Twenty-four hour arty people

"Michael Gove" (Image Julia Farrington)

“Michael Gove” (Image Julia Farrington)

It’s 5am on Saturday a crowd of artists, film-makers, musicians and poets are gathered opposite London’s Whitechapel gallery, waiting to board a coach to Scarborough for the Art Party Conference. It is cold and extremely early so my heart is warmed by the lively figure of artist Bobby Baker handing out ‘packed breakfasts’ to all us passengers.

If I was looking forward to tasty home cooking I should have known better, because the breakfasts are a piece of participative conceptual art and the food – a couple of slices of white bread, some currants, marge and sachets of jam, ketchup and vinegar – came with instructions:  Use the food to make a portrait of Education Secretary Michael Gove, photograph it, tweet it and then eat it. By eating it you are going some way to understanding what it is like to be Michael Gove and therefore you are that much closer to being able to change him.

The artists are concerned about potential changes to UK education that they see as undermining the arts and free expression in the UK.

Michael Gove’s reforms which downgrade arts education at GSCE are the trigger for the Art Party conference and on the coach on the way up, Bob and Roberta Smith (founder and force behind the whole project) led us in our chant – “Where are we going?” “Scarborough” “What do we want?” “To better advocate the arts to government” was a bit of a mouthful.  But that is the heart of artist Bob and Roberta Smith’s argument – how can something that is so vital and fundamental to human existence and has the power to transform, inspire and regenerate be swept aside.

Everything was filmed, the coach trip and the whole day of events, discussions and provocations at the Spa Complex in Scarborough, and the footage will be over-laid by the story of an imaginary figure called “Michael Grove MP” who attends the conference and has a life-changing epiphany about the power and importance of art.  It will be released in August next year and will be a central part of The Art Party campaign in the lead up to the 2015 elections.

Like everything in the conference, the film will be a combination of serious message and playfulness; to get to a moving discussion featuring Sam West, Maureen Duffy, Haroon Mirza and Geoff McMillan on “Why is art important”, you passed an Aunt Sally side show where conference delegates were busting porcelain busts of Michael Gove.

Bob and Roberta Smith’s letter to Michael Gove, painted on two pieces of eight by four took centre stage at the Spa ends with a rallying cry.  “You will be opposed by all people interested in art, design, free speech, freedom and democracy  and probably also by a few bankers and investors interested in British products and exports who are concerned about the colour of their money…Education is about sowing seeds not setting standards for the shape of bananas.”

Leveson denies "hidden agenda"

Lord Justice Leveson has stressed there is no “hidden agenda” to his Inquiry into press standards.

In opening remarks to this morning’s session — which were posted on the Inquiry website — Leveson said he understood “only too well” journalists’ anxieties over the “dangers of a knee-jerk response” to the phone-hacking scandal that erupted last summer, but added that “no recommendations have been formulated or written; no conclusions have yet been reached.”

Leveson was making his first public response to a Mail on Sunday story on 17 June that alleged the judge had threatened to quit over comments education secretary Michael Gove had made to Parliament in February, in which he suggested a “chilling effect” was emanating from the Inquiry.

Leveson said he did contact cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood following Gove’s comments to clarify whether the government still supported the Inquiry.

“I wanted to find out whether Mr Gove was speaking for the government, whether it was thought that the very existence of the Inquiry was having a chilling effect on healthy, vibrant journalism and whether the government had effectively reached a settled view on any potential recommendations,” Leveson said. “Put shortly, I was concerned about the perception that the Inquiry was being undermined while it was taking place.”

The judge said it was “absolutely correct” for the press to hold the Inquiry and himself to account, but added it was “at least arguable that what has happened is an example of an approach which seeks to convert any attempt to question the conduct of the press as an attack on free speech.”

Simon Walters, the article’s co-author, appeared at the Inquiry this afternoon. He was not quizzed over the story, having been called to give evidence before it was printed.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Gove tells Inquiry he "fears for liberty" as May endorses restrictions on police press contact

Education secretary Michael Gove gave a staunch defence of press freedom at the Leveson Inquiry today.

“By definition, free speech doesn’t mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time,” Gove said, saying he was “unashamedly” allied with “those who say we should think very carefully about regulation.”

“The case for regulation needs to be made strongly before we curtail liberty,” Gove said, adding that he felt the existing laws of the land were sufficient to deal with miscreant reporters.

“The experience we have of regulation is that sometimes good intentions result in the curtailment of individual freedom and an unrealistic expectation of how individuals behave,” he said, noting that on occasion regulation had been sought to “deal with failures of character or morality”.

In a tense exchange with Lord Justice Leveson, Gove attacked what he saw as a “tendency to meet a particular crisis, scandal or horror with an inquiry”, and expressed his “fear for liberty” if principles of free speech were to be eroded with tougher regulation.

Leveson went head-to-head with Gove, a former Times leader writer, responding: “Mr Gove, I don’t need to be told about the importance of free speech. I really don’t.”

Gove has previously spoken of his fear that the Inquiry, launched last summer to examine press standards in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, had created a “chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression”.

However he did not deny the judge’s suggestion of substantial public concern over questionable press behaviour, arguing that it had “pre-dated the last 50 years”.

Elsewhere in his evidence, which he peppered with references to the Roman republic and quotations in Latin, Gove was unapologetic about his contacts with other media figures, stressing he tried to exercise “appropriate judgment on all occasions”. He referred to Rupert Murdoch as “one of the most impressive and significant figures” of the last half-century, and said it was “fascinating” to meet media proprietors Viscount Rothermere and Richard Desmond.

Discussing a 19 May 2010 dinner with Murdoch, ex-News International CEO Rebekah Brooks and others at Murdoch’s flat shortly after the formation of the coalition government, Gove said the group discussed education. He added that he had no recollection of discussing Murdoch-owned News Corp’s bid for full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB at a June 2010 lunch with NI executives, adding that no-one had told him of the bid before its launch later that month.

Asked by counsel Robert Jay QC why the public held politicians and journalists in low esteem, Gove chirped: “‘Twas ever thus.”

Also speaking today was home secretary Theresa May MP, who discussed interim guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on media-police relations, which were based on “a shift to a blanket non-acceptability” of anything other than “light refreshments and trivial and inexpensive gifts”.

May said the guidance, which ACPO says aim to provide “common sense” principles for officers to follow, would provide greater clarity and consistency about press-police relations, rather than having a “chilling effect”.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow with evidence from justice secretary Ken Clarke and business secretary Vince Cable.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Jeremy Hunt and Tony Blair to appear at Leveson Inquiry

Next week is set to be one of the most gripping yet in the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Monday has been reserved for former prime minister Tony Blair, who will likely be questioned about his close relationship with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose tabloid the Sun famously switched its long-standing Conservative allegiance to back the Labour party ahead of the 1997 general election.

Business secretary Vince Cable is scheduled to appear on Wednesday. It is likely he will be quizzed about News Corp’s £8bn bid for the takeover of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, particularly his admission that he had “declared war” on the Murdoch-owned company, which led to his being stripped of responsibility for the bid.

But the highlight will surely come from Thursday’s sole witness, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is fighting for his political life after the revelation of a November 2010 memo he sent to David Cameron in support of News Corp’s £8bn bid for control of the satellite broadcaster one month before he was handed the task of adjudicating the bid.

In the memo Hunt emphasised to Cameron that it would be “totally wrong to cave in” to the bid’s opponents, and that Cable’s decision to refer the bid to regulator Ofcom could leave the government “on the wrong side of media policy”.

The memo has further weakened Hunt’s grip on power, already in doubt after last month’s revelations that his department gave News Corp advance feedback of the government’s scrutiny of the BSkyB bid. Evidence shown to the Inquiry yesterday during News Corp lobbyist Frédéric Michel‘s appearance showed over than 1000 text messages had been sent between the corporation and Hunt’s department, along with 191 phone calls and 158 emails.

The Labour party has since upped the volume on its calls for Hunt to resign, arguing he was not the “impartial arbiter” he was required to be.

Hunt has maintained he acted properly and within the ministerial code, while David Cameron said today he does not regret handing the bid to Hunt, stressing he acted “impartially”.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson