Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Hodge attacks Proms: they're narrow and lack the common British values

Ed: I wait with baited breath for a speech by the culture minister in which she shows how Henry VIII was responsible for "separating state and religion" - shurely shome mishtake?

The culture minister, Margaret Hodge, will today criticise the Prom concerts as one of many British cultural events that fail to engender new common values or attract more than a narrow unrepresentative audience.

She will make her remarks in a broad-ranging speech that examines the role culture should play in developing a stronger sense of shared British cultural identity.

Hodge will also suggest that British citizenship ceremonies should be held in places such as castles, theatres, museums, art galleries and historic houses.

In a speech at the IPPR thinktank she will also propose that a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII to the throne next year could be an opportunity to explore the strengths and weaknesses of British history in the same way that the abolition of slavery last year looked at uncomfortable and sensitive issues. Insisting that she wants to play a part in championing the role culture can play in building a sense of belonging, she will argue: "All too often our sectors are not at their best when embodying common belongings themselves.

"The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events - I'm thinking in particular of the Proms - is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this.

"I know this is not about making every audience completely representative, but if we claim great things for our sectors in terms of their power to bring people together, then we have a right to expect they will do that wherever they can."

Proposing citizenship ceremonies in Britain's great historic spaces, she will say: "Being made a British citizen in those kind of surroundings allows people to associate their new citizenship with key cultural icons, and then offers them the chance to build a longer-term engagement."

She will admit that Henry VIII's accession, given the more unsavoury parts of his reign, is not a straightforward event to celebrate.

"Whether in separating state and religion, or in instituting English as a common language or in being the first clearly to define and map our boundaries, a deeper understanding of his reign may help the important debate on England starting to emerge," she will say. Read more
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