In their barely literate open letter praising the European Union, Benedict Cumberbatch and his cohort of EU apologist luvvies not only fail to understand what the EU is or how it works, they also shamefully pass off their own financial self interest as high-minded concern for the future of Britain
If assorted celebrities are going to sign their names to a public letter calling for the British people to vote a certain way in a referendum of existential importance, it would be decent of them to be honest about why they really want people to make that choice.
This is hardly rocket science, but apparently it was too much for the cognitively tepid minds who signed their names to a letter calling for Britons to reject Brexit for the supposed good of the arts.
The signatories are exactly the kind of people you would expect to see flaunting their right-on, progressive virtue to their fans and peers. Tracey Emin. Anish Kapoor. Vivienne Westwood. Jo Brand. Patrick Stewart. Keira Knightley. Jude Law. John Hurt. The ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch.
So to what exactly did they put their gilded names? Here is the full text of the letter:
The EU referendum marks the biggest democratic decision of our time, and the outcome will have lasting and far-reaching consequences for the future of this country for generations to come.
The referendum forces us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves: what kind of nation do we want to be? Are we outward-looking and open to working with others to achieve more? Or do we close ourselves off from our friends and neighbours at a time of increasing global uncertainty?
Because choosing to step out of a steadily integrating political union with an overarching supra-national government obviously means “closing ourselves off”. There are only two models of engaging with the world – the path to euro federalism or North Korea. Absolutely no other options in there at all. Sure.
From the smallest gallery to the biggest blockbuster, many of us have worked on projects that would never have happened without vital EU funding or by collaborating across borders. Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.
And where exactly do you think that “vital EU funding” actually comes from, Benedict? Did you fall for that old chestnut about the secret magic money volcano deep beneath the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, regularly belching out €500 notes and showering them down upon grateful starving artists?
Of course there is no “EU money”. There is only British taxpayer money, the majority of which contributes toward general EU spending with only a small proportion being disbursed to various organisations in Britain, to be spent strictly as agreed by whichever organ of Brussels loftily granted it in the first place.
So is your argument actually that if Britain no longer contributed to EU cultural initiatives, the government would be inclined to use the money for other purposes? And if that is your legitimate fear, why don’t you take it up with your fellow citizens, whom you apparently believe do not value the arts highly enough? Why are you content for higher levels of taxpayer funding of the arts to take place in Britain than you think the British people themselves would allow? Doesn’t that make you the textbook definition of an enemy of democracy?
And what is all this bilge about “collaborating across borders”? Nearly all of the high profile signatories to the letter have worked on various international projects – many of them involving the United States of America, with whom of course we share no political union. Does the lack of a parliament overseeing both Britain and America mean that artists in each country can no longer collaborate on projects? Hardly.
The letter continues:
And what would ‘Out’ really mean? Leaving Europe would be a leap into the unknown for millions of people across the UK who work in the creative industries, and for the millions more at home and abroad who benefit from the growth and vibrancy of Britain’s cultural sector.
Remember when art was bold and visionary? No, neither do I. I was born in 1982, so I do not recall a time when the artistic establishment was not firmly in the orbit of government, keeping the politicos sweet in order to keep a hand in the Treasury.
But despite never having known a time when (unlike the United States of America) our greatest artistic institutions were privately funded and supported by great philanthropists, I still get the nagging feeling that any artist worth their salt – unless of the Soviet variety – should instinctively chafe at the idea of stale political union and remote continental governance, rather than rejoice in it and argue for its continuance.
Leaps into the unknown seem to me to be the whole purpose of art – to boldly go in new directions, try new things and above all seek the maximum freedom possible (the EU hardly being synonymous with freedom). And yet here assembled are the great and the good of Britain’s acting crop, telling us that the best we can now hope for is continued membership of an anachronistic 1950s model of governance dreamed up by old men scarred from the 20th century’s wars. The utter lack of vision and ambition from people supposedly paid to be bold visionaries is as shocking as it is profoundly depressing.
From the Bard to Bowie, British creativity inspires and influences the rest of the world. We believe that being part of the EU bolsters Britain’s leading role on the world stage.
Let’s not become an outsider shouting from the wings.
“We believe”. Well, good for you. I believe in unicorns. But just stating a belief does not make it so. Where is the proof that being a member state of the European Union increases the demand for art, films, television programmes, sculptures, compositions, songs, albums, plays, skits, musicals or operas conceived, designed or produced in the UK? They provide no evidence because there is no evidence. If and when Britain exits the European Union and moves to an interim EFTA/EEA relationship to maintain single market access, the only thing we lose is the supra-national government. Is Cumberbatch seriously suggesting that the political institutions of the EU are his muse of fire?
It hardly needs pointing out that the two British icons cited by the signatories themselves – William Shakespeare and David Bowie – both took the world by storm before Britain joined the European Economic Community, in Shakespeare’s case by quite a few years. The beauty of art is that good or bad, high or low, it has ways of crossing political and cultural boundaries. That’s how a future North Korean defector came to watch a smuggled copy of Titanic in silent wonder, shocked and captivated by the idea of dying for a love other than love of the Dear Leader. That’s how the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony became a symbol of British resistance when all around us was pulverised to rubble during the Blitz. So don’t stand there and fatuously tell me that political union is required in order for art to thrive and spread, Mr. Cumberbatch. You should know that this much is a filthy lie.
Ultimately, one simply cannot take this letter seriously. And neither can one take the signatories seriously. It is certainly much harder to respect someone in public life when they knowingly use their public position to help propagate a series of lies, half-truths and obfuscations in service to an anti-democratic, embryonic government of Europe; an unrequested, unwanted and unloved supra-national government which buys the unconditional praise of scientists, university leaders, politicians and artists with your taxes and mine.
If Benedict Cumberbatch and his right-on friends want to virtue-signal their trendy, progressive opinions then good for them. Have at it. But when they seek to use their fame to influence others in the referendum debate, they should expect to be attacked for casually parachuting into the middle of the fray for the sole purpose of spreading lies, half-truths and a childishly naive view of the European Union which makes one wonder when they last watched the news (if ever).
This risible letter is nothing but a childish hymn of praise to the EU written by people convinced of their own righteousness despite being among the least educated on the topic, and who think they can trick the public by constantly conflating Europe with the power-hungry political entity which wishes to control it. In other words, the letter’s signatories are pawns, and not very bright ones at that, to allow themselves to be used in such a way. I give the whole sorry performance one star out of five, and I’m probably being too generous.
Don’t like what I’m saying? Then bring it, Benedict. I’m available to debate morning, noon or night, any time between now and the referendum. You’re an actor. I have been a lifelong supporter of the arts, and in my 20s was the London Symphony Orchestra’s youngest ever patron. You pick the time and the place, and we’ll talk a bit about the role of the arts in British and European life, and just how intertwined – or not – they are with the political construct known as the European Union.
But do your homework first – and I don’t mean learning canned lines from Britain Stronger in Europe. I mean actually trying to learn something about the subject before you start grandly soliloquising and attempting to sway other people.
Maybe the kind of unrehearsed extemporising revealed in this letter works when you try it on hordes of screaming fans at the rope line after one of your performances. But when you try and pull the same stunt in front of the British electorate you and your chums in the art world look stupid. Very stupid.
And until you either issue a retraction or double down with a proper grown-up argument, I will continue to say so.
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