“The British Council got something right, and that's the thing they get rid of”. So says Michael Craig-Martin in today’s Observer. Antony Gormley, the creator of the Angel of the North, is one of several others who have weighed in.
"We're looking at the politicisation of an organisation that dealt with the exporting of creative values and processes to a wider world. We're seeing the British Council being turned into a political tool more concerned with teaching English and creating business links. That's not what it was set up to do….It’s now seen as another branch of the Foreign Office.”
It has been noted many times on this blog that the British Council cannot credibly be those things which it claims to be. It cannot be dependent as it is on government funding and be independent of government. It cannot be dependent on government funding and be a charity. It cannot be dependent on government funding, operate out of diplomatic premises, enjoy civil service pension arrangements, and compete on a level playing field with genuine risk-taking enterprise either at home or abroad. It cannot have monopoly powers and multiple privileges in any sector while also being allowed to compete in that sector. It cannot both explore business links, as Antony Gormley says, on Britain’s behalf, and then unilaterally decide to exploit those business links for itself, as in North Africa for example.
What these distinguished artists are saying is very much the same as those who have opposed their library closures, their language schools, their non-payment of tax, their anomalous status,their unfair competition, their lack of accountability, their autocracy and their arrogance. The British Council has lost its way and is in urgent need of radical reform.