Before the advent of a pandemic that threatens the futures of many of our beloved theatres, not to mention the careers of those who work in them, the identity of the Minister of State responsible for the arts was of little or no interest to those workers.
That might have been a mistake since, at least in principle, the head honcho at a building that is now shared with the Treasury, i.e. sitting at a desk yards away from the man (it has never been a woman) with his hands on the purse strings, could at the very least influence the amount of funding going into the entertainment industry.
As we have all discovered from watching the inaction of Oliver Dowden, having a Culture Minister who is interested in culture and might even favour the arts could have been a lifesaver.
Few if any will have been disappointed to see Mr Dowden transferred away from a position to which he was so obviously ill-suited, but the big question is whether his Liverpudlian successor, former nurse Nadine Dorries, will be any more interested in our sector.
The first problem is that this role covers a ridiculously large area of contemporary life. The full title is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. That sounds far more like four jobs, each of which could reasonably be regarded as full-time.
According to the government web site, the role encompasses:
- Arts and Culture
- Creative industries
- Creative Industries Council
- Cultural property, heritage and the historic environment
- Cultural Renewal Taskforce
- Culture, sports and arts sector recovery from COVID-19
- Gambling and racing
- Media ownership and mergers
- Museums and galleries
- The National Lottery
- Telecommunications and online
We all understand the culture bit, while sport should be self-explanatory, though, given the predilections of so many ministers in recent times, might well be the one to which most time is devoted. In that context, it is worth observing that the new minister is a self-proclaimed football fan.
Digital should be massive, given that it is ruling our lives, as well as providing employment to millions, if not a fair share of taxes to the country. Media is hardly a slouch either, since, although newspapers might be struggling to survive, television whether provided digitally or more directly took over almost everybody’s lives during the worst months of the pandemic. It is apparently also a particular interest of Ms Dorries, who regards the BBC as being very left-wing.
That will come as a surprise to many readers who might have thought that the corporation’s news coverage bent over backwards to show favour to the current government. Then again, perhaps the new minister thinks that the government is too left-wing. If the biography on Wikipedia is to be believed, many of her views on issues such as abortion and multiculturalism would have been in line with those of Donald Trump and his evangelical supporters, which might explain a lot.
In this context, a theatrical community that is still barely able to keep its head above water might wonder whether there is any chance of the kind of support which is so badly needed from its nominal representative in government.
On the plus side, our new heroine has at least had some involvement with a couple of different areas of culture in recent times. She is a novelist, although this columnist has not yet had the pleasure of reading her work. To date, she has not made it onto the Booker Prize long list and doesn’t seem to come up in searches for literary fiction. Indeed, one book was described by a reviewer for The Daily Telegraph no less as “the worst novel I’ve read in 10 years”.
Her distaste for the BBC might not be wholly unconnected with work carried out for one of its rivals, while appearing as a celebrity on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. For anyone like the writer who spends so much time in theatres that they have missed this show, the title suggests an experience that is neither highbrow nor likely to prove encouraging when one of its stars becomes responsible for the maintenance of country’s Culture.
Strangely, Ms Dorries may have been more used to a worryingly large number in the entertainment industry in her previous role as Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety, since many producers, directors, performers and others might argue that government policy towards the arts over the last 18 months could have been severely deleterious to mental health.
Beyond her writing and TV appearances, there is little to suggest that Nadine Dorries will be a champion of the arts, but one can hope. Otherwise, it may be a case of keeping our heads down and waiting for the next Minister to come along.