One of the most sinister aspects of Vladimir Putin’s Russia – and that of all nasty regimes – is the weaponisation of the arts and artists. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russian artists and their families have either faced life-disfiguring punishment for speaking out against their vile leader – as they were forced to do to keep jobs in the West – or, like former LSO conductor Valerie Gyergiev, have nestled more deeply their leader’s toxic embrace.
In Britain, we hardly expect to see mezzo sopranos and playwrights facing such choices, or indeed the state interfering in artistic freedom at all, demanding allegiance and punishing those who refuse to toe the government’s line. And we don’t see it.
And yet, to listen to the complaints of the champagne-socialist Left, you would think that Britain was indeed a hotbed of devious state interference in the arts; the new Hungary, as Guardian columnist Owen Jones put it. Just look, they say, at how Tories have stuffed quangos intended to persevere impartiality, how they installed their man Richard Sharp, a friend of Sunak’s, as Chairman of the BBC. The Tories are ideologically bullies, they say, threatening to destroy cultural outfits deemed too woke by withdrawing funding. They are nefarious propagandists, hardly better than Orban or Putin. Anish Kapoor, the artist, wrote last year of the Tories’ “sinister and systematic attempt to dismantle the Keynesian project which set up ‘arts for all’.” This just after more than a billion pounds were pledged to keep cultural institutions afloat after Covid. If they are “sinister and systematic” in their dismantling of lefty arts institutions, then they’re jolly bad at it. A high volume of third-rate woke rubbish is still being churned out by theatres and museums – to the tune of taxpayer millions.