Sajid Javid’s new appointment comes as a bit of a culture shock

Sajid Javid’s appointment as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been described by BBC Radio 4 as ‘one of the most striking political promotions of recent years’. Striking, not to say the least, because Javid is a former investment banker, self-made millionaire and the son of 1960s Pakistani immigrants. Javid comes to the post after Maria Miller’s ungainly exit following her expenses scandal.

A Conservative party friend from his days studying at Exeter University has noted that they all saw Margaret Thatcher as a ‘heroine’, while describing Javid as having an ‘unbelievable work ethic’ and being ‘determined to achieve, relentless in fact’. This shows in his stellar banking career, for which he has been called a ‘guru of globalisation’, being the youngest ever Vice-President of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, and a director of Deutsche Bank.

Javid has little to say for himself in terms of genuine care for arts and culture. 

We know he likes U2, Star Trek, It’s a Wonderful Life, War Horse, paintings of Margaret Thatcher and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. His department also makes policies for gambling, tourism, sport and the media. Ellis Cahsmore, Professor of Culture, Media and Sport at Staffordshire University, notes in The Conversation that: ‘This last area might provide Javid with a lively test. Because Richard Desmond, who owns Channel 5, has recently put his free-to-air TV channel on the market … So maybe an appetite for a down-and-dirty struggle with corporate string-pullers and egotistical politicos is a more relevant qualification than a familiarity with Game of ThronesNoah, or a Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014 exhibition – though his documented enthusiasm for Star Trek may equip him handily.’

Marc Sidwell, going against the grain of the media calling for culture secretaries who actually enjoy the arts, has offered the opinion that ‘a culture secretary from the Treasury – it is what John Maynard Keynes, the founder of the Arts Council, would have wanted’ because ‘bankers have played a heroic role in the private funding of artistic excellence’. He calls for Javid to champion a culture of freedom and that ‘Britain’s department of culture needs an optimist who cares about liberty, not art.’

In a letter published in the The Telegraph entitled ‘Dear Sajid Javid: don’t pretend to like the arts’, Rupert Christiansen picks up on challenges Javid will face such as this summer’s Arts Council Budget and the deficit in funding for regional arts enterprise. Local council funding for the arts is an area Maria Miller has been criticised for neglecting. Christiansen emphasises not just how the relatively small subsidy the government makes in the creative industries offers a brilliant return on investment in terms of tourism and urban regeneration, but also how invaluable a contribution the arts make towards ‘national self-respect’. His stance is that Javid should ‘steer clear of the arts: governments have no business poking its nose into what is good and bad in the aesthetic realm’ and advises the new minister to either ‘find a bright young ambitious MP who does have an authentically rich cultural life … and get Cameron to appoint him or her as Arts Minister in place of Ed Vaizey’ or ‘abolish the post altogether’.

West End Producer’s open letter, unlike Christiansen’s stance in telling Javid to delegate out real arts involvement, asks him, ‘to fight for the arts and make sure they are not disposed of as an unnecessary expense. Our actors and directors are international ambassadors – and the art they produce is an international commodity. And without the support of an understanding government our place in the world as leading creators of arts and artists will fall.’ He also highlights the issue of the current government’s encouragement to the arts to cover subsidy cuts by finding private funding and using philanthropy. This, however, is hugely difficult, especially for smaller arts and cultural venues, given the disproportionate lack in fundraisers in the sector and general declines in charitable giving. West End Producer praises the proposed tax relief for theatre and the performing arts, for which getting the details right has been named a key priority for the Culture Secretary.

Finally, children’s author Michael Rosen wrote a letter which begins: ‘We’ve never met, but that’s because I work in ‘Culture’ and you have spent most of your adult life so far in banking. It’s very difficult to see from your Wikipedia entry or from the kind of information put before us by Huffington Post … how you’re qualified to do this new job at the Ministry of Culture.’ Janan Ganesh from the FT responded to him, which Rosen puts down with magnificent zeal on his blog:

FT: And the novelist’s life is almost custom-engineered to preclude intelligent commentary on the real world. They shut themselves away to write and live off their imaginations.

MR: Really? Is that what we do? Or is that just something that Janesh has picked up from having to ‘do’ the Romantic Poets? … We get the message: we should shuttup. [sic] We should leave politics and banking to politicians and bankers. After all, they haven’t screwed anything up over the last 10 years, have they? Well, if you write for the Financial Times, perhaps you can kid yourself that they haven’t. 

Javid has already been warned by the Royal Opera House over his support for ticket touting (reselling tickets for often huge profits). In 2011, he called touters ‘classic entrepreneurs’ who should be able to operate without interference, which has angered both sporting and arts groups.

Of particular note in recent news is the millions of pounds worth of proposed cuts in school music budgets. The Department of Education is applying pressure for local authorities to attribute none of their education budgets towards extra-curricular music and arts. The cellist, Julian Lloyd Webber, is leading an attack, reports The Times.

In other news, Richard Dennis has written a series for Noises Off relaying the hypothetical experiences of Sajid Javid at National Student Drama Festival, which took place last week. ‘The theatre industry seems to be remarkably open in terms of using other people’s ideas, a curious situation compared to the likes of the high-tech and pharmaceutical industries, where ideas and patents are fiercely guarded. I am already drafting my presentation to the Arts Council, where I’ll be briefing them on how stronger patent laws in the arts industry will allow artists to make considerably higher profits.’

Originally published by The Boar.