Arts

A day when everyone is wrong

See BBC NEWS | England | West Midlands | Theatre ends play in Sikh protest

There are no winners out of the stand-off between the Birmingham Rep and the Sikh community. Only losers. Sikhs have lost their reputation for calm and common-sense – at least for the time being in Birmingham. Instead, they have positioned themselves just where groups such as the BNP and the National Front would like them to be – with the extremists, on the wrong side of the law.

The Birmingham Rep has certainly lost out. In all my years of involvement with the Rep, I cannot think of an occasion when a play has been closed because of public protest. By giving into mob law, they have failed to live up to their artistic convictions. But they were probably wrong to stage it in the first place. It is very difficult to see how staging a production with this kind of theme set explicitly in a religious and ethnic minority community could do anything but end up in the way it has done.

It reveals how very out of touch the ‘arts’ are with popular feeling. And this is not simply in spite of but probably because of the relentless (and tedious) addiction to political correctness which pays lip service to ethnic inclusiveness but only in terms of changing the words we use to describe things, not setting out to learn what people really think.

There is much to applaud in what the Rep has been doing over the last few years. From ‘Frozen’ onwards, which put child-rape and child-murder onto the stage while the Fred West killings were still in the news, the Rep has been trying to commission challenging new drama which could rival the scope and daring of the best of London theatre.

Birmingham has lost out, marred with more ethnic minority violence less than two years after the murder of Letitia Shakespeare and Charmaine Ellis on New Year’s Day 2003.

Where do we go from here? Back to free speech balanced with the free speaker’s responsibility to guard the dignity of others? If only. Instead, the story becomes grist for the mill in the ‘Inciting Religious Hatred’ debate. We are led inexorably onward to the nanny state.

Enough of the spin: Big Lottery needs to own up

See BBC NEWS | UK | Nine held in Lottery fraud probe.

Sometimes I’m astonished by the BBC. But they, and Sky News, and the Sunday Express, and the Observer, all seem to have swallowed whole a press release put out by ‘The Big Lottery Fund’. The Big Lottery Fund, for those who haven’t been watching carefully, is the latest incarnation of the distribution arm of the national lottery for about half of the good causes.

The substance of the story is that nine men have been arrested for false grant applications. The press release says ‘false grant applications were used to defraud charities’, which may have included Children in Need, Barnardo’s and Comic Relief.

So far so good, but, in fact, this is actually a story about a lottery distributor’s incompetence. We should take it as read that there are people out there who see every grant giving body as a chance for free cash with no strings attached. It’s sad, but that’s the way things are.

This is why distributors are responsible to make their grant schemes watertight so that there is no possibility of fraud. Do I sound harsh? This is hardly rocket science. There are thousands of grant schemes run in the UK, and the underlying principles are well established. The larger and more public the scheme, the more the risk that someone will try for a quick buck, and so the more stringent the regulations.

The Big Lottery is actually by no means the biggest. European Objective 2 funding makes absolutely enormous awards. And you can bet your bottom — erm — pound that if they made a mistake like this, it would never be forgotten.

The Big Lottery Fund has failed to do the one thing it was supposed to do — distribute money where it was most needed. Rather than do the decent thing and admit it, they have put out a story that blames criminals for being bad people (they are, but that doesn’t excuse BLF), and milks the sympathy vote by naming high profile charities as the losers.

Was this their own idea, I wonder, or were they leaned on by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport? Coming up to an election, this is a scandal that the government can well do without.

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