Interview: Ed Vaizey talks to Tory shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey about his party’s policies.

By Marina Kim

More than a third of the creative world considers the Labour party better for the arts, according to a recent Arts Quarter survey.

To see what the competition say about this I met up with Ed Vaizey, Conservative candidate for Wantage & Didcot and shadow arts minister, to talk arts and politics.

“There is an inbuilt prejudice against the Conservatives from some people in the arts world. But the Labour government has actually cut funding for the arts by reducing the amount available through the National Lottery,” he says in the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, London.

Margaret Thatcher is widely blamed for that prejudice. Vaizey thinks it is unfair that the Conservatives policies on art in 1980s are damaging how the party is viewed today.

“Thatcher had to get the economy back on track and had to make hard choices. The arts benefited from the economy getting stronger as people eventually got more money.

“I admire people who have strong principles and a clear vision, and passion. These are fantastic qualities in politics. I didn’t always agree with Thatcher but at least I knew what she stood for. Politicians – whether you agree with them or not – should always be clear of what they stand for.” he says.

With the country again in a poor financial state, Vaizey admits tough decisions need to be taken across the board. In his opinion, other parties are only pretending that there will be no cuts. He says neither the Lib Dems nor Labour can guarantee that the arts budget won’t be cut.

There are two key reforms which the arts world should expect if the Conservatives win. First is changing the scheme around donating art. At the moment the scheme allows using art donations to museums as a tax break only after a person dies. The Conservatives are going to allow people to donate art while they are still alive.

“It is a tax reform because they can offset it against tax,” he says.

Another reform is to simplify ‘gift aid’ which is the main way of giving to charities, including arts organisations.

“We’ve seen four Labour secretaries of state come and go over the last three years. Labour does not take the arts seriously.

“The Conservatives will simplify the bureaucracy around the arts and ease the burden on a lot of arts organisations. We will also increase opportunities for philanthropy. We will make museums more independent from government,” he says.

Vaizey also guarantees to keep museums free and maintain what is called ‘the mixed economy’ in the arts – a combination of subsidy, commercial revenue and philanthropy – which makes the arts very secure in this country.

After leaving Oxford University, Vaizey worked for Conservative politicians Kenneth Clarke and Michael Howard as an adviser on employment and education issues. He says the autonomy given in the schools reforms proposed by the Tories has caused huge enthusiasm among parents because it gives them choice.

He claims there are already 300 groups of parents who are eager to work with charities and other organisations to run a school if the legislation goes through.

“If you are not satisfied at the moment with the education provided by your local authorities the only choice open to you is to pay for your child to be educated. If you don’t have the money you don’t have any choice. Now we are saying “you have a choice.”

“In the public services we seem to accept monopolies. While if you don’t like what your telephone provider is providing you switch to another one.

“It will also increase the standards for state schools. We are putting choice into the state education system. We are providing the kind of choice that people are used to making in their day to day life but which they don’t have yet in public sector,” he says.

Vaizey recently got into hot water when papers claimed he said his good friend Samantha Cameron is not a Tory. Vaizey who was forced to apologize for his remarks insists they were taken out of context.

He says: “Sam is a Tory. But she thinks like a normal voter. She would not say this is a good policy because it is a Tory policy. She only says it is a good policy when she thinks it is a good policy. It is a very good reality check.

“If you are involved in politics day to day there is always a danger of being in a bubble. You need people who are on your side and don’t have an agenda to say don’t go down that route. Sam is a great asset for David Cameron.”