Identity is everything. It enables the introspection necessary to understand oneself, the rooted foundation required to invest in community and the illuminating lens through which we relate to one another. Identity, however, can be divided into two parts: our objective identity—ethnicity, religion, family or nationality—and our subjective identity, freely chosen by each individual. It is in our communal culture and shared heritage that we find subjective identity.
Culture, in essence, defines a people. The depth of literary canon, poetic prowess, orchestral brilliance and artistic wonder elevates and embodies the sentiments of our nation, our people and, indeed, our civilisation itself. For culture and, in turn, identity to retain meaning, it must liberate itself from the monopolising clutches of a small-minded liberal bourgeoisie. As the late Roger Scruton, drawing on Hegel, said, it is a magnifying force
“manifest in all the customs, beliefs and practices of a people.”
It is reasonable to distinguish between high culture and common culture, but the first of those should not be accessible only to a few. Indeed, the working-class Britons in South Holland and The Deepings and across our nation have just as much right to access high culture as those in South Kensington.
Perhaps the framing truth in our political discourse should be a recognition that cultural identity can only survive when it is concentrated, particular and local, immune to dilution and decay. In 1984, the then Arts Council of Great Britain published a 10-year strategy titled “The Glory of the Garden”, its premise being the critical imbalance of arts provision between London and the regions. Twenty-six years later, I am not sure that that has changed much. We really do need cultural reach that stretches into every town, village and community across our nation.
However, recent research suggests that the problem has worsened. While London is home to 13% of the UK’s population, it receives 33% of Arts Council funding. Now, I like a trip to the National Gallery, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I like an evening at the Royal Opera House, but we need culture to reach out beyond there, particularly in the post-covid world—to enliven and enthral; to captivate people who have been dispirited, understandably, by all the restrictions of the past year. It is on that mission—that request to the Government—that I make this brief contribution. Let culture be seeded across our nation and let a thousand flowers bloom.