Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Hodge bombs Proms

We were informed by yesterday’s Guardian that the “the culture (!) minister, Margaret Hodge, will today criticise the Prom concerts as one of many British cultural events that fail to engender new common values or attract more than a narrow unrepresentative audience. She will make her remarks in a broad-ranging speech that examines the role culture should play in developing a stronger sense of shared British cultural identity. Hodge will also suggest that British citizenship ceremonies should be held in places such as castles, theatres, museums, art galleries and historic houses.”

I’ve heard it all now. Or wish I had. What else will these ever-meddlesome Politically Correct ministers come up with next? Compulsory multiculturalist dancing round maypoles? The busybodyishness of the likes of Margaret Hodge is almost beyond belief. The ethnic composition of Prom audiences is not an issue in the musical world. Love of classical music and enjoyment of what’s on offer is. Attendance or non-attendance at the Proms or any other musical or artistic event is purely a matter of personal choice, and none of Mrs Hodge’s business.

When I first lived in London in the early 1950s, I was a frequent attender at the Albert Hall Promenade concerts, which under the benevolent sponsorship of the BBC were the highlight of the capital’s musical year. A veritable feast of wonderful music was provided by world-class celebrities and international orchestras, who obviously enjoyed performing at the Proms as much as their mostly youthful audience enjoyed hearing them. Several weeks of nightly musical pleasure was yours for a season ticket price of only 35 shillings [less than £2!] if you were prepared to stand, either in the arena or up aloft in the gallery. I chose the latter, and we stalwart regulars vied to be early in the queue so that we could run quickly up the stairs and bag our favourite vantage point.

There was a camaraderie among the ‘prommers’, and I met some very pleasant people at the Albert Hall. I really can’t remember whether any, or how many, of them were darker skinned than me, because it wouldn’t have mattered. Although friendly, that young audience – containing many music students from the various London and provincial schools of music who knew the scores as well as, if not better than, some of the conductors – was never rowdy in those pre-television days, and when the music began you could have heard a pin drop in the huge packed auditorium. At the end, the applause was usually warm – except on the rare occasion of a poor performance – and sometimes enthusiastic to the point of being ecstatic. One especially memorable occasion was the London debut of the exquisitely rich-voiced Spanish soprano the late Victoria de los Angeles, who was cheered to the echo as the prommers took her to their hearts [where she remained for the rest of her long singing career].

But the rot set in with television, and all the visual gimmickry which modern producers mistakenly deem essential to make any programme interesting. The cameras were a gift to the at first small but now too large clique of exhibitionists who fondly imagine that funny clothes, banner and balloon waving, and graceless clowning enhance the home-watching audience’s enjoyment – especially on the traditional ‘last night of the Proms’ [a quintessentially English occasion, whatever La Hodge and her minions may say]. Formerly, this was a good-humoured event with a jolly audience singalong of “Rule Britannia”, “Land of Hope and Glory”, and other patriotic ballads skilfully steered by experienced conductors like Sir Malcolm Sargent. Now, watching the stereotyped ‘last night’ has become a pain, so I usually don’t.

As for the Minister’s contention that the Proms don’t cater for today’s ‘common values’, and that Prom audiences are “ a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease being a part of this”, it seems to have escaped her notice that Prom audiences – like theatre, cinema, football, cricket, and race track audiences – are a self-selected group. Is she proposing compulsory attendance, in order to make such events more ‘representative’? Roll on Big Sister’s Brave New World!

And I am less than enthused by her naff idea of holding ‘British citizenship ceremonies’ in castles, theatres, museums, art galleries and historic houses. Presumably these worthy events are designed to foster a synthetic patriotic consciousness, like young citizens of the USA saluting the flag. If so, there are many other places where they could be held, such as Tyburn and Tower Hill, where criminals and State prisoners were executed – and, of course, the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall where King Charles I met his grisly end at the hands of the self-appointed Politically Correct national nannies of his day. No doubt a 17th century Mistress Hodge was among the eager bloodthirsty throng that witnessed the historic regicide.

As for celebrating next year’s 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession and the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, all well and good. But is having government-sponsored national debates about the legacy and significance of such historic figures the best way to foster a sense of British identity? In both these instances, and in many others, it is more than likely to spark off renewed dissension.

The reason for this fatuous initiative by Mrs Hodge – who is, not inappropriately, MP for Barking - is, it seems, a belated awareness on the part of the government that ‘multiculturalism’ [code word for downplaying traditional Britishness in the supposed interests of social harmony] is a dead duck; and that a new strategy for promoting greater cohesiveness among the increasingly diverse populations of the United Kingdom has to be employed. They have suddenly awoken to the fact that the great majority of peaceable people of good will who constitute what Mrs Hodge recognises with uncustomary astuteness as being “the all-important centre ground of politics”, and who simply want to get on with their own lives without hassle from extremist political or religious factions, are becoming increasingly dismayed by the failure of PC ‘multiculturalism’ to gell. Indeed, it seems to be having the opposite effect to that intended, and is actually encouraging the flaunting of difference in an antagonistic manner by those who consider their religious and cultural traditions to be superior to those of the majority British population, an increasing number of whom are confronted with a wilfully alien presence in their midst.

This seems to be dawning on Mrs Hodge, although the obvious reason for it escapes her. “Over and over again”, she witters, politicians are failing to be seen on the side of those worried by loss of identity [theirs, of course]. “The cracks in the community turn to gaps. And those gaps, those voids, are always exploited mercilessly and cruelly by the extreme right”. [Is it any wonder, when official policies are driven by crackpots?] “The mainstream parties”, Mrs Hodge moans, “in their determination to capture and maintain power,” [she’s got it right there, at least!] ”have perhaps allowed a blurring of their ideological value base….In doing this they inadvertently create a value vacuum which is then filled by fundamentalists in religion and extremists in politics.” In established poor communities where choice is least, “people can be left with the feeling of imposed change or being subject to forces beyond their control”. Abstract notions about Britishness mean little to “the good burghers of Barking” faced by rapid change [a euphemism for becoming inescapably aware that what they used to regard as their native heath is inexorably being taken over by another way of life].

Faced with such weasel-worded twaddle, if I were a good burgher of Barking I would be barking mad at having such a mistress of NuLabour spin as my member of parliament. It is as if Mrs Hodge and her civil servants and ‘political advisers’ had sat down together and said “Oh dear! Multiculturalism isn’t working. Those stroppy Muslims and nasty BNPers don’t buy it. What shall we do?” Suddenly some bright spark says “I know! Let’s attack the Proms as being narrow and unrepresentative of modern British values. The BBC is a soft target. It won’t bite back.”

“Brilliant idea!” says La Hodge, and is so chuffed that she can’t contain herself until her speech is delivered, but leaks it to the PC-friendly Guardian. But lo and behold! Before the words are even out of her mouth, she has been sharply slapped down by a Downing Street spokesman who says that the prime minister is a keen fan of the Proms, which are a “wonderful, democratic, and quintessentially British institution that do [sic] a fantastic job in broadening culture.”

You couldn’t make it up, could you? Obviously the left-handed Hodges of this increasingly flaky government no longer know what their right-handed prime minister is thinking. Come back, Alastair Campbell – almost all is forgiven. It would never have happened on your watch.


Jose said...

I often think where those ministers have sprung from. If proms are axed an important part of British culture will be axed, too. I confess I am a regular listener and cannot understand where Ms Hodges has got her ideas from....

anticant said...

I don't think there's any question of axeing them - thank goodness! Mrs Hodge thinks the audiences should be more ethnically mixed - forgetting, as these social engineering types always do, that audiences are self-selected.

In fact, there is no racial, ethnic or cultural barrier in the arts - surely the many brilliant Asian world-class performers of Western classical music, not to mention the widespread American and European addiction to jazz, proves that. But you cannot expect people from different cultures to share each other's artistic preferences without a good deal of exposure to different music and art from their own, which doesn't a;ways happen.

Where do people like Mrs Hodge get their ideas from? The ingrained conviction that they know what's best for other people, who should not be allowed to make 'wrong' choices.

bwook said...

I Heard the lady on 'Radio 4' delivering this gaffe and she surely did queer the pooch AND screw the pitch, didn't she?

OF Course, were /I/ Culture Minister, no lolling in the terraces for you lot! I should pack the whole boiling off in the charabancs at the week-end, to the V & A , the Sutton Hoo dig and the first Brit mosque ever, in...Barking, innit?


Eugene said...

How on earth do such idiots get themselves elected!? It makes me wonder if there isn't some better way of organising our government [great blog BTW]

zola a social thing said...

Anticant !
Please apply the same reasoning ( as in your therapy stuff - that is include the social and the political and the economic) to this piece here.
Land of hope and glory...
Make me mighty too?
Land of Blighty Shitey
Make me mighty too.

anticant said...

Don't be so unaccustomedly solemn, Zola! The Prom season is a feast of musical appreciation; the 'last night' is just a bit of ritualistic student steam-blowing, not worth getting your postmodernist knickers in a twist over.

zola a social thing said...

Then Antidecant PLEASE do not mention all that crap in your main article.
In fact I have enjoyed the musical adventures of so many in me time(s).

BTW Postmodern, as a term, is not the same as a postmodernist(ism).
But I do appreciate potboilers.