In my role as Shadow Minister for Culture, what has surprised me above all has been the amount of sheer hard work, innovation and inspiration shown by so many involved in the arts and culture world – from those employed by galleries, museums and libraries to the individuals who work to create a thriving National Lottery and beautiful Royal Parks.
I regard culture as an integral part of a vision for a better quality of life for all our people. In an age of a more consumerist outlook, with a new demand for ever more choice and better quality in our public services, we all need to recognise that the provision of arts and culture needs to move with the times. As communities become ever more disparate and fragmented, there is an increasing importance to be attached to the power of culture and the arts as a unifying force to bring people together.
I have always believed in ‘art for art’s sake.’ In an increasingly target-driven environment, the world of arts and heritage will inevitably suffer if public spending in this area is justified only on the grounds of extraneous benefits, such as to lower crime rates or to improve educational standards. Inevitably during times of financial constraint, if the case for spending on the arts is only on the basis of strict utilitarian benefit to society then budgets are most vulnerable to swingeing reduction.
My brief has involved substantial work in relation to the National Lottery Bill which has finally made its way through the parliamentary process. When the Lottery first came into being in 1994, it was designed specifically to provide additional finance for the arts, heritage, charities and sport. Quite specifically ? and there was cross-party agreement at the time ? the Lottery was not designed to be plundered for general government expenditure. Unfortunately this is precisely what has happened over the past nine years, with the result that almost half the monies raised by the National Lottery are now spent in the areas that should, strictly speaking, be a matter of general taxation. This has been accompanied by evermore interference by government ministers on the distribution of Lottery money. Over the next year this whole issue will become more high profile as the current operator, Camelot, seeks a further renewal of its licence fee ten years ahead.
Royal Parks are of course an oasis of calm and tranquillity, several of the most famous of which lie within the boundaries of my own constituency. I have done my best to keep creeping commercialisation at bay and I will continue to make the case for the importance of our Central London parks as a wonderful asset not just for local residents but also for the many hundreds of thousands of commuters who come into the centre of our city, as well as countless millions of tourists who visit the Capital every year. I regard the prospect of Hyde Park and possibly others being used as campsites for visitors during the Olympics as appalling.
The world of museums and galleries has been a particular joy not least given the passion and commitment shown by so many of those who work in the sector. Supporting a thriving, innovative cultural world in which quality of life and civility amongst all of us as urban dwellers is promoted is, I believe, an important part of community values and helping to make life better for all.