To Free, Or Not To Free?

I’m going to play the role of devil’s advocate here, because, in truth, I don’t really know the real motivations of chancellor George Osborne, and his half-baked, coalition government. This lot have really been vigorously swinging the axe left, right, and centre, since they grabbed the keys of number 10, haven’t they? All in the name of spending cuts, to put the ‘Great’ back into Britain again. Since the last mob were resident at Downing St, this great country of ours has ‘gone for a burton’, to borrow a well-used Cockney phrase.

We read in the Guardian, back in October 2010, that the Arts Council has faced cuts to their budget of nigh-on 30%, and guess who’s bearing the brunt of that body blow? Well, I’ll tell you anyway: independent publishers! My cynical side is whispering tellingly in my left ear, having learnt of this news: What is their game, here? The Arts Council fund 59 independent publishing organisations, and with this sinister withdrawal of a sizeable chunk of dough – which ultimately belongs to the people – it is felt by the writer of the report that many if not all of these companies could meet their maker in the near future. That could well be (and probably is) media hype, to suggest that all will be doom and gloom for these small-fry publishing houses, but regardless of that I am just a little bit suspicious as to why the cross-hair has levelled on independent publishers.

As the saying goes, ‘small is beautiful’. Independent publishers – by virtue of their size – are able to be a lot more up close and personal with the authors that they take under their wings. This is in comparison to the big boys (and girls), who first and foremost see a pound note, instead of a talented author who just happens to be a living, breathing human being. Human values and recognition of individual talent seems to be the order of the day for the smaller publishing houses. Some of them even provide a platform for non-mainstream and perhaps unconventional writers – those whose views may even be considered to be controversial, or militant.

That’s the angle I’m coming at this from, and is the basis of my eyebrow-raising sentiments. Mr Osborne, when you fixed your death-inducing glance on rendering the Arts Council impotent, was there an ulterior motive under the sheen of your externally polished countenance? Was this ruse actually about the progressive removal of the last vestiges of freedom of speech, cleverly obscured by the pretence of economically streamlining ‘Great’ Britain? I wonder about that, Mr Chancellor. Because, be you of a blue, yellow, or red orientation, I find it pretty bloody tough to trust the crowds that inhabit Westminster, and who claim to act in the ‘public interest’. Why have you gone down the road of assaulting what is essentially creative potential? We are talking about publishing houses here that have spawned Nobel Prize winners, for Christ’s sake! Why in the name of the Lord would our hybrid government seek to jeopardise that which is wholesome about our arts culture?

Having said all of the above, I may well be talking out of my proverbial, with my tendency to spy a conspiracy in anything that even remotely stinks of officialdom. But, like I said in the beginning, I’m merely playing the ever so fun role of devil’s advocate. What is the truth regarding this matter? How the bleedin’ell’ should I know?!

Nick Brounos

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