Dear Chris Bryant MP and James Blunt,
I have been enjoying your exchange of letters about privilege in the arts and think you both make some good points.
Now that you have become such enthusiastic penpals, I think the next step is a face to face meeting. I suggest a duet for Comic Relief singing “With a Little Help From My Friends” would be an excellent opportunity.
You have both benefited from the opportunities that your private school educations have given you. Confidence, ambition and the ability to pen a letter with the word “wazzock” in it. You’re among the seven per cent in this country whose education and connections mean that “your ilk” constitute 71% of senior judges, 44% of people in film, telly and music, 33% of MPs and 22% of popstars. Oh and 43% of newspaper columnists and 100% of Mumford and Sons. It is all quite mindboggling.
You both talk about ladders - letting them down from the top, or encouraging other people to climb up them, but I do most of my outreach work in the North East and I find that those ladders often are not long enough to reach all the way to here from the centre of things in London.
I used to be gushingly enthusiastic about the opportunities of a life in the arts and creative industries when I spoke to young people I worked with in Northern schools. Young people who were as bright, curious, funny, passionate and quirky as any of the popstars or MPs I could see featured in newspapers and on the radio and telly.
“Go your own way” I would say, “Follow your dreams”, “Don’t expect to be rich but you can find your own path to do what you most want to do”.
Now I realise that it’s naive at best to say all that without acknowledging the particular context those young people will be coming of age into.
A time when degrees seem absolutely necessary for even the most entry level jobs in the media and will incur thousands of pounds of debt.
A time when the costs of living in London are ever-spiralling but it still seems to be the place you need to go to “make it” in the creative industries.
A time when public transport is getting more and more expensive so that even expenses-paid internships are beyond the reach of many youngsters from ordinary
backgrounds (especially if those ordinary backgrounds are North of Watford).
You have both overcome adversities and showed greatly admirable personal qualities and determination to do well in your chosen professions.
Pop stars and politicians are both known for their healthy egos and I think you obviously both need a pat on the head for your efforts, even as commentators remind you both that you’ve had it comparatively easy compared to some. James, well done for persisting in your battle to sing nasal ballads whilst everybody around you thought you should go and be a stockbroker or get shot in a desert. Your amusingly self-deprecating comebacks on Twitter have gained you many more fans even than your songs.
It’s not that you’re undeserving, it’s just that lots of people without your opportunities are also deserving and it will take big structural changes, not just the odd plucky and stubborn boy with a guitar, to change things.
Chris, you’ve overcome the usual flak that politicians get and more, what with the whole “Underpants on Gaydar” thing, and I have some hope about the direction you’d take as Culture Secretary because of how you’ve said that regional imbalances in arts funding and socio-economic inequalities need sorting out.
It must be difficult to make any comment as a politician without stumbling into unintended ironies, but the irony of politicians – who have more power to change things than a singing army captain – being proportionately even more privileged than those in the arts is a big one. Address that too and you’re on to a winner.
Carry on both - you’re beautiful and you’re dutiful and so are a heck of a lot of people who we never get the chance to hear from.
Yours, in guilty pleasure at the spectacle of posh boys fighting,