Margaret Hodge's anti-Proms speech was inept and stupid. The Proms are cheap, diverse and popular. Plus, London's new recital hallby Martin Kettle / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
In defence of the proms
Margaret Hodge, the culture minister, seems to have been keeping her head down since launching what she proudly described as her “square on” attack on the BBC Proms in a speech to the IPPR on 4th March. Indeed, according to the department of culture, media and sport website, Hodge—who was appointed by Gordon Brown a year ago—gave 14 speeches on the arts before that day and has given none at all since.
The supreme leader—who was quick to say that he was a fan of the Proms—may well have made his displeasure clear to the hapless Hodge by forcing a period of silence on her. While her speech on Britishness and the arts was mostly unexceptionable (as well as unexceptional), it also contained the most bizarrely snotty and ignorant attack on the arts ever made by a minister who is supposed to speak up for them.
In case you missed it, here are Hodge’s exact words. (Apologies for her Prescottian English.) “The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events—I’m thinking in particular of the Proms but it is true of many others—is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this.”
When the furore about her remarks first exploded, a few apologists tried to pretend that Hodge was talking about the last night of the Proms and its televised Edwardian-era flag-waving. But as the sentence just quoted shows, Hodge’s attack was on the Proms as a whole.
A culture minister could probably not have chosen a more inappropriate target in the world of subsidised classical music to chide about access, outreach and multiculturalism. This year’s season, which opens on 18th July and continues until September, will have 84 concerts. The programme must have been drawn up long before Hodge made her ill-advised remarks. But like most recent Proms seasons, it stands as a reprimand to her invertedly snobbish silliness.
First, the ticket prices for the Proms are strikingly low. In more than 50 of the concerts, you can get in for £8 or less, while no concert except the last night (which is so popular that they have to put the prices up) costs more than £40 for a stall seat. Compare that with the price of tickets to hear the “non-elitist” band Coldplay this autumn, which range from £65 to £250. A…