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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 5th December 2004

Should the public have to vote to save the arts?


Tessa Jowell's new scheme for allocating funds from the National Lottery sounds a bit bizarre. Apparently, she was such a big fan of Restoration, the television series in which Gryff Rhys Jones invited viewers to decide which buildings should receive heritage funding, she wants to extend the principle to arts and sports.

Presumably, the attraction of this scheme is to deflect some of the blame when lottery-funded schemes, such as the new Wembley Stadium, blow up in the Culture Secretary's face. At least if the public has decided which madcap ventures to pour money into, they won't be able to complain when they turn out to be bottomless pits.

From a political point of view, the public will have to be given quite a lot of latitude about which schemes to back. After all, if the choice is limited to half-a-dozen worthy ventures, it'll look like the whole enterprise has been fixed from the get go. On the other hand, if the public is given too much latitude, the ventures it ends up funding could turn out to be completely worthless. How about another memorial in the West End commemorating dead animals, this one devoted to cats and dogs killed in war?

The other problem with Tessa Jowell's idea is that, while it might be suitable for deciding which sports should receive lottery funding, it's not very appropriate when it comes to the arts. The reason institutions like the National Theatre and the Tate Gallery are subsidised by the Government is because there isn't enough interest in the shows they put on among the general population for them to survive on a purely commercial basis. It follows, then, that if the public is given a choice about whether to allocate lottery money to these institutions, it will decide not to. But, surely, the Government believes the National Theatre and the Tate Gallery should continue to thrive, even in the absence of widespread popular support?

In other words, either you allow the public to decide which aspects of our cultural life should flourish, in which case you simply leave the arts to the mercy of the free market, or else you think the Government has a duty to fund certain unpopular art forms, in which case there's little point in consulting the hoi poloi.

As usual, Tessa Jowell's solution is to fudge the issue and come up with a solution that will satisfy nobody.

SHORT MEMORIES

It wasn't exactly a surprise to discover that Gone With The Wind is the most popular film of all time in Britain. According to the British Film Institute, it's been seen by 35 million British cinemagoers.

However, the film at number four on the list--Spring In Park Lane--was a surprise. Why hadn't I ever heard of this film, particularly when it's been seen by 20.5 million people? A brief perusal of the Internet reveals it's not available on VHS or DVD, so my only hope is that this lost masterpiece will be shown on television over Christmas.

It's quite a shock to discover that one of the most popular films ever released in this country is now almost completely forgotten. According to the Internet Movie Datebase, Spring In Park Lane is a British romantic comedy made in 1948 starring Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding. I've vaguely heard of them, but I'm not sure I could pick them out of a police line up.

Will the same fate befall some of the most popular films of our day? I'm afraid it's all too probable that in 50 years time no one will have heard of Bridget Jones and Renee Zellwegger and Hugh Grant will be but a distant memory. Ah well. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

BACKING A LOSER

I should steer clear of betting shops. Muggins here put £100 on Natalie Appleton to win I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here--the day before she walked off the programme.

At odds of 33:1, I thought I was on to a winner with Natalie. Having punished her so mercilessly by voting for her to perform five bush tucker trials, the great British public were bound to take her to their hearts. All she had to do was stick it out for another week and she would have emerged from the jungle as one of the best-loved celebrities in Britain. With the assistance of a good agent, she could have earned millions.

Unfortunately, as Natalie demonstrated during her bush tucker trials, she doesn't have the strength of character to overcome adversity. She's a quitter. Walking off the show was a colossal error of judgement--she squandered a huge opportunity--but, given her behaviour up until then, it wasn't exactly surprising. I'm just kicking myself for having put my faith in her.

HOME TRUTHS

Is David Blunkett off his rocker? Having already raised two children, why is he going to these ridiculous lengths to share the burden of raising two more? Like Stephen Quinn, I have a toddler to contend with and another baby on the way, but, unlike him, I'd be absolutely delighted if Blunkett wanted to take on some of the responsibility for them.

For instance, he'd be absolutely welcome to come and babysit in Shepherd's Bush a couple of nights a week. Our current sitter charges £7 an hour, in addition to her taxi fare and the cost of a Dominos Pizza, which means that if Caroline and I want to go out to dinner we end up having to pay at least £40 on top of the bill.

Alternatively, he can just take them off our hands for the entire weekend. Far from going to court to prevent him from having access to my children, I'll happily pass them through the window of his ministerial Jag as it sweeps past. Better watch those leather seats, though. Baby sick has a tendency to seep down into the cracks.

Admittedly, I think the possibility of him establishing paternity of my children is pretty remote. But I'm prepared to offer him other inducements. My wife has refused to take my name and we still haven't resolved the issue of what surname to give our offspring, so I'm willing to settle on "Blunkett" as a compromise.

If nothing else, he should at least come round and spend an afternoon looking after them. Think of the therapeutic benefits. Two hours in the company of a crying baby and a tearaway toddler and he'll be permanently cured of his desire to have a young family again.

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