Keynes was both a serious Liberal and a serious man. His work in two world wars and their aftermath is the stuff of legend. His contribution to economic thinking, recently somewhat vindicated, makes him a giant. Bertrand Russell found him intellectually formidable.
But he also built the Cambridge Arts Theatre and was the first Chairman of the Arts Council, created by the postwar Labour Government.
It would be too easy to say merely that a great man needs a hobby like anyone else. The Classical world and civilisation since have shunned the suggestion that somehow culture was an add-on, like sitting down to watch the X factor after a tiring week. Greek culture was defined by Homer. The Romans (or at least the ones who wrote about these things) saw beyond ‘bread and circuses’.
So the gathering of cultural luminaries in the House of Lords last week was not, by any measure, just a ‘jolly’. Familiar faces from film, old rockers and young soul performers rubbed shoulders with television actors, impresarios and even a specialist in high fashion jewelry.
Jane Bonham-Carter had organised, with the assistance of Nick Clegg’s office, something which was as much a political statement as a chance to see and be seen. Yes: the Party was launching a policy statement ‘The Power of Creativity’. More importantly it was making a statement that the arts matter. And that cultural people can and should support the Liberal Democrats.
Nick’s speech, covered last week in brief on LDV, was especially significant. In it he gave a clear pledge to maintain arts funding at current levels – something increasingly doubtful in the other two main parties, bent on cuts while sparing the largest spending departments the trouble of even modest belt-tightening. He also reminded us that the cultural sector was capable of new industries like video games, in which we have a considerable competitive advantage.
Culture is not an add-on. Nor is it a Disney theme park. It is a vital part of the life of the nation and of local communities. So when a right wing think tank suggests that a cut of 50% in cultural spending would not be noticed and when local council budget-making targets the arts development officer rather than the costly managers to whom he or she reports, it is time to speak up loudly.
Nick did this and hundreds were there to hear him. Let us hope that the Federal Policy Committee, which likes to remind us of how important it is in producing the Party’s General Election manifesto, was listening.
Cllr Chris White is Hertfordshire County Councillor for St. Albans Central and
St. Albans City & District Councillor for Clarence
He is also a member of the ALDC Management Committee
This article was first published on Liberal Democrat Voice