Playing politics with British arts

Playing politics with British arts


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2009

The first victim of the next Conservative government was sacrificed in this morning’s Times. Liz Forgan, chair of the Arts Council, was reported to have vetoed Veronica Wadley as the Mayor of London’s arts chief, on the grounds that her nomination was motivated by political preference rather than cultural commitment.

Come again? Every such appointment, including Lefty Forgan’s is overtly political and her own head is now on the line. The next Government will not forgive her bias and she will be gone from the Arts Council within months, to be followed in all likelihood by the Arts Council itself.

For what it’s worth, and I know her better than most, Veronica Wadley was more committed to the arts as editor of the Evening Standard, 2002-9, than any boss of any other paper with the possible exception of the Guardian. As her Assistant Editor, I had a free hand to campaign on all arts issues so long as the paper stood four-square behind the expansion and elevation of London’s arts. Her commitment can be vouched for by the heads of most major arts institutions in the city.

It is unfortunate that Liz neglected to mention her personal animus against Veronica – she hates the newspapers she worked for, and has often told me so – but I cannot deny her a shaft of sympathy since this row, now bubbling over the British press, was not of her making.

It seems she was dropped into it by Ben Bradshaw, the inept Culture Secretary, who is driving an anti-BBC agenda in the last months of a dying government. Bradshaw knows he is not long for this world. But he doesn’t want to die alone, so he has dragged Liz down first.

As for Veronica’s appointment, it is still in the gift of the Mayor of London. If the present government won’t ratify it, the next one will.