy”[xix] shows just what an important role these commercial ventures can take. These subsidies can play a vital role in the development of shows, as well as establishing relationships and reputations.
Another form of fundraising in order to support the arts in through the taking of donations. These can range from the small change in your pocket – such as the Victoria & Albert asking for a £3 voluntary donation from visitors, to a donation left in a will, to the case of Andre Tchaikowsky who donated his own skull after he died in 1982 to be used by David Tennant in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. For example, the National Theatre makes around 11% of its budget (around £6million) from private sources[xx]
While each of these donations is different, they do play an important role in supporting the arts, as well as making them more accessible to the general public, obviously with the exception of Mr. Tchaikowsky. The main way that this is achieved, especially in the case of galleries and museums, is that they are now, with the exception of a few specific exhibitions, free at the point of use. This is a huge step forward in making the arts more available to people.
Furthering the principle of making the arts free at the point of use, in February 2009 the Arts Council launched the “A Night Less Ordinary” scheme, which aims to provide “618,000 free theatre tickets to anyone under 26 in more than 200 venues across England”[xxi]. Through this program, anyone under the age of 26 is eligible to get into a show for free, at any venue participating in the scheme (the venue receives the ticket money from the Arts Council instead of from the audience member). The idea behind the programme was to make it possible for young people to come to the theatre, without it being expensive, and allow them to attend shows and performances that they would otherwise not have been able to afford to attend.
Another leap forward in making theatre cheaper and more accessible has been the Travelex £10 seasons at the National Theatre. Described by Michael Billington as “simply the most radical idea anyone has come up with in years to broaden the theatregoing audience”[xxii], the plan is simple: for a season, all the seats in the Olivier will cost £10 each. As with the A Night Less Ordinary scheme, the aim is to make it easier and cheaper for people to go to the theatre – helped of course by the scheme being run at an institution with the reputation of the National. The important thing though, is that the scheme worked: “In the scheme's first year, a staggering 33% said they were paying their first visit to the National”[xxiii], and in the National Theatre’s annual review of 2008-09: “paid attendance was 93% of capacity”[xxiv], which works out to be “817,000 people attending a total of 1,106 performances”[xxv]. This is made possible through one of the avenues of increased funding already mentioned – corporate sponsorship. As you can tell from the name “Travelex £10 Season”, the idea is supported by Travelex, who have a contract with the National Theatre of £1million per year, with the contracts lasting for three years.

IV. The Olympics and London 2012

The London 2012 Olympics has, ever since the capital first won the bid in the summer of 2005, been referred to by the organizers and the government as an opportunity to showcase the best that the country has to offer. This opportunity is seen as not just a sporting one, but an artistic one as well. “The Olympic flame will light the fuse for an explosion of arts and culture in the UK” [xxvi]. There is little doubt that both the government and the Mayor of London’s office want to make the most of “an unprecedented opportunity to unleash the amazing creativity that makes London so dynamic and exciting”[xxvii]. While these are admirable goals which many people, both within the arts and in the general public, believe to be laudable, the issue which arises and causes friction is, as it always seems to be, how the Olympics, and in particular the “Cultural Olympiad”, will be financed.
The funding of the Olympics, and the effect that this will have on the arts, is one of the most hotly discussed topics in the arts world. Figures such as Judy Dench have spoken about their concerns with arts funding being “siphoned off”[xxviii] to pay for the Olympics. It has been widely reported “that the arts have already accepted massive cuts of £2.2billion to pay for the Olympics”[xxix] – which can be further reinforced by the statistic that total expenditure for the Arts Council has dropped, over the years since the Olympic bid was won, by an average of £38.5million each year. This is without mentioning the funding for the “Cultural Olympiad”, which has caused a further reallocation of funds towards Olympics based products. While the government may believe it has overseen a “wonderful decade for the arts”[xxx], winning the Olympic bid in 2005 has certainly impacted on the government’s support for the arts, and will continue to do so, whoever wins the election on May 6th.
One issue that has faced the Arts Council for many years, and has been reinforced by the success of the London 2012 Olympic bid, is the accusation of a bias towards London in the support of arts organisations. With claims of a “London cultural bias”[xxxi] first being aired in 2000, in relation to funding for the Millennium Projects, this is not a new idea. With London’s population, and the impact of tourists on the economy of the country, it is not surprising that a great deal of money is spent on the Arts in the Capital. What is interesting is when this money is looked at per head of population, where figures published by the Adam Smith Institute state that London [receives] £24 / head of population, while the South East and the East receive less than £2[xxxii].
While this statistic is surprising, it is made more interesting when one looks at the effect of the Olympics on arts funding across the country. Firstly there is the Arts Council diverting funding towards its Olympic projects, and secondly there is the funding change of 2007, where “none of the capital’s leading bodies funded by the council [lost] its grant”[xxxiii] – though the English National Opera did face a penalty. To further add fuel to the fire, there was Tessa Jowell’s raid of National Lottery funding to pay for the Olympics, much of the proceeds of which will benefit organisations based in the capital. While this last example was out of the Arts Council’s hands, it does help to reinforce the idea that there is a bias towards London in how the Arts are funded in this country.
However, one of the Arts Council’s main projects relating to the Olympics, which it is hoped will “spread right across the UK”[xxxiv] is the Cultural Olympiad. One of the main aims for this program is to promote an “increased participation in the arts as well as more diverse audiences, and an increased profile for the arts sector where our world class talent is recognized and celebrated on the world stage”[xxxv]. As a part of the Cultural Olympiad, the Arts Council have commissioned 9 arts commissions, one for each of the regions in England, and has invested £6 million, which covers the nine commissions for England, development grants to the shortlisted artists, and administration and development of the project across the UK[xxxvi]. It remains to be seen the impact that these projects will have on the Arts, especially in the regions outside of London.
However, there has been at least one positive impact from the Olympics. This is the construction in town and city centres of large screens, which in 2012 will be used to broadcast the Olympics all over the country. The reason that these screens can be of benefit to the Arts is that before summer 2012 they are being used to show a variety of other events, from the Vancouver Winter Olympics to, on the big screen in Leicester, a live video stream of Simon Boccanegra with Placido Domingo from the Royal Opera House[xxxvii]. The use of these screens to broadcast Arts events such as an opera is an excellent idea, because it gives people who normally would not travel to the Royal Opera House the chance to watch international calibre performers, and has the potential to get more members of the public to watch an opera than might have previously.
On top of these commissions across the country, the Arts Council, along with the LOGOC (London Olympic Games Organizing Committee) and the Mayor of London’s office, are planning a major arts festival in London in 2012[xxxviii], one of the aims of which is to create a “symposium for arts and cultural thinkers from across the world”[xxxix]. I believe that this festival has the potential to be a hugely important moment in the development of the arts. If it lives up to its billing, then it could create a hugely visible, public event where many of the Arts world’s brightest minds are able to come together and create new ideas and explore new thinking. It also has the potential to set an example for other cities by setting a precedent for other such symposia in the future. This, I feel can be the true legacy of the Cultural Olympiad, and one of the main achievements of the Arts Council, and of London 2012.

V. Politics and the Impact of the Recession
There is no doubt that the recession has impacted on funding for the arts. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has had its budget for 2010-2011 cut by £60million — about four per cent[xl]. While this affects more areas than just the Arts Council, there is an effect on how much money is spent on the arts.
As with many other areas of government spending, the current argument towards funding is concerned with spending or cutting. This is an issue that is not necessarily split along political or class lines, but is rather one of opinions. For example, many will see the arts as “cultural comforts of the middle classes”[xli], or that "Only by science and technology generating inventions and wealth can we afford the luxury of art"[xlii] this despite the statistic that “Glastonbury … contributes an estimated £35m to the local economy each year”[xliii].
It is easy to think that in times of economic difficulty that the arts are a frivolity, a luxury; something to only be accessed when one has plenty of disposable income. This is not the case. “In a world where we’re going to have to increasingly put a financial price on things in the year ahead, a society which truly values people who are creative and appreciate creativity will be a better place to be[xliv].
Out of the three main political parties, the Labour Party is the only one that has not yet published an arts manifesto[xlv] for the upcoming election, although Ben Bradshaw MP has said that the party “can’t guarantee that spending on arts and culture can be protected”[xlvi]. The Conservative party, and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, have admitted that, while cuts will be made to arts funding, they will not be “singled out as a special case, to take an additional hit as a soft touch[xlvii].
Both Labour and the Conservatives have acknowledged the impact of the recession on the arts, with Bradshaw advocating that, in local areas the arts can be “absolutely essential to…regeneration and a functioning economy”[xlviii], while Ed Vaizey, Hunt’s deputy, admits that the Conservatives would “love arts funding to be kept at a very high level, but we’re living in the economic climate that we are”[xlix] The Liberal Democrats have also acknowledged the impact of the recession, and have also stated that the arts can have an impact in the future, as the creative industries are seen by many to provide our best route out of recession”[l]
One of the main difficulties faced by those opposed to arts funding cuts is quantifying the returns from those investments. It is much easier to measure the return on spending in areas such as technology and science, where if there is investment it can be measured in clear, precise numbers, or in the creation of a solid product or in profit margins for corporations. It is much more difficult to quantify the returns on an idea, when the true value in the arts is measured in more than just audience figures and gross profit. That is not to say that spending money on sciences and technology is something that should be cut, because some of the benefits from this funding can be of huge benefit, but it is worth remembering that "technology without the arts is empty, the arts without technology are blind”.[li]
While the skills taken to achieve these breakthroughs may be hard to understand or explain, the end product can be described and utilised, which is not always the case in creative industries, where results, success, value and quality are harder to measure and quantify. This problem means that it can be hard to justify spending money on the arts, especially in tough economic times, because while “culture, heritage and the arts are an opportunity, not a cost”[lii], that opportunity is, as things stand, something that not everyone feels that they have access to. Nicholas Kenyon, artistic director of the Barbican, encapsulated this perfectly when he said “All the more important during an economic downturn, the arts and culture have a new role and sense of purpose in society. Whether you’re looking for inspiration, education or entertainment in these challenging times, the arts provide it.”[liii]
While opinions on arts values will always vary, given the subjective nature of the work, what cannot be doubted is the scale of the “politically potent, multi-million pound industry”[liv] that is the Arts today. The notion of further cuts to arts funding should not be being entertained by any of the political parties, especially since “The entire spend on culture represents only one per cent of the budget for the NHS, meaning any cuts could scarcely benefit other areas of public life but could severely damage Britain's thriving culture”[lv], and “the arguments are so clear, economically, socially, aesthetically, that the only possible reason to reduce the total amount of money available for the arts in this country is censorship.”[lvi]
For years politicians have needed the supports of businesses, and the financial sector, in order to make progress, and the lobbyists of these industries can be highly vocal when there is an issue that has an effect on their clients. When one takes the view that The arts have always been told to be more like business, but over the last few weeks I have found myself thinking that business could also learn something from the arts industry”[lvii], it is not unreasonable to ask why the banks receive millions of pounds of public money in order to continue paying themselves large bonuses – virtually all of which does not affect the public - but when the arts are discussed, it is seen as not being a priority to subsidise one of the most successful parts of the current culture, while all it would take is a fraction of the money lavished on the financial sector. When the effects of funding changes are looked at, both as increases and decreases, and one sees that “standstill funding leads to a 4% decline in artistic activity, whereas even a small increase produces more work and higher attendances”[lviii] it is hard to imagine that funding cuts are at the top of the major parties arts policies. When “The artist…not less than the scientist or the engineer, is a modern key to business and economic success”[lix], and the country is in need of economic stimulation, why cut funding to that artist?

VI. An Alternative

It is my personal belief that the funding structure for the Arts in this country is broken. Not only broken because of the shortsighted nature of financial support from government, but also because I believe that the 2-tier system is fundamentally flawed. I believe that the vast difference between being one of the Regularly Funded Organisations and receiving funding through Grants for the Arts means that there is a lack of artistic development being allowed to take place. It is my belief that, instead of the two-tiered system, a three-tiered system would be most beneficial, both to the practitioners within the industry, those who support it, and those who enjoy watching the results. This new structure would also enable the Arts Council to better meet its own aims, as well as making the funding system more transparent.
The first tier of this new structure would receive the highest level of funding. These would be the very pinnacle, the biggest hitters, organisations such as the National Theatre, that have earned the trust to be able to receive a large amount of support, and have the quality output to show for it. I propose that these organisations receive their funding over a 5-year period. Such long-term funding would allow them to plan years in advance the projects that would be undertaken, as well as giving them real security. Given the risk associated with a 5-year funding plan, the organisations that receive it would only be those with a proven record of excellence. They would be assessed every 5 years, and if they were not hitting their targets then they would have their funding reduced to the second tier of financial support.
In the second tier there would be companies receiving their funding over a three-year period. These companies would be quality institutions, with a record of quality, high production value as well as social impact and importance. The organisations accepted into this tier would have a responsibility to meet many of the Arts Council’s criteria about quality, diversity and regional distinctiveness. Also, organisations with a track record of bringing on the next generation of talent could be eligible for this level of funding. Again, if they do not meet these targets, then at the end of the three year cycle they could have their funding reduced to the third tier, and if they excel at their work, and are always producing real quality then they could be moved up to the top tier.
The third tier would comprise of smaller organisations, which would receive funding for one year. This would mean it being assessed each year, but the aim in this tier is not to have companies always operating on a year-by-year financial support structure. Instead, this year-long funding would allow them to develop as a company. The aim of this is to give these organisations the opportunity to grow, as well as take their own path. They would have the chance to either grow, and meet the criteria to become a second tier organisation, or they could invest and develop with a view to becoming a financially independent organisation that does not rely on support from the arts council. This proposal is similar to the use of the Grants for the Arts scheme as ‘start-up capital’ that I outlined in the Arts Council section above, which would operate within the current funding structure.
I believe that this structure would better serve the Arts in this country, as it would give organisations support as well as letting them develop in their own way. I feel that that the Arts Council would also be able to meet their objectives within this structure, as the different tiers, and the organisations within each one, would allow them to cater for the needs of all those they are targeting. I believe that this system also, crucially, means that the public would be better served by the Arts world. This is due to the targets for development that are intrinsically built into the three-tiered structure, as companies are able to grow and move in their own direction. Outside of London, this could also lead to an increase in available arts, as organisations could adapt to the needs of the communities in which they are based, either with subsidy from the Arts Council or venturing into the commercial sector and becoming self-reliant.
I also feel that the three-tiered structure allows for more risk taking, with adventurous and innovative arts being supported by the Arts Council, since they can give organisations support over a short period of time, to see if they are producing quality materials, rather than just a one-off project each year. As Terry Eagleton says “Post-modern culture may be anti-patrician, but its demotic distain for elitism can sit easily enough with an endorsement of conservative values. Nothing, after all, is more relentlessly value levelling than the commodity form, a form that is hardly out of favour in conservative-minded society. Indeed the more culture is commercialised, the more this imposition of market discipline forces its producers into the conservative values of prudence, anti-innovation and a nervousness of being disruptive”[lx]. I feel that the Arts have a right, indeed a duty, to provide some disruption, to challenge the way in which society thinks about itself, and without support from the Arts Council, it is hard for organisations to really take up this challenge, for fear of not being financially successful enough on their one project each year to make it viable.

VII. Conclusion

Over the course of this investigation, my perception of how the Arts are supported has been changed. I have a much better grasp of the complexity of ensuring the Arts in this country are properly supported, as well as how tough it can be to cater to the needs of different parts of society. However, that is not to say that I do not believe that there are problems. I believe that funding for the Arts in this country is damaged. Not irreparably, but seriously. The structure of the funding system does not, currently, fully benefit either the Arts Council, or those they support and represent. As the primary funding body for so many organisations, they must address the issues of how their funding is allocated, what they wish to achieve in the Arts, and how they represent the Arts when dealing with the government bodies from whom they draw their funding.
The role of the government is a vitally important one, and not only because it is they who provide the money for the Arts Council. It is important that politicians from all parties offer support for the arts without it being considered an elitist idea, or in the words of Neil MacGregor, "We want to give politicians the confidence to put on their CVs not what football team they support, but why life without Schubert is impossible”[lxi]. I feel that one of the major areas where the work of politicians can have a hugely positive impact on the arts is to recognise that societies can be partly defined by their arts, as well as their advances in science and technology – the Greeks, with all the advances of Pythagoras and Archimedes were also known for Homer, Aeschylus and Euripides. The cultural and artistic integrity of a country can say as much about it as it’s technological, or sporting prowess.
The London 2012 Olympics has the potential to be an incredible event, and a fantastic spectacle for the city, and for the country. However, the large-scale re-allocation of funds from the Lottery and Arts budgets to pay for the Olympics may have a negative impact on the Arts that will last as long as the cultural legacy of the games that so much money was used to pay for.
It is not just the loss of money, but the way in which that removal of funds was undertaken, especially the diversion of over £600million from the lottery to the Olympic fund. The major issue that arose from this was a loss of trust in the work of the Government, and this is a relationship that I believe to be vitally important, and it may take a long time for this relationship to be healed.
It is also very important to note the part that privately funded theatre plays in not only the arts, but also in the cultural identity of the country. The same must be said of corporate sponsorships and financial support. Without companies such as Travelex making certain arts more accessible, then a sizable section of the public would not attend, support and enjoy the arts. It is vital to the long-term development of the arts, both within and outside London, that there are more such partnerships formed. I feel that it is key, however, that when these partnerships are formed, the companies involved take on a role in promoting the arts, not just paying for the advertising space. If companies took out similar contracts as Travelex and the National, for example a £15 season at the Royal Opera House, then they could play an important part in breaking down some of the ‘elitist’ reputation of certain art forms, which would in turn promote better attendance and participation in the other art forms, as well as theatre.
Even with all of this corporate and private involvement, however, the key to sustainable, high quality arts endeavours must be public subsidy. The work of the Arts Council is vital. Without state subsidy for the Arts then creativity would be stifled, originality will be subdued and the voice of the independent artist will be silenced. There must be better support for smaller arts organisations, for the younger generation beginning their careers in the Arts world, and above all there must be backing for intelligent, challenging, innovative and dynamic individuals and organisations, and the chance for them to create high quality work, which can benefit those within the Arts world, as well as the public, without the only concerns being money and audience figures. The question that must always be asked is if the integrity of the Arts in this country counts for more than just the money it can generate. The answer must always be a resounding yes.


[i] “The Relationship between Arts Council England and Its Regularly Funded Organisations” Arts Council England (2010) p.3
[ii]History of Arts Council England“ Arts Council England (2003) p.2
[iii] “National Policy for Theatre in England” Arts Council England (2000) p.3
[iv] “National Policy for Theatre in England” Arts Council England (2000) p.5
[v]Arts bodies await funding ‘bloodbath’” Richard Brooks The Sunday Times (16/12/07)
[vi] Julian Bryant
[vii]The Criteria for Arts Council England Regular FundingArts Council England (2009) p.2
[viii] All figures from Arts Council Annual Reviews 2007-2009
[ix] “National Policy for Theatre in England” Arts Council England (2000) p.5
[x] “National Policy for Theatre in England” Arts Council England (2000) p.5
[xi] Michael Billington: (08/12/09)
[xiv] Catherine Jackson from: (19/01/08)
[xv]Grants for the Arts: How to ApplyArts Council England (2010) p.3
[xvi] Ricky Dukes, Interview 05/04/10
[xvii]History of Arts Council EnglandArts Council England (2003) p.2
[xix] Louise Jury: (25/03/10)
[xxii] Michael Billington:
[xxiii] Michael Billington: (08/12/09)
[xxiv]The Royal National Theatre Annual Report and Financial Statements 2008-2009” p.12
[xxv] Mark Shenton:
[xxvi] Tessa Jowell MP from “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.10
[xxvii] Boris Johnson, Mayor of London from Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.10
[xxviii] Judy Dench, from “Dame Judi Dench's fears of arts funding 'siphoned off' for Olympics” - Tim Teeman, The Times, (11/12/09)
[xxix] Louise Jury: (25/03/10)
[xxx] Ben Bradshaw MP from “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.16
[xxxi]Lottery projects paint ugly picture of London bias” Vanessa Thorpe and Tracy McVeigh The Observer (09/07/00)
[xxxii] “Arts Funding: A New Approach” David Rawcliffe (2010) p.3
[xxxiii]: “Arts bodies await funding ‘bloodbath’” Richard Brooks, The Sunday Times (16/12/07)
[xxxiv] Sophie Woodward, Communications Manager, Vision 2012
[xxxv]2012 Games – Our Vision” Arts Council England p.2
[xxxvi] Investment In the 2012 Cultural Olympiad” Arts Council England p.1
[xxxviii] Investment In the 2012 Cultural Olympiad” Arts Council England p.1
[xxxix] Investment In the 2012 Cultural Olympiad” Arts Council England ( p.1
[xl]Louise Jury: (25/03/10)
[xli]Jonathon Jones: (06/04/10)
[xlii]Iain Morgan: (29/03/10)
[xliii]Sharkey calls for musical backing from ministers” Richard Wray, The Guardian (29/03/10)
[xliv] Ed Vaizey MP from “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.12
[xlv] Cultural Legacy, Alistair Smith, The Stage (15/04/10)
[xlvi] Ben Bradshaw MP in Cultural Legacy, Alistair Smith, The Stage (15/04/10)
[xlvii] Jeremy Hunt MP, in We’re Cultured, not Vultures, Alistair Smith, The Stage (18/03/10)
[xlviii] Ben Bradshaw MP in Cultural Legacy, Alistair Smith, The Stage (15/04/10)
[xlix] Ed Vaizey MP in We’re Cultured, not Vultures, Alistair Smith, The Stage (18/03/10)
[l] The Power of Creativity, The Liberal Democrat Party (2010)
[li]Ian Ground from (02/06/10)
[lii] Roy Clare from “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.4
[liii] Nicholas Kenyon from “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.4
[liv] Tony Hall from “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.4
[lv]Louise Jury from (25/03/10)
[lvi] Samuel West from (25/03/10)
[lvii] Tony Hall in “Cultural Capital A Manifesto for the Future” (2010) p.4
[lviii] Michael Billington: (08/12/09)
[lix] “Economics and the arts”, John Galbraith
[lx] Terry Eagleton from: “Towards 2010 New Times New Challenges for the Arts”, Arts Council England
[lxi] Neil MacGregor from (25/03/10)