Attitude to the arts strikes a sour note

Did Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak really say earlier in the week that musicians and others in the arts should retrain and find other jobs?

He has denied it, but if that’s the case, where did it come from? An ITN Politics tweet first made the claim after an interview the Chancellor gave to ITN on Tuesday October 6. It was taken down after reactions of justified outrage from the likes of Sue Perkins and actor Daniel Mays, which would suggest that the person at ITN responsible for the tweet had engineered something out of nothing to massage the Twitter figures.

But I have since seen a transcript of the interview in which the questions being asked relate directly to the problems professional musicians and performers are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

At one point Mr Sunak is asked what his message is to professional musicians – “If they can’t earn enough money to live, is your message to them ‘you’re going to have to get another job’?

To which the reply is: “My simple message to everybody is we’re trying to do everything we can to protect as many jobs as possible but…”

And that is followed seconds later, by: “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis.”

That certainly doesn’t strike me as a generalisation of the employment situation as a whole, as a subsequent tweet said. It was an answer given within the context of the question posed, which was very specific.

It’s a cold, hard fact that things are not as they were. There’s life before the pandemic and life as it is now.

But jobbing performers – meaning those who go where the work is and who don’t have the luxury of choosing their gigs or roles – are drawing the short straw every time.

I’ve been a professional musician, I have family who are still professional musicians. We’re not elitist. I write and I can play – one of them is what I do and the other is what I am – and that’s all I have the confidence in being able to do to a reasonable standard. I showed an aptitude and trained to develop those skills to the point of where I’m able to monetise them.

But at so many other things I really don’t have a Scooby Doo. OK, I can decorate a room to a fashion I suppose…eventually.., but it’s never going to look as good as if a professional had done it.

My point is, you don’t hire a jobbing actor or West End orchestra pit musician to repair your washing machine and vice versa, but each are as important as the other so to dismiss someone in the arts as pretty much irrelevant and somehow unworthy of the sort of government assistance other trades receive during this crisis is grossly insulting and once again, as I said a couple of weeks ago, treats the concept of entertainment as a luxury rather than a necessity to people’s well-being.

Resurrection shuffle

Even after last week’s column, I found myself watching in utter disbelief as US President Donald Trump did what I had feared and turned the coronavirus into his own political circus act.

With the polls putting him slightly down on the cadaver the Democrats have put up, Trump went full Kim Jong-un with a motorcade while still an in patient and was back at The White House within three days with doctors declaring him fit for work by the weekend..

Which begs the question, if the cocktail of meds he has been topped up with works so effectively, why isn’t it being shipped out to every Covid positive American right now and why isn’t Matt Hancock asking for a few hundred thousand shots?

I think all I’m going to say is if America falls for this crazy megalomaniac they deserve him.

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Edward Case

Columnist