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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

An Artist in Parliament?*

Rebecca Manson Jones - 16 January 2017

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I called this session because Tristram Hunt has resigned as an MP to take up the Directorship of the V&A. He is a noted art historian and has made a number TV programmes and led academic programmes. He has said that V&A should reinstate charges. So he himself is not necessarily the kind of person I would want to champion arts in parliament. (TBH I don’t know loads about him) And yet I already feel his lack and I ask the question as by-election awaits because I wonder what it would be like if our Parliament, our house of representatives could be truly representative of the people it represents, people with a range of backgrounds and professional competencies coming together to talk out and action how we should be governed.
That’s my provocation.

At the last general election Bob and Roberta Smith stood against Michael Gove to highlight the issue of arts in education “art is your human right” was his mantra. He made a film about the experience which is worth a watch. Glenda Jackson was a Labour MP for a numer of years. There was a bit of a flutter about Michael Sheen maybe giving up acting to become an activist. And all around the country now artists are active in politics but we are not really known for stepping up and becoming Members of Parliament.

Politics is expensive, elitist, has peculiar hours, there is no pay unless in you’re in the top jobs and you have to learn the arcane rules and abide by them – you have to get in the press but only for certain things, you have to get to the parties and you have to travel all over the place and yet know your community. Sound familiar? It’s a bit like the day job in many respects. But you have to in the current system add to that an obedience to an ideology to be adopted by a party – you have to work through all of that (which can take years) and it’s hard to live your politics and do representation unless you are prepared to make it your life. So we end up with career politicans that no-one respects.
On the flip side if artists do go into politics, do they lose their critical distance, how long can they take away from their craft before losing their status as artist?

We talked therefore about a whole different way of doing things which allows people to become politcians and representatives of their people (perhaps it’s not just about geography, perhaps it could be about sectors as well, we have them in the HoL but they’re not elected and like a lot of what’s unusual about the Uk their creation is random) - to become representatives for limited periods of time, as in theory they are on boards of Trustees for many of our micro and small charities. It might be possible for blocks of independents to stand (http://iffrome.org.uk) Independents for Frome - allied by their values.

This then takes the big P politics out of getting stuff done – and works and is effective on a local level. Many people don’t realise how much influence local councilors have on our daily lives and on how spending decisions are made (after Govt have allocated the budget). More worrying, most people don’t realise how many councillors stand unopposed and why the low turn outs in council elections (as low as 5%) are really damaging.
9000 councillors in 279 authorities stood unopposed in 2015
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32428762.

We also touched on the What Next Culture movement - 33 chapters and counting around the UK – artists (mostly theatre but increasingly cross-sector) coming together to strengthen the sector in the face of austerity and also to challenge the threat to the public sector in general. Not just for arts and culture but also extending into local area concerns depending on the area you in and what ever it is you decide to do. What Next runs on the strength of its members.
http://www.whatnextculture.co.uk
What next has lots of tool kits and a wealth of sector-wide generosity .

One of our contributors also wrote this some years ago which people might find useful
https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/business-and-economy/business-and-economy-publications/creativity-londons-core-business

We were joined towards the end by a cabaret performer whose name I failed to ask because I’m an idiot –please contact me- who spoke thrillingly about using cabaret performance to satirize establishment figures and will be at the #bridgesnotwalls protest on Friday 20th January http://dpac.uk.net/2016/12/bridges-not-walls/
We talked about the collective of artivism collectives and the pockets of socially engaged and activist work taking place around the country

And finally but we ran out of time and I’d love to find some people who might want to pursue this
The travelling touring parliament tent.
In a metaphor you couldn’t make up – Westminster is crumbling and needs serious attention. In no sense you can mention is it fit for purpose. Millions will be spent on it, meantime what do we do? Go on tour I say? Go on tour in a flexible tent in the round. I know where there’s a tent. We all know how to tour. How could our nation and our politics and our local economies be transformed if we had to tour. Imagine the transformative effects on the police and security elements of it all. Pop up Parliament in your town. In your public park. And as my producer friends says – “Imagine the Merch (andise)!”



* Disclosure - Yes yes yes I am a founder member of the Women’s Equality Party – and I have stood in two elections - No this is neither about me nor about the party (although it came up).

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