Rishi Sunak's Approach To The Culture Industries Is A Disgrace

Posted by

We really should have guessed.

All through this pandemic – indeed, all through the past decade of austerity, division, and dis-rule – the Conservative party have been, shall we say, a little slow to protect the arts.

With the spread of COVID rendering events unviable and with venues, cinemas, theatres, and other spaces forced to shut their doors, the government seemed to greet the urgent pleas of the creative industries with little more than a petulant shrug and a scorched hurrumph.

A quick look at Boris Johnson’s impoverished approach to an arts rescue leaves a lot to be desired – indeed, taken as a whole, there’s little to dissuade us that this is not only going to be a disaster, it will leave Britain as a cultural back water for years to come.

But then, that’s kind of their raison d’etre, isn’t it? The arts isn’t a ‘proper job’ – at least, not in the eyes of an Eton educated, Oxbridge scraping-through elite who have somehow muscled in on the most important positions in the country.

After a few viral tweets from some outliers, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has now gone and spelled it out for us. Yes, with live music on the verge of implosion, with thousands upon thousands of jobs at stake, the man in charge of the nation’s purse strings has a simple solution: get another job.

“I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis,” he told ITV News. “That’s why we’ve put a lot of resource into trying to create new opportunities”.

Ah yes! Those fabled resources, and those new opportunities. With unemployment rising daily and further education beset by its own unique set of financial and spacial failings amid the pandemic, his words don’t quite square with the dystopian reality the country is in. 

But there’s more. The government, he explains, is “trying to do everything we can to protect as many jobs as possible” but unemployment – he nobly concedes – “likely to increase”.

Not for politicians, though, because even if you resign for toodling around the country while infecting people with COVID-19 – like Margaret Ferrier, for example – you can sit tight, and wait it all out for a few years.

Probed on whether he was suggesting that the country’s network of “fabulous musicians and artists and actors” he responded: “as in all walks of life everyone’s having to adapt”.

He added: “Can things happen in exactly the way they did? No. But everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality.”

The response – naturally, and somewhat appropriately – has been one of utter scorn. The government’s approach, it seems starkly clear, is rooted in class bias, in fulfilling its own ideas of what qualifies as proper art, and the correct type of culture.

Ultimately, our heart breaks for every musician who’s been forced to seek alternative work, every DJ who’s now left on benefits, every lighting engineer who doesn’t know how they’ll pay rent at the end of the month. It wasn’t the culture sector that botched the nation’s response to COVID, it wasn’t the music industry that fumbled the test and trace system, and it wasn’t cinema workers who failed to adapt to a fast-changing environment. 

The creative industries in Britain are world-leading examples of how culture and economics can be bound together. Each person in that area has worked for years to get where they are, training and re-training as appropriate.

No one is exempt from the globe-changing pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the words of the Conservative party simply rub salt into open wounds.

– – –

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.