Working-class actors or musicians cannot live on the dole now while they struggle to break through. The sanctions from the jobcentres whip them into line. If you want to know why British pop has lost its rough energy, you should blame the Department for Work and Pensions, not a plot by the record label executives. In any case, tens of thousands of young people want to work in the arts, television, music and journalism. Why shouldn’t their potential employers, often short of money themselves, take advantage of the laws of supply and demand?
Those who receive public money have no right to do so. Working- and lower-middle-class citizens should not have to fund through their taxes and the lottery arts organisations that deny opportunities to their children. One of the most admirable men I know is Martin Bright, who threw in a career in journalism to found the Creative Society, which gives working-class teenagers the same opportunities in the arts that their middle- and upper-class contemporaries receive. Diversity creates uniformity, he says, because it ignores class. As a result, projects for women or the ethnic minorities are colonised by the middle class. The only positive discrimination that works is for arts organisations to go into jobcentres and find talented young people on the dole who deserve a break, and too few want to try it.
What applies to artists applies to the audience. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts has told recipients of public money that they should at least think of putting Royal Opera House shows, for example, or National Theatre productions on the web once their runs are over. The overwhelming majority of people who cannot get to London, and could not afford tickets if they did, would then see the work their taxes helped pay for. It does no good. The notion that publicly funded art must be publicly available does not occur to today’s generation of cultural bureaucrats.
Expanding the range of British culture is not just an act of social justice, however. When the arts restrict their gene pool, they restrict their talent pool, too. No Premier League football club would give contracts only to children with private incomes and expect to remain in the premier league. The arts, broadcasting, serious journalism and publishing are coming dangerously close to doing just that, and its class-based culture is becoming a second-rate culture. British television drama could once boast that it was “the best in the world”. Now the best comes from America and Scandinavia. When Macmillan and her colleagues at the Institute of Education compared IQs, they found today’s younger cohort of professionals was, on average, slightly dimmer than the previous, poorer generation.