Written by: John Boyden
Of all the side-effects of central funding, the most dismal is its failure to cope with the multiple strands of human endeavour that emerge from nowhere, enjoy their time in the sun and disappear. When watching some misguided Westminster politician, aching for public acclaim, but given the job of assuring ‘the people’ that everything will soon be fine, I am reminded of Gorbachev, trapped in a sea of Soviet citizens demanding the quality of life enjoyed in the capitalist West. Central control of any commodity or service seems to lead to nothing better than substandard goods in short supply.
At the Beijing Olympics, we saw a dictatorship replace a parade of power in favour of a superficial glorification of its historic culture: a culture that it had spent sixty years trying to erase. This dictatorship had not only rejected its historic thinkers, but also squashed its historic buildings. Had Chou En-Lai (an Oxford man) not intervened, the Little Red Morons, with their Little Red Books would have burnt the Forbidden City to the ground. During my first visit to Peking, in 1988, I lunched with a chap from the British Council, who arrived on the 30th-floor of some stainless-steel hotel, wearing bike clips. A scholar of Chinese history, he was filled with anger at the vandalism of yet another ‘enlightenment’.
By August, this year, much had changed in China. Instead of tanks and marching automata, the opening night of the Beijing Games was given over to a giant parade of automata, but this time wearing fanciful recreations of ancient dynasties with slogans drawn from Confucius instead of Chairman Mao. Same mentality: different spin.
When the British started winning medals, our famously strange Prime Minister began to lament the sale of school playing fields, even having the gall to blame politically correct, non-competitive policies on ‘left-wing’ councils. True, the Tories sold off playing fields, but they had little choice, when most secondary schools had become socialist Comprehensives, each with more than a thousand pupils. To provide sporting facilities for so many children, especially when playing football and cricket, calls for the playing-fields of Eton, not the space for a game of basketball.
The Labour Party seems to have a problem with competition. But then, so do the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives, with their support for the shotgun marriages of the 1960s and ‘70s that forced great car companies, such as Rover and Jaguar, to wed the metal-bashing businesses like Morris and Austin. Despite Mrs Thatcher’s propensity for privatisation, the recently acquired British disgust for profit has become permanent. The fact that nearly everything we cherish has its origins in a single brain, usually motivated by a wish to provide a better life for his or her family, seems no longer to register. Instead, we prefer to keep ‘things’ as they are and to tolerate the lies and distortions of ministers who have seldom made a living outside politics and who spend our money with ignorant abandon.
Which brings me to the point. Some enthusiasts want classical music to receive the same level of funding as that on offer to our athletes, as a result of Team GB in Beijing. They can ask away. Great music is a minority enthusiasm, which means that no politician with serious ambition will fight for it. Besides, which aspect of classical music should be funded? Music appreciation in schools: more scholarships for young players: cash for music-clubs: yet more money for the over-funded Arts Council’s orchestras, or real incentives for composers to write fewer wrong notes. I could go on.
The simple truth is that the State should stop distorting the natural relationship between the individual and society that existed before 1939, and which has been destroyed. Despite all the tax that goes into the NHS, we still have hundreds of charities devoted to improving this or that aspect of health care. Why should that be, when the NHS is the envy of the world?
In my opinion, we should get rid of state-funding for any activity that traditionally did without it. Being of a certain age, I can remember when echoes of such a pre-war world could still be heard (the formation of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1946 and Peter Moores’s support of Opera in English, for instance) and when the corrupting hand of government was limited to a few obvious departments, such as defence, prisons and roads. Yet concerts were still mounted, players were still paid and many a composer wrote music capable of being appreciated at first hearing. I accept that recordings were so poor that the only satisfactory way to hear music was to sit in a hall. To be perfectly frank, I would make the same claim today, except that London, a capital city that deserves better, has no truly adequate concert hall.
Why should those who dislike great music see their taxes pay for other people’s enjoyment? Why should anyone, who believes long-distance running is a perversion, support the gruesome sight of tormented athletes collapsing at the finishing tape? Why should we delegate our processes of selection and decision-making to a handful of people who have (through some mysterious process) been given charge of our money? Why, should the British people have to stomach Marxist systems of healthcare, schooling and arts-funding, when the USSR is dead and Russia is on the way to loving the market?
Without death there can be no life! So, isn’t it about time we let some light and air into our musical lives by tearing down the dusty drapes that once hung about Miss Havisham’s fantasies and now cloud those of the State? We need opportunity and choice, not more spending. Let the Chancellor introduce tax-breaks for those people who want to give to charities and let there be as many charities as necessary to deliver the multiplicity of benefits that are our birthright and which are denied us by the Fat Controllers of Westminster. Freedom is like Virginity: you either have it, or you don’t: and when it comes to music, we certainly don’t.