Variant issue13    back to issue list


Letters in Response to issue 13

Many of the articles within Variant are intended to promote discussion and debate. As such we welcome further contributions from our readers and any corrections or criticisms of points raised.

From: Mulgan Geoff - PIU- []

To: "''" Subject: Summer 2001

Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2001

Many thanks for sending me a copy of Variant. I learnt a lot of things I didn't previously know from William Clark's article:

-Apparently I was a sociology lecturer at Sheffield

-I'm in favour of reducing the power of national governments

-I despise political activism

-I'm involved in 'desperate propaganda' of some unspecified kind

- Think-tanks are 'thought police'

All of this is certainly news to me (and roughly the opposite of what I thought), yet for all that mildly entertaining, and best summed up by one of the sub-heads in the article: ''Manufactured, twisted .... ever more tenuous.'

Good luck in the future!

The Cabinet Office's computer systems may be monitored and communications carried on them recorded, to secure the effective operation of the system and for other lawful purposes.

From: "Ian Christie" []

To: "" Subject: to William Clark

Date: Tue, 07 Aug 2001

Dear William Clark,

Thanks for sending me the summer issue of Variant. You'll be surprised, no doubt, that I found parts of it a good read - especially the interview with the admirable Bob Holman, whom I had the pleasure of publishing in 1998, for that demonic think-tank Demos, on income inequality. You'll not be surprised that I found your strange essay 'The Tainted Word' - shredding at amazing length a minor talk for SAC given in 1999 - less enjoyable at first, although the non-stop parade of gross mistakes and misunderstandings became funny pretty fast. I wonder if I'll be granted a right of brief reply in Variant?

Life and the pages of your journal are too short to list and reply to the myriad errors of fact and interpretation in the essay. Here are just a few corrections and rejoinders.  

1) You claim that I argue for the arts world simply to do Government's bidding and that there is no need to form an arts policy distinct from that dictated in London. Actually, no: the argument was for Scotland not to take London's lead, and for a break with the culture of business-obsessed subsidy-givers and the corporate subsidy-takers in what I called a London-centric arts establishment. Shall I spell it out? I meant the reference to London centralism disparagingly. I am for decentralisation and autonomy - and that is not incompatible with the next point.

2) I did indeed suggest that arts communities look at ways in which they can gain influence, funding and autonomy by aligning themselves with big programmes for regeneration. But this is not to argue that this is all they should do, or that they should be uncritical of how such programmes work, or that they should 'follow the government line'.  Nor does it imply that the nature of the artistic experience is 'inconsequential'. I did not and do not hold such views, nor could anyone listening to the (few) talks I have ever given on the subject assume I do.

3) Your characterisation of Demos is a string of mistakes and fantasies. The article portrays a well-heeled network of conspiratorial think-tankers funded by big business and hand in glove with government. You must be spending too much time on the Internet trawling sites specialising in paranoia. The reality is that most think-tanks, including Demos, have a hard time getting money (it's easy if you have few principles) and an even harder time securing any influence for their ideas. Sometimes it works, mostly it does not. You are hilariously ill-informed about who is connected to whom and how, but it would be too tedious for me and your readers to list the mistakes you make.  Readers can visit, check out Demos's very diverse publications, and make up their own minds.

4) You bizarrely claim that Green Alliance is 'my' organisation: no, it is an independent body - and your view of it is warped. Readers can see for themselves by visiting its site and reading its publications.

5) Sorry you hate my article for Prospect - incidentally, the only one I have written for it. You imply that among my aims in the piece is to 'create the illusion that Marxism achieved a monopoly in the sociology curriculum' - well, no: the point is made that its influence was greatly exaggerated by the media as they reviewed books such as The History Man. You also seem to think I hold a brief for postmodernism - the opposite of my view, as is obvious in the Prospect article.

6) Am I a 'Government stooge'? Your readers might get the impression I am permanently plotting to do down Scottish culture from my lofty perch in Whitehall, or that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Blairite. For the record, I'm not a  government advisor, nor have I been; and I hold no brief for New Labour, especially in relation to its love affair with centralised control, big business and privatisation.

If you'd bothered to get your facts straight and concentrate on a well-aimed critique of Demos and the think-tank world - which is much too narrow in its social make-up and is often severed from the everyday experience of 'ordinary' people - you might have produced a decent article. As it is, you have served up a conspiracy theory which is simply daft.


Ian Christie

Dear Geoff

Thanks for responding with such good grace and I'm sorry if the article seemed in any a personal attack or anything of the sort. I cannot really argue with you if you say you were not a sociology lecturer at Sheffield. I have made this assumption because of the use of your work in Sheffield Uni's site which does strongly give the impression that you were involved in a teaching position with the Political Economy Research Centre, Sheffield University, with a February 1994 essay: The URL is sadly now defunct, so sorry for such a vicious calumny, but it hardly disproves any central arguments. Your colleague Ian Christie got back to me with a very poor defence.

I did not state that you were in favour of reducing the power of national governments. I argue this from a de facto position, I claim that the end result of specific policies is to abrogate power to financial concerns. It is a generalisation but, I think a great deal of 'policy entrepreneurs' do despise political activism and have turned away from former left-wing positions. Are you trying to suggest that you are in favour of direct action and civil disobedience? I don't think they go for that sort of thing at the CO.

I think I claimed that the PIU did have an enforcing and propaganda role and that this was specifically related to pushing the ideas which formed the basis of the previous Social Inclusion Unit's 'work' and are based around trying to legitimise rather fraudulent government policy and insinuate 'social inclusion' into arts policy. The other propaganda side of things I set out related to the Third Way, which was heavily propagandised in Ian's talk and is rather 'embedded' as Mr Giddens would say, in a great deal of your work for the government in the PAT teams and no doubt will still influence your position on the new Blue Yonder Team.

If I erroneously think that think tanks are 'thought police' (it was a metaphor) perhaps you could tell me what the precise role of the Ditchley Foundation, Bilderberg and so forth is, how do they work? Do the Labour government make no attempts to police thought, make no attempt to news manage or influence? Ian Christie believes Demos to be largely ineffectual. But one can hardly say this of all think tanks: when one looks at the American experience [...]

I'm pleased you found it entertaining, if it is 'best summed up by one of the sub-heads in the article: ''Manufactured, twisted .... ever more tenuous.' I would remind you that the line comes from your own writing, from that article on Sheffield Uni's site, which seemed to put forward the notion that this was the case with all writing, except presumably your own.

I don't think that you've come up with much of an argument against what I've said.

Yours Sincerely

William Clark

Dear Ian

I have no intention of printing your response in the next Variant. Since you feel you should have some right of reply all I am willing to do is to put your reply together with my own response up on the web site.

It is all very well for you to say you 'meant' references disparagingly. I interpreted what you actually wrote - not what intentions you had in mind. 'Cultural policy' fell prey to easy manipulation by New Labour and (with your
assistance) has had a deleterious adverse effect on the arts world here in Scotland and elsewhere. But culture is more than just what Arts Councils favour or governments proscribe. The arts operate in an increasingly politicised environment, yet artists and administrators are not informed of the ideological basis controlling the flow of funds. Demos' paid contribution to this politicisation is offering a version of culture that directly supports and
never really criticises government (and by extension big business) it also (perhaps inadvertently) serves to eliminate entire areas of artistic expression. One of these is critical engagement. Lectures such as your own smother legitimate debate.

The fact is that you concede that I have 'shredded' your work, and by extension your rather seedy attempts to insinuate all this 'social inclusion' guff into arts policy. How much were you paid Ian - do you do this sort of thing just for expenses or actual pieces of silver? Can you be hired to say the opposite?

(1) I can see nothing in your essay which states any argument for Scotland not to follow government dictates. There are certainly no elements of refusal or counter criticism or analysis. Your phrase on "all the efforts at
empowering the regions" rings rather hollow now in the light of the removal of the regional arts bodies by the ACE. I state that you inferiorise the debate with your remarks trivialising the work of Harold Pinter and the ACE. The false dichotomy you offer lets you insinuate a third position which is that of the government aided by think tanks like Demos. You make no specific reference to Scottish culture which demonstrates any understanding of it. You support decentralisation and autonomy the way a rope supports a hanged man. All you offer in your essay is that the government's line is adopted. The crux of your essay states that:

"Above all, the arts could make new alliances with those engaged in the modernisation of Scotland's public services and in regeneration of rundown estates and environments, promoting public health, lifelong learning and 'social inclusion' for communities that have been marginalised and disadvantaged for decades. Such partnerships could be a key source of new energies, skills and funds, and would reconnect 'the arts' with the rest of civic life and with many new audiences."

It is dishonest to deny that the language and terminology here are the government's. This is straight out of the government's Policy Action Team 10 (PAT) report. As I say the source you cite to back up your argument is
Geoff Mulgan, would you deny your own sources? Am I supposed to take you seriously? You have been caught red-handed.

(2) These remarkable 'big programmes for regeneration' these partnerships, are bound by the same policy directives. You present them as an alternative. You say a 'joined up' arts world will fit into 'policies for social and economic regeneration'. Your use of inverted commas indicates that this is also a phrase used in the government's (PAT) reports (one of which was called 'Joined up Government') which also involved Mulgan. The little boxes (full of complete nonsense) which accompany your essay use the terms from Mulgan's book 'Connexity' and are 'embedded' with promotion for the Third Way. One of these advances the perverse idea that "New ways to fund the development of audiences" can come through "mergers, acquisitions and closures." Nothing new there.

How exactly is one to be critical of these schemes: in the application form? in the pages of Variant? in quiet desperation?

I stated that you relegated 'the artistic experience' you clearly do this by saying:

"'Audience development' might mean paying as much attention to... the ease of making telephone bookings, or the 'family friendliness' of venues, as to the nature of the artistic experience on offer."

Thus the art experience is relegated to the inconsequential level of a telephone booking: a commercial transaction. You also equate artistic value with 'Audience development' - the two have no intrinsic relation, it is just more government and consultant orientated drivel. You disguise the government's policies as new thinking and ignore Demos' and Mulgan's role in this.

As regards artistic integrity (in your letter you have the audacity to suggest that you have principles) I feel that what you advocate is jumping on any bandwagon that comes along. You exhibit blind trust in these 'big programmes for regeneration' when they are chiefly efforts to pass money to big business. This was Holman's testimony on what has happened in Easterhouse. This was my contention concerning Common Purpose run by another Demos 'consultant', Julia Middleton.

I am not alone in my suspicions of Demos and the dissimulation of your other little earner 'sustainable development', a version of which you seem to offer for the arts. But Correct me on my mistakes about Demos. Have you seen the list of corporate sponsors on the web site. I portray you as funded by big business because you say that you are funded by big business and then provide a list of their names: if that is paranoia it must be a very mild form. If it is a conspiracy theory then it is of your own devising. I would suggest that you read something worthwhile and informative on the other think tanks the Demos site promotes: I'd be happy to send you some material which outlines the corrupt past of The Heritage Foundation (which has serves as an umbrella organisation for a variety of institutions of the extremes right and for terrorist groups, the Moon system,
the RENAMO lobby and so on).

I do not characterise Demos along the lines you accuse me of. I depict them as providing a service which is used by government and private business (and indeed the SAC) as a pitiful attempt to masquerade contrived spurious academic evidence as a valid independent endorsement. It think I used the term 'intellectual prostitution' and inferred that you do what you do largely for the money. But what did the SAC think they were buying when they hired you?

"Demos is an organisation which gives advice on future policy developments based on statistical analysis, and is an advisor to the current government. (My apologies for the London-centric example in the text)."

That little message - written by an individual within the SAC - accompanied a copy of your essay and the debate which was passed on to me by a senior figure in the Scottish Arts world. That's what the SAC thought they were buying. But OK have it your way: Demos has a hard time getting money and rarely ever secures any influence for its ideas. You infer you don't really know how it works and that 'mostly it does not.' Sorry to have reduced you to such a blubbering heap.

Why don't you correct me about who is connected to who. Write your own expose of your colleagues before they throw you to the wolves. The Foreign Policy Centre (which you share an office with, alongside all those other rather odd little organisations) is most certainly connected to MI6 with Baroness Ramsay on board because she works for MI6. Martin Taylor is most certainly a member of the Bilderberg Group, but according to you I am mistaken here. I do seem to have made an error by saying Geoff Mulgan was a Sociology Lecturer. Sheffield University's Web site (where I got his article which was part of their sociology resources) gave this impression, but his involvement would appear more to do with the Political Economy Research Centre, yet another think tank.

(4) As to Green Alliance (two or three guys in a room at best) you would have to prove it for me to make any response. Do you collect the names of ecological activists at all - there are people who pay for this kind of thing. Tell us all more. You don't really come up with anything which discredits my analysis - whereas I provided a great deal of fairly conclusive evidence to 'shred' (as you put it) your own. I'm surprised that you didn't argue that using Mulgan's stuff was ecological recycling.

(5) I have no emotional involvement with your writing for Prospect and I am not entirely bewildered to hear that they did not commission any more. You gigantically contradict yourself by saying that this essay made the point
that Marxist influence and the History Man's "influence was greatly exaggerated by the media". Your article says this, which I quoted:

"The influence of continental theory grew - and generated a huge amount of posturing, barely exaggerated in Bradbury's lethal portrait of his 'history man'." Did your tutors at Oxford ever lose patience with you? Do you have trouble with the cognitive process?

Demos is influenced (and was founded) by Martin Jacques (who works with Hall on postmodernist thought). Mulgan's work is also influenced by their and other postmodern thought, chiefly Baudrilliard it would seem. You seem more interested in post-rational thought. I don't think you know what you think, Ian. At best your position seems very confused. Thank God you're not a government advisor. The next time you're up in Glasgow giving us all a little talk - get in touch.

Yours Sincerely

William Clark