Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Veronica (Brownie) Wadley

What harm could she do really, one wonders? What harm could it do to have the former editor of London's Evening Standard take over the top arts job in the British capital? I mean it's not as if the stakes are as high as when the former commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, Michael Brown, stood for photo-ops as the Director of FEMA receiving a pat on the back from former US President George W. Bush, as thousands of residents of New Orleans waited for assistance in the horrific aftermath of Katrina. We're just talking culture here.

Actually, all the evidence suggests that we're talking cronyism, but... explains:
The running battle between London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson and the Arts Council London is really beginning to heat up. Earlier this month, the mayor was thwarted in his attempt to nominate a political supporter, Veronica Wadley, as head of the council. Critics including current Arts Council England head Liz Forgan said that Wadley had "almost no arts credibility," while culture secretary Ben Bradshaw blocked the nomination, saying it violated conventions against cronyism. Wadley’s main qualification is that she is the former editor of the Evening Standard, a Tory paper that supported Johnson in his 2008 mayoral campaign.

However, Johnson has refused to back down. After at first threatening to leave the post open, he has now started the search to fill the position from scratch, suggesting that he would pick Wadley if she applied again. According to the Guardian, this "decision to begin all over again is likely to infuriate the other three candidates in the final round of interviews for the prestigious London arts role." The move certainly looks bad. Guardian blogger Dave Hill said that the move represented "an obduracy bordering on suicidal megalomania" on the mayor’s part, while over at Wadley’s former paper, the Evening Standard, Louise Jury commented, "Rarely have I seen such immediate and palpable arts world fury."
"Supported his 2008 mayoral campaign" is somewhat euphemistic, actually. The relentless daily attacks from Wadley's Evening Standard against the former London mayor Ken Livingston were described by another newspaper as "a dirty, highly personal fight."

But back to my first question. I assume the new Mayor of London has every right to appoint whom he wishes as head of the Arts Council. So what harm can she really do there?

One clue we have as to what kind of leadership one might expect from Wadley on the Art Council is provided by her response to what's known as the "Sorry" campaign launched by her former paper after she left:
The London Evening Standard today launches one of the most daring of publicity campaigns by apologising to Londoners for its previous behaviour.

Buses and tubes will carry a series of messages throughout the week that begin with the word "sorry." The first says "Sorry for losing touch". Subsequent slogans say sorry for being negative, for taking you for granted, for being complacent and for being predictable. [...]

The move follows research commissioned on behalf of the Standard's new editor, Geordie Greig, who took over in February following the paper's acquisition from the Daily Mail & General Trust (DMGT) by Alexander Lebedev.

The market research evidently discovered that Londoners considered the paper to be too negative, not celebratory enough and guilty of failing to cater for the capital's needs. A great city with great facilities was being persistently talked down.
There's no doubt that the campaign was a rebuke of Wadley's editorial style, but in an interview of her opinion of the apology to London (not favorable), Wadley quipped of the new editor:
As for Geordie Greig, well, Etonians have a history of collaborating with the KGB.
One does have to wonder whether the new London mayor paid any attention at all to the results of the former US president's penchant for filling positions with his unqualified pals, let alone whether Ms. Wadley's extreme divisive rhetoric is the right tone for someone in charge of the city's arts council. In explaining why, with three other qualified candidates in the wings, Mayor Johnson is insisting on starting from scratch and inserting Wadley in position, he said: “Without doubt Veronica Wadley was the best person for the job."

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England, and a member of the initial shortlisting panel for the Art Council London position, though, disagrees:
In her letter to DCMS, Forgan wrote: "We are left with a due process that was not followed, a candidate who was manifestly less qualified than three of her competitors and three distinguished candidates put through a process that seems to have had questionable validity. Had the appointment been run to the standard applied to other appointments on council, Veronica would not have been seen by the Mayor."
Of course Forgan might have her own political reasons for opposing Wadley's appointment, but there seems to be agreement by the folks already working to promote England's arts that Wadely isn't the right person for the job. By insisting on her, as Johnson is, he's more or less guaranteeing that the road forward will be a very rocky one, not only in the selection process, but after she might take the helm. That doesn't seem to jive with Johnson's rationale for insisting on her:
[S]he is highly qualified to help steer the arts in London through these difficult times. It is essential that London continues to have a voice on the national Arts Council, so I am proposing to re-advertise and re-run the recruitment process.

The evidence would suggest that the only thing essential to Johnson is getting his way.

Labels: arts council, london, politics


Blogger Gail Brodholt said...

As a Londoner, I couldn't have put it better myself....
Thank you, Edward.

10/28/2009 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

These jobs are always political. Who pretends to neutrality?

10/29/2009 04:28:00 PM  

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