Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Cuts

So, Vince Cable thinks that the Tory agenda is Maoist. He does have a point (except, to be fair to David Cameron, he wouldn't still be sitting at Mao's Cabinet table after what he's been saying). But, like the Mao of the Hundred Flowers policy and the Cultural Revolution, Cameron really does seem to believe that the role of government is to unleash anarchy. In which he has been remarkably successful so far.

In yesterday's Guardian, my signature was on a letter from artists resisting the cuts - though I'm not sure that direct resistance will have much effect on so determined an ideological agenda. What is probably needed is for Cable to exercise his "nuclear option" and resign, bringing down the government. After all, it is diametrically opposed to everything he ever stood for. If he left, then he could get the bulk of the Lib-Dem MPs behind him, topple the morally bankrupt Clegg and actually stand to do better in the election which Cameron would have to call. It feels like the only way to stop the rush into chaos. And this from somebody who doesn't normally think history is about the individual.

Still, while Vince remains Business Secretary, we carry on letter-writing. Karl Rouse from Central School asked me to sign one to Dave Willets et al, which has been sent to Ministers but not the press. Since I wrote some of it, I'm going to publish that section here, with Karl's agreement. It feels a bit like a credo for the current moment...

"One of the positive things which the new Prime Minister has done is the attempt to establish a measure of the nation's happiness, or well-being. Sadly, it is also something for which he has been much ridiculed. Happiness and well-being, it seems, are not matters for the serious business of politics, which should concern itself solely with economic growth and wealth creation. This is the prevailing view in civil society, and across the political spectrum - it was the Labour government which removed the Universities from the competence of the Department of Education, and turned them into an adjunct of the Business Department, so paving the way for the current decimation of any course not deemed to be of immediate use in training our young people to meet the demands of the private sector.

But wealth creation in and of itself cannot be the aim of any civilisation worth the name. We know that wealth does not bring happiness - indeed, that it often brings unhappiness. We know that the current economic system is directly responsible for an ecological crisis of unprecedented proportions. We know that the wealth of the West only exists because of the near slavery existing in other parts of the world. We also know that the economic system is imploding - why else is there this "deficit" which is being used to justify an attack on the future?

If our institutions for higher education are turned into a combination of training grounds for middle-management in computer companies and playgrounds for the children of the rich - and that is what the policy now before Parliament would surely render them - then our society will be forced to continue its subscription to this flawed, immoral and unsustainable global system. What we need - and need urgently - is a politics of the imagination which allows us to see outside the current paradigm and into a future where we will not systematically destroy our planet, where we will not pander to our own luxury at the cost of others' basic needs, and where we might just score a little higher on Mr Cameron's scale of well-being.

And that is why we need artists. Because art enables us to see the world from a different perspective. It enables us to empathise with the other. It compels us to look outside the narrow spaces of the everyday. Art is not a luxury to be tacked on to the edge of a society once it has dealt with other needs apparently more basic. Art itself is basic. Without it we lose our humanity and become mere machines.

Above all, we must not lose the capacity of our young people to be educated in art. They are the people whose vision can shape the future: but only if they can learn to see."

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