It sounds like a cruise liner, doesn’t it? The Cool Britannia II: stopping at Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and 12 Years a Slave. And if the rumoured guest list is right, the people invited to this reincarnation of Tony Blair’s infamous 1997 luvvie-fest are not far off cruise-liner quality. If Katherine Jenkins isn’t already signed to a P&O, she really should be.
There are some A-listers, though, if the reports are to be believed: Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren, Ralph Fiennes and Bryn Terfel. But the kind of artists safe enough to make it onto a Number 10 guest list are not the kind of artists anyone is going to be that impressed by. Blair’s coup of getting the once properly edgy Noel Gallagher to the 1997 party was a mistake; Jonathan Powell had invited him without Blair knowing and, when he found out, Blair was terrified of what Gallagher might do.
Still, it’s a clever move by the Tories. However much New Labour got crucified for the hubristic hyperbole of ‘Cool Britannia’ (one which they didn’t confect; that was Vanity Fair’s doing), it did help them become the party of contemporary culture. And they were able to capitalize on that. Their association with the arts made them seem more normal than the Tories, more glamorous and arguably more electable.
It is often said that the Right won the economic argument but lost the cultural one. And it’s the belief of many that, for the Right to truly rehabilitate itself, regaining credibility on the arts is crucial. Not because knowing about culture will impress the electorate. But because the arts are an incredibly potent ally to have.
At the moment the relationship isn’t fantastic. The cuts haven’t endeared the Tories to the arts sector. Nor has the business-minded new culture secretary. But the laissez-faire attitude has. The tax breaks for theatre companies announced this March were hugely welcome. More indirect subsidies like this would continue to be appreciated.
But celebratory shindigs like tonight’s are also part of the equation. Associating beloved creatives to your political brand is the easiest way to detoxify it. And though very few of those going tonight will be Tory supporters, their attendance will help the Tories, whether they like it or not. It will further encourage the electorate to think the Tories are normal – or at least not as poisonous as they thought.