“We used to think that vandals came from Over There,” says Melvyn Bragg in The Observer. “Today, we breed them ourselves.” Britain’s vastly successful creative industries contribute enormously to the economy, to the prestige of the nation, and therefore to “the pride we can have in our country”. So the Arts Council’s decision to all but destroy the English National Opera, by slashing its funding and demanding it move to Manchester, is “unforgivable”. By any standard a “keystone” of London’s status as one of the world’s two top cultural cities, the ENO took “about 100 years to build up”, its chairman Harry Brünjes tells me, but only “10 seconds” to shut down.
The argument seems to be that London is “over-endowed” with public money for the arts, and that some should be redirected to cities less fortunate than the metropolis. But all the Arts Council has done is “rob Peter in order to pay Paul”. It’s quite right to say that more theatres should enjoy a slice of the cake, but the heart of the matter “is that the cake is too small”. What’s ridiculous is that this is not blindingly obvious to those in power. Our creative industries are a “proved worldwide winner”. The more that we invest, the wider their reach, and the greater their global income. Impresarios like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh show how high the returns are from smart investment. “What is to stop us becoming the country of the arts?” All that’s lacking is the imagination of those in Westminster to seize the opportunity.