Putting aside my amazement that the readers of the New York Times could be remotely interested in the subject of UK government funding of dance projects, I think it highly unlikely that even the most avid dance fan would consider arts funding a priority in Thursday’s election, let alone allowing it to influence how one votes.
The British government is struggling with a budget deficit of no less than £67 billion and cuts in public spending will have to be severe.
The one party that has pledged to protect arts financing is the Liberal Democrats. Though ranking third in Parliament, the party received an immense boost when its leader, Nick Clegg, was widely considered the winner this month of Britain’s first televised election debate among the three party leaders. The Conservative Party, which has said it would make extensive cuts in state funds (though it would reroute more lottery money toward the arts), is ahead in the polls, but no longer by a large margin. The Labour Party’s policy on arts financing remains vague.
Indeed Mr Clegg did win that ill-advised televised beauty contest recently broadcast, but whether this translates into actual votes remains to be seen, rather worryingly though, all three parties are vague on their plans for cuts after the election and none have adequately portrayed the seriousness of the predicament the country is currently in. For the record the Conservatives plan the biggest cuts and the Liberals the smallest but in the run up to the election no details are forthcoming, in fact the planned cuts the parties admit to only add up to between 15-25% of the current deficit, leaving 75-85% to be accounted for. The parties’ lack of honesty on this score is because they are afraid of scaring the electorate with the facts.
I wouldn’t presume to predict where the axe will fall but education is likely to be an early casualty and I imagine an increase in VAT (the purchase tax on all goods and services with a few exceptions, e.g. food) is likely too, though don’t forget this will cause an increase in the price of theatre tickets. The timing of these cuts is crucial though as there is a real threat of a ‘double dip’ recession occurring if they are made too soon, something only the present Labour government seems to be bearing in mind. When spending cuts are made a huge number of people will become unemployed and although cuts to the over-blown public sector won’t upset the general public that much, there is likely to be a domino effect of firms providing goods and services to that sector going under too. Fewer people working equals a lower tax take and a downward spiral commences.
Although the UK isn’t struggling with a mountain of debt as great as that in Greece, it is still a mind boggling sum that will take the best part of a generation to repay. How the public reacts to future events remains to be seen, but the public sector is heavily unionized so protests at the inevitable job losses are guaranteed and although Brits are not as volatile as the Greeks it is worth remembering that the Poll Tax riots in the early ‘90’s brought down Margaret Thatcher.
So very serious stuff all round and I’m afraid the arts must fend for themselves as there are dark days ahead. Cast your vote carefully as there are far bigger issues at stake.