The not-so-great art debate
Last night the three political big guns in arts came face-to-face for a pre-election showdown. In front of a packed audience of arts grandees, the three strode to the stage to deliver their party-defining rhetoric.
Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, spoke first. He told the audience of his belief in maintaining arts funding at its current levels.
He confirmed his commitment to "arms length" state funding. He talked about the importance of the arts to the health and wealth of the country. He received gentle applause.
Then it was the turn of his Conservative shadow, Jeremy Hunt, to have his say. The audience sat forward. Let the argument begin. But he said pretty much the same as Bradshaw.
Oh, well, maybe Don Foster, the charismatic Liberal Democrat would stoke things up a bit.
Nope. He agreed too. In fact if you were to create a tag cloud of what was said last night, the words "agree" and "consensus" would feature large.
There were some points of difference. Bradshaw and Hunt said they hoped that their parties will maintain funding at its present level, while Foster confirmed the Lib Dems would.
Hunt spoke about the idea that arts institutions should create endowments as a source of funding. Bradshaw was sceptical.
There was a small spat when Hunt said that the Conservatives would return lottery funding of the arts to its previous level. Bradshaw admitted that they had reduced the amount the lottery gives to the arts, but pointed out the Labour has significantly increased arts funding in general.
Europe was mentioned, but by then the room was so over-heated the audience could only think of the cool white wine waiting to be served next door.
Afterwards, as the arts grandees sipped their wine and nibbled at their nibbles, there was almost universal disappointment. They had come for a heated debate but only got lukewarm platitudes.
Another, thought they had their heads in the sand, unwilling to talk about contingency plans and priorities should arts funding be cut. An outcome that everybody to whom I spoke felt was inevitable.
All agreed that the real players in the arts field are those that will hold the purse strings, Messrs Darling, Osborne and Cable.
Sir Andrew Motion was asked to sum-up the evening up and did so with the intelligent brevity you'd expect from an ex -poet laureate. He said "You'd have to have the mind of a goldfish if you if you need [what we've just heard] summarised".
There's another arts hustings planned for next Tuesday at Tate Britain, chaired by Joan Bakewell. She is also the chair of the National Campaign for the Arts and therefore very close to all the important issues.
If she can't generate some proper debate and help identify some real policy differences then nobody can. As one of last night's attendees asked afterwards, "Where's their vision?" Perhaps on Tuesday we'll find out.
PS: I discussed the arts debate on Thursday 4 March on the Today programme: