Sunday, 13 April 2014

"People Like You": Michael Rosen, the cultured bigot

Sajid Javid
We have a new Culture Secretary. I'm delighted Maria Miller has gone, though I was more outraged by her philistinism than her fraud. Her replacement is Sajid Javid, a former investment banker who entered parliament in 2010. I don't know much about him, but former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen has already made up his mind, writing a nasty open letter that tells us nothing about Sajid Javid but a great deal about Michael Rosen.

Rosen's main objection is that Javid was a banker, and therefore damned by association.* He implies that he is tainted by scandals at the firm that employed him, saying that "people like you got up to all sorts of  greedy lending and fiddling".

"People like you"? The reasoning is: "There's this thing I don't like, you were sort of associated with it, so you're a Bad Person who can't be Culture Secretary". This damning by association is nasty in its condemnation of an individual by virtue of a group he belonged to, and it's moronic in its inability to assess a person on individual merit. My sense that Michael Rosen is a moron as well as a bigot is reinforced by his crass and naive comments about the financial crisis and the economy. But you don't need to think much if you can just point fingers at baddies. 

Like many bigots, Rosen's prejudice blinds him to reality. The arts are bastions of privilege. Given low wages and high entry costs (potentially years of training, unpaid internships and very low paying entry-level jobs), it's not surprising that artists typically grew up in households that had higher incomes than doctors. Art schools are the most expensive colleges in the US, after allowing for grants. Rosen might also be surprised to learn that ethnic diversity is nearly six times higher in the City than in the arts. And of course many of the public libraries that Rosen and I both value were initially funded by Andrew Carnegie, the greedy monopoly-capitalist. 

I'm keeping an open mind about Javid. He doesn't seem to have much background in culture, but we don't expect the Health Secretary to be a doctor, or the Defence Secretary to have been a soldier. I'm more sceptical about the value of the department itself. Successive culture ministers have demanded that cultural institutions meet a succession of targets that have positively harmed the pursuit of artistic excellence - social inclusion, diversity (ooops...), and most recently economic growth. And too often money has been thrown at unworthy projects like The Public and at favoured artists who don't need the state's largess. I'm a great believer in state funding for the arts, but creating a separate ministry to dole out the cash has done more harm than good. 

* Full disclosure: I too am an evil banker, so no doubt anything I have to say can be disregarded as self-serving and philistine. 


  1. Dear Mr Grumpy -
    As the daughter of a very un-evil bank manager (from back in the day when the managers ran the banks, and were professional, and doused in integrity), I completely sympathize with your post. No 'class' of worker can be damned as a whole, by association with others of their trade who have let them down; besides the arts - & art especially, of which I know more - are supported by a band of hedge funders of great taste and huge philanthropic instincts (one of whom runs the V & A and the Courtauld). The Bank of America underwrote The Cult of Beauty at the V & A, and Barclays supports a whole range of artistic endeavour. This also goes for the government, which supplies the Art Fund with the wherewithall to get a lot of small ventures under weigh, which would never get going without that support. I am immensely grateful to both government and Art Fund, for making it possible for something I wrote to be on the brink of its appearance, the recession having scuppered my attempts to publish through 18th century-ish subscription. No arts funding scheme will please everybody, because there's a limited pot which has to stretch over the old, the young, the halt & lame, the flood-battered, the overseas deprived, the war-makers, &c., &c. I'd like to see what Sajid Javid is going to do, and I hold out lots of hope...

    1. Thank you. Yes, what I really resent about Rosen is the implication that people like him - left-leaning cultural professionals - have a monopoly on insight into the arts, and the only legitimate role for others is to give them money and consume what they produce. I find it ironic that a socialist like Rosen, who is doubtless sincere in his hatred of prejudice, can himself be so narrow-minded and unreflective.