Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hugged a hoodie? Now hug an arts honcho…

The Observer reports today that earlier this month David Cameron and George Osborne hosted a dinner for fifteen of the more powerful movers and shakers of the Arts establishment. Held at Soho’s L’Etoile, the event was organised by Julian Fellowes, and was attended among others by the NT’s Nicholas Hytner, Alan Yentob, Greg Dyke, the BBC’s Head of Drama Jane Tranter and Tim Bevan of Working Title.

It was, apparently, an attempt to ‘reach out’ to a powerful sector of the liberal establishment not exactly identifiable for their sympathy with anything right-leaning. It might also have been held in the hope of recruiting the future support of some famous names, in the vein of Blair’s Cool Britannia. Fellowes, after all, is perhaps the only Tory broadcasters turn to when they want an arty-farty voice from the Right, and he’s always presented in a vaguely jokey way. As an Oscar-winning screenwriter, he undoubtedly has creative credibility, but he still comes across, Boris-like, as a Woodhouseian figure from the world of country-house weekends – fluffy, jolly, solidly Tory, yet likeable.

If getting new names for future campaigns was the mission, then Cameron and Osbourne were on a hiding to nothing. Whatever they might say privately, they will never, ever be seen publicly giving conservatism the benefit of the doubt. But if, as seems more likely, the meeting was to show the totems of the chattering classes how the Conservatives have changed, and are, you know, really quite nice, and in fact, aren’t so different from you Groucho types as you might think, then the Conservatives are again betraying their traditional lack of understanding about the nature of the cultural advance of the liberal/left, and the fact that they’re facing the results not of a culture war, but a rout.

Before Thatcher, Conservatives had accepted utterly that the economic tide was inevitably socialistic. Her great triumph was to reverse this completely; it is universally accepted that the Right won the economic battles and that there is no turning back. But in virtually every other area – in education, social policy, opinion-forming and certainly the cultural and arts arenas – the advance and the agenda of the ‘progressive’ Left remained completely unhindered.

Conservatives never showed signs of getting to grips with this, largely because they simply didn’t understand it. This, unfortunately, remains the case, even if more astute social commentators and writers of the Right are increasingly coming to the conclusion that broader cultural issues – including nationhood, identity and the need to reverse slow-motion social breakdown – will be at the centre of future political battles. The Conservative Party should listen to them and go on the offensive, and not simply wait for recanting voices from the left to give their discredited sanction to such debates.

by Peter Whittle

1 comment:

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