An article in the Telegraph marking the 30th anniversary of Classic FM (inadvertently?) exposes an ideological divergence in the way modern conservatives deal with culture.
Ivan Hewitt takes what one might describe as the market-based approach, arguing that Classic FM gives the punters what they want – “delicious treats of an aural kind” – and by doing so attracts twice as many listeners as Radio 3. So that’s good, then. And there’s a passing dig at the BBC licence fee, always a dog whistle to Telegraph readers, even if radio listeners aren’t obliged to pay it. This is the Thatcherite model of culture, free of both state subsidy and a self-appointed elite telling you what’s good. And it has achieved its apotheosis in recent years with the appointment of the ludicrous Nadine Dorries as Secretary of State.
Simon Heffer, meanwhile, takes what to me is a more authentically conservative (as distinct from classical liberal) attitude, in the tradition of Arnold and Eliot: some things are just better than others, even if not many people like them. He grudgingly acknowledges the popularity of Classic FM but...
...it cheapens classical music by treating it as a commodity; worse, it patronises its audience, lulling them into a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome where they mistake mediocrity for excellence, and where boundaries are seldom pushed out.
The example he gives is the poll of listeners' favourite music, which places the Star Wars theme 250 places above Elgar’s First Symphony. But to define this preference as being objectively wrong, as Heffer does, takes him to dangerous ground. “As a measure of the taste of the most gullible element of the British public, it is invaluable,” he argues. But couldn’t that in turn be applied to the antics of the modern Conservative Party, including the way Liz Truss panders to the prejudices of the party members who are probably going to elect her in the next few days, and indeed to Brexit – which Heffer supported?
(Incidentally, the weight of opinion in the comments section seems to favour Hewitt and Classic FM — which, paradoxically, tends to prove Heffer’s point.)
PS: On a vaguely related theme, quiz show contestant turned researcher Lillian Crawford on what knowledge is for (and which knowledge needs to be known). “Competing on University Challenge made me realise that I quiz not to perform knowledge, but to acquire it.”