originally posted at www.artsprofessional.co.uk
A friend of mine is trying rather hard right now to convince me that David Cameron is a political genius of Disraelian calibre, largely based on his government’s ability to get away with pronouncements that are entirely at odds with action.
Certainly, the ConDems have managed this where the arts are concerned. For instance, quoth Jeremy Hunt: “If we had learnt to value the arts in education, as Creative Partnerships is helping us to, I believe that we would have tackled literacy and numeracy failings much more quickly.”
That was in May; a few months later, government killed the programme. If there’s since been any significant political fall-out, I haven’t noticed it.
Whether that’s genius or merely competent spin is debatable. But the ConDems are nothing if not innovative in their means of obfuscation. Witness a recent addition to the ConDem stable of economic advisors, one Richard Florida, an American urban theorist who espouses the essentialness of creativity to economic viability.
Florida is the kind of slick populist intellectual that America seems to practically mass-produce: if you picture a Venn diagram whose circles constitute Sir Ken Robinson, Malcolm Gladwell and Richard Branson, you might find Florida at their intersection. Florida rose to fame with his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class, in which he asserted that cities with bumper crops of high-tech workers, artists, and gays and lesbians were measurably better performers economically than cities without these groups. He dubbed this creative collective “high bohemians” and got a lot of play from ranking cities worldwide on a kind of creativity index.
Britain embraced Florida early on when the Labour-friendly think-tank Demos created its Boho Britain report based on Florida’s research, with necessarily subjective results: raise your hand if you think that Manchester really is “the UK’s answer to San Francisco.” Of late, Florida has publicly supported David Cameron’s plans to create something Silicon Valley-esque in and around the Olympic Park site. Returning the favour, the ConDems have apparently latched onto Florida’s message that creativity produces economic benefit.
Or rather, the ConDems have latched onto part of Florida’s message; the part, not surprisingly, that suits their ideology. Florida is not without his critics, but he does state time and again that artists are an integral, not peripheral, part of the creative-economic cycle. And so once again, we see the familiar pattern: the ConDems thump on about being progressive—trotting out a progressive, not to say liberal guru into the bargain—while continuing to be very regressive indeed. As far as can be told by media coverage and public debate, the spin is being bought hook, line and…well, you know.
There may be a deal-breaker where the Florida-ConDem love-fest is concerned. Florida very publicly opposes spending public funds on big cultural venues, including sports stadia, which would of course include a certain massive, globally focused, publicly funded athletics complex under construction in London. But surely the government will find a way to spin its way out of that one, too.