The Nicky Morgan Paradox.

November 12, 2014

A few months ago, in fact a few days before Nicky Morgan was shuffled into the role of Secretary of State for Education, she was invited to address a conference I attended on Arts in Health, speaking to a room full of artists, practitioners and health workers. She spoke about the importance of creativity to recovery, how people she was close to had turned to creative writing to support recovery from their mental health issues. She talked about how art in general was a vital aspect of treating a whole person and whole range of psychological disorders. She seemed sincere, but then I guess her sincerity depends on when she’s talking – and who’s she’s talking to – as only a few months later, addressing a room full of scientists, she describes the usefulness of the arts as a lie.

There are two possibilities: either, Nicky Morgan was herself lying when she spoke at the first of these engagements – or she’s forgotten that art, like any discipline does not exist in a vacuum; that it is written and painted and crafted and taught and shared and developed and evolved, by people, across generations. People and generations it seems she would like to choose differently. Art that she would then see diminish and disappear.

It is of course possible that Nicky Morgan has simply changed her mind and now no longer believes in the value of the arts – in supporting people, or indeed making life worth living. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s had a change of heart on a subject – switching from being opposed to gay marriage, to being in favour of it. If this is the case, I guess fair enough… but such rapid hairpin bends in opinion do not bode well for the hugely important portfolios of women, equalities and education – she now finds herself with responsibility for. Will like Miller and Gove, she just make it up (from expenses to policy) as she goes along?

For me this latest message from our government sums up everything that is sad, misguided and disturbing about the administration. It suggests, yet again, that the Tory view is one based on fear and negativity; that it is necessary to demonise the poor in order to explain the recession; that it is necessary to demonise the arts in order to complement the sciences – or explain why not enough young people choose to study them. Such messages are at best divisive and stupid and at worst, nasty – and surely evidencing of that historical characterisation of the party.

When we look back through history we remember the major scientific advances – the discovery of Penicillin, the first moon landing – and we remember the art…the Romanticism of the 18th century; the Abstraction and Expressionism of the 20th. When we look back, it is the art, at least as much as the science that characterises each decade – the Glam rock of the 70’s, the Punk of the 80’s, the Britpop of the 90’s – to look only at music.

The Theory of Relativity is perhaps useful here: art and science, like space and time – are relative to each other, not mutually exclusive. Art and science should not – are not – in competition with other. Science can be creative. Art can be logical. People have their own ways of engaging with the world and their own priorities when it comes to defining the things that are important to them.

Nicky Morgan has tried to confuse her framing of science v art by reframing it as a feminist debate on gender equality – increasing the earning potential of women by persuading more to pick STEM subjects. She observes that men dominate the sciences rather than acknowledging that, though this may be true, men dominate all areas of public life. She assumes the best way for women to earn more is for them to compete in this one particular area dominated by men – rather than perhaps, using the skills garnered through the humanities to question why areas particularly dominated by men are better paid. To put it another way, she chooses this approach, rather than for policies to acknowledge the contribution made by women in less financially rewarding professions – for example teachers and nurses – and pay them more.

Nicky Morgan is entitled to her opinion…whatever it may be, at any given time. As both a woman and a person, I am entitled to mine. I will continue to practice as a poet and within the sectors of arts, health and education rather than hedge funding my bets in banking – or indeed, moving into the sciences as she encourages. I will do so because working as a poet and within the above sectors makes me happy – because I am more suited to this than I am to anything else – because I prioritise my happiness over how much I may earn – and because I believe the financial is not the only useful contribution one can make to society. I believe in art, and I believe in health, and I believe in society – and so I know, once again, who I won’t be voting for next Spring.

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