It’s not Sajid Javid the cultural sector should be worried about, it’s Michael Rosen

Sajid JavidThe first three words of novelist and poet Michael Rosen’s open letter to the new Culture Secretary I liked. “Dear Mr Javid”. Nice strong start.

But oh, then it goes on.

We’ve never met, but that’s because I work in “culture” and you have spent most of your adult life so far in banking.

Read that quickly and it sounds like just a fairly standard bit of leftist bashing of capitalism. But stop and think about it for a moment.

Whatever you think of banking, it undoubtedly has a huge influence on modern life. Indeed, the less you like the banking system, quite likely the greater its baleful influence on modern society in your eyes.

So it’s a remarkably narrow-minded attitude to think that those in “culture” should somehow lock themselves away so completely from modern life as to never meet anyone in banking. (And for someone who lives in London, as Michael Rosen does, that’s no mean feat of self-isolation given just how many people work in City and elsewhere.)

Locked away in an ivory tower, ignoring the world around you and daring not to speak to large parts of it… you’d have thought that was the description of someone attacking the cultural sector, not the thoughts of someone defending it.

Onwards then to the second paragraph:

It’s very difficult to see from your Wikipedia entry or from the kind of information put before us by Huffington Post how you are qualified to do this new job as culture minister.

Now some of my best friends edit Wikipedia and I’ve written for the Huffington Post a few times myself. But really: dismiss someone’s ability to do a job based on such thin grounds? One Wikipedia entry and one short blog post on his own site with a short extract from the Huffington Post (for that’s what Michael Rosen linked to – nice bit of SEO for his own blog there). An extract, moreover, that says nothing about Javid’s knowledge of, or interest in, culture.

Never mind that Michael Rosen could have been praising an Asian working class lad for making into the Cabinet as a wonderful advertisement for Britain’s cultural diversity.

Or that he could have smartly been realising that if you want the cultural sector to be well-funded and supported then you need to win allies from outside your ivory-tower-mustn’t-ever-talk-to-bankers world of 1970s revivalist left-wing clichés.

Or even that he could have remembered the key role philanthropists with a background in the financial sector have often played in supporting the arts. Or the number who have been artists themselves.

Ironically, just a bus ride, a change and a little walk away from where Michael Rosen lives is the grave of the Banker Poet, Samuel Rogers.

I guess as a banker he should be dismissed as knowing nothing about culture. Just as TS Eliot, a banker too, gets dismissed on Rosen’s logic. I mean, what did TS Eliot know about poetry?

Or perhaps, I’ve got it all wrong. Perhaps Michael Rosen isn’t giving us an insular picture of culture, undermining its support, demanding an ivory tower isolation from the modern world and forgetting great poets of the past.

Perhaps, as Sean Kemp suggested, he was writing a moving tribute:

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