Crass political error in Times column

Crass political error in Times column


norman lebrecht

May 07, 2021

Richard Morrison today:

The excuse, predictably wheeled out again this week, is that “Labour stuffed the boards of arts organisations with their supporters when they were in power, so we are entitled to redress the balance”. Is that true, though? I have been reporting on the arts scene for 45 years. I don’t remember the Callaghan, Blair or Brown governments packing arts boards with their acolytes, and certainly not in this blatant, bullying sort of way.

The facts:

In 1997, the incoming Tony Blair Government installed two of its most vociferous financial backers to the biggest jobs in British arts. Colin Southgate, head of EMI, was made chairman of Covent Garden where he soon disgraced himself with a remark about not wnting to sit ‘next to somebody in a singlet, a pair of shorts and a smelly pair of trainers.’ Apart from that, he was rather good in the job.

The other Blair appointee was Gerry Robinson, chairman of Granada plc which he had rithlessly stripped of all arts programming and quality drama. He was made chairman of Arts Council England and was an unqualified catastrophe.

These were the most political pair of arts appointments Britain has ever seen. Blair and Brown bullied the arts mercilessly when it suited their purpose. What’s going on today is tiddlywinks by comparison.

Page 444-46 in the book attached.


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Remember going to a meeting at ACE with Robinson speaking pure gobbledegook, corporate speak, blue sky thinking, opening envelopes, etc. Most of us had never heard it before and were bemused to say the least.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    The other thing New Labour did to the arts, which was more damaging for them in the long term, was politicize them. Arts organizations had to tick political boxes and satisfy government social objectives to receive state funding. Robert Hewison’s ‘Cultural Capital’ gives a fascinating, hair-raising account of the change and its consequences.

  • Carlos Solare says:

    From a contemporary review of the book pictured above: “packed with absurdities and prejudicial claptrap … hit-or-miss relevance … cavalier about facts”