Image: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Image: Andrew Lloyd Webber

‘Cinderella’ should not be an exemption to lockdown rules

When we’ve lived through fifteen months of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, an extra four weeks to wait till Freedom Day feels insignificant. However, in the arts world, that means four more weeks of closed doors, furlough payments, uncertainty and money leaking from the ceiling without the ability to replace it. For venues, performers and crew members alike, it is devastating. Well, unless your name is Andrew Lloyd-Webber. 

In the arts world, the latest delay means four more weeks of closed doors, furlough payments, uncertainty and money leaking from the ceiling without the ability to replace it

Naturally, Lloyd-Webber has fiercely defended the arts throughout the pandemic, to the extent that he threatened to press on with previews of his latest musical, Cinderella, if the final easing of restrictions was delayed, happy to risk arrest. While this could be seen, on one hand, as him offering himself as a martyr for the arts and for the community of people who work in it, Lloyd Webber is shouting this down to the masses from atop a giant pile of money that will only grow when he gets his way. Yet the Government has reacted by backing down, allowing the production to go ahead while every other theatre carries on with reduced capacity, and while thousands of live concert venues continue to stand empty. This should not be a surprise. This is the Government just being the Government. 

The rampant cronyism of the current Government needs no introduction; it has impaired the response to the pandemic from the beginning, and it is persisting in its treatment of the arts. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a well known long time supporter of the Conservative party and holds a life peerage in the House of Lords. It’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the connection between this fact and the Government’s response to his demands. 

As with everything, the people without connections to the government are the ones who lose out and continue to suffer, not only for the lack of help they have received but for the frustration caused by these blatant double standards

Indeed, this is certainly not a recognition of the economic and cultural contributions the arts make to this country. It’s a rich man doing a favour for a rich friend that reeks of his characteristic hypocrisy, where it is one rule for the people around Boris Johnson and another for the people outside of his bubble. It happened when Dominic Cummings was given a free pass for breaking the rules in Barnard Castle last year, and it could have happened if Matt Hancock hadn’t resigned over a certain CCTV scandal of his own accord. As with everything, the people without connections to the government are the ones who lose out and continue to suffer, not only for the lack of help they have received but for the frustration caused by these blatant double standards. 

Yet above all, this fiasco is another episode of the government playing political football with the arts. Lloyd Webber is something of an outlier within the industry from a political standpoint, given that he has consistently supported the Conservative Party in contrast to an industry whose members are more likely to be left-wing than with any other, according to data from British Social Attitudes surveys. Even as far back as September, Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens questioned whether there was a political element to the government’s continued lack of support. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to suspect that Lloyd Webber is being rewarded for his support while the rest of the industry is being punished for not voting for Boris Johnson. To do this, to carry on playing party politics in a pandemic, where people’s livelihoods have been on the line, is nothing short of disgraceful.

To carry on playing party politics in a pandemic, where people’s livelihoods have been on the line, is nothing short of disgraceful

Andrew Lloyd Webber is a gifted impresario, but this, nor his wealth, nor his political affiliations, ought to justify him being above the rules that the rest of the industry, and the rest of society, has to follow. The situation has been a reminder of everything the pandemic has taught us about the true nature of this Government, but most of all this: any concern they seem to have about keeping the arts going is feigned and entrenched in political bias. 

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