Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The polarised state of debate about UK budget cuts (no jokes in this one)

My friend Satu Facebooked a link to this video of Sam West speaking at the TUC rally on 26 March 2011 — making a case (passionately) against government arts cuts. Have a watch.

Noble words. And art is indeed for everybody (though, en passant, some artists themselves don't always act that way).

But saying 'art should be for everybody' and 'art is a right' is a bit different from saying 'art should by default receive £X million in public money'.

I'm not saying it shouldn't, by the way. I wouldn't dream of it, and know nothing about the arts sector and funding. So let's, please, be clear about that, yah? But that video draws attention to the thing that (hugely) discomfits me about the way in which the issue of The Cuts is discussed in the public domain.

Because cutting a subsidy doesn't necessarily equate to denying people's right to art. Which is a very very fucking very strong and emotive concept, innit?

Again, I'm not saying the subsidy should be cut. I'm saying that the size of a subsidy is a nuanced issue. People's right to art is not. I mean, how much of a cut would deny people's right to art? If I cut the budget by £5, am I denying people's right to art? What about by £50,000? What about £1m? At what size of cut is people's right to art snuffed out?

I'm trying to illustrate a broad point. One of discomfort at polarised debate. And the debate about the cuts has polarised to a degree that makes it difficult to afford space to nuanced discussion. Which I think is necessary, just as much as rousing adversarialism.

I'm uncomfortable with a situation in which I either accept that public funding is 'right' as it is, or else I am an ideological vandal. Because I reckon I can't be the only person who thinks that public funding has produced (and continues to produce) fantastic work, fantastic results, immeasurable benefits. Not just in arts, but in healthcare, in local government, in community support. I can't be the only person to think this — but also to think that huge tracts of the public sector are woefully, woefully inefficient, disgracefully ill-managed. That huge amounts of money are wasted.

I'm not talking about the need for 'efficiency savings', that tired political get-out-of-jail-free card. I'm talking about jobs for life held by people who are fucking terrible at them. Yet will get a staggeringly generous pension when their 9-to-4.30 days of time-in-lieu and apostrophe-shifting are done. Teachers who can't teach. Managers who can't manage.

Sure, these exist in the private sector too. But a private sector firm with shonky employees pays the price, one way or another. A state sector firm often doesn't. Instead, we do. Via our friends at the Inland Revenue.

And I don't know — I genuinely don't, here from my armchair — what mechanisms are actually open to government to change this. I suspect it's pretty fucking hard, working against the inertia of that system, from the top down.

But I'd like to see more space for discussions that acknowledge the complexities, the compromises, the nuances. That's all, really.

Now, please form an orderly queue to use the comments to tell me I'm a rabid Tory skinflint and a traitor to the cause. But sometimes the cause can be kind of alienating, you know? LET ME HAVE A BIT OF MIDDLE GROUND, FOR PITY'S SAKE.

1 comment:

John said...

I seem to agree with everything you've said. The basic explanation for this is simple: I despise political parties. This is one reason I was actually rather pleased and encouraged by the recent FPTP-AV voting referendum: the folks I talked to about it seemed to be genuinely thinking about the issue rather than having inherited the correct answer along with their political affiliation, self-identified class, etc. I read it as a case of the issue not being obviously (or at least inherently) connected to the political parties or the left-right dichotomy. Still... I'm sure that if my fantasy were realised and political parties were outlawed tomorrow, on the day after tomorrow people people would invent and immediately adopt some other way of dividing themselves into rabid, diametrically opposed teams in order to reduce all complex questions to facile binaries. Policy can no more reduce people's intellectual cowardice and impulse to oversimplify issues than post-modernists can make people stop saying "he" and "she".

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