‘Brexit will spell the end of British art as we know it. Discuss.’

My publisher is on at me to write a fully revised edition of my book. Here is a sneak preview of the entry for the 13th October 2018…

Saturday 13th October 2018
On this date Simon Roberts, a Brighton based artist convened a debate at the Friends Meeting House entitled: ‘Brexit will spell the end of British art as we know it. Discuss.’ On the panel were Shoair Mavlian, Mahtab Hussain, Natasha Caruana, Michael Lightfoot and Uta Kogelsberger. The programme said: “This event forms part of the 2018 Brighton Photo Biennial festival and is supported by Arts Council England, Photoworks and the Brighton Photo Fringe.

It was a sneer-a-thon.

Of all the panellists only Michael publicly advocated Brexit, most of the others were just receivers of public money who were against the system changing. From the outset Roberts made it clear that he was against Brexit too so Michael had to gamely hold his own against the other four panellists, the chair and the entire audience (except me). That he did so with good grace and without once attacking anybody was a marvel of composure. Audience members started interjecting and Roberts made no attempt to moderate. Again and again people produced arguments not about art, but about art funding, every one of which failed to explain why the arts funding, which had been pretty good in 1973 had consistently declined over the last 40 years during which Britain become increasingly integrated into the EU. Brexit was conflated with austerity. Political union was conflated with being able to travel. Democratic self-rule was conflated with racism, arguing for it was conflated with lying, and supporting the EU was assumed to be a rejection of nationalism. Not once did any EU supporter express the slightest concern that democracy was hanging by a thread.

There were so many false assumptions that when I got a chance to make a point from the floor I could only scratch the surface of the various fallacies that had been made, and as if the event wasn’t one-sided enough, as I spoke people shouted out ‘rubbish‘. Roberts shut me up fairly quickly. Time and again people spoke about the need to attend the big Remain demo on The 20th. Then someone had a word with me for putting my Tony Benn leaflets next to ‘People’s Vote’ sign as the event was “supposed to be non-partisan
As people left I tried to hand out leaflets, most waked straight by without even looking at me.

My event in the same venue two weeks earlier had been paid for by me, whereas The Arts Council fronted Roberts the venue hire. To call it a debate at all was a travesty (as I made clear to Roberts afterwards) it was a pro-EU rally in all but name. Our taxes had been used for beneficiaries of the existing system to campaign against the system changing. So in a sense it did give a perfect illustration (pun intended) of the whole information war, because it exemplified the shutting down of real debate and silencing of awkward opinions that conservatives have always employed against people who think differently. No wonder over the last 40 years we have progressed from facile bullshitters like Francis Bacon, and John Piper to subtle, profound masters like Damien Hurst and Banksy!

That night I was so angry I barely slept and over the next few days I thought of lots of clever arguments I wish I had said.

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